In a brutal smackdown of the shadow home secretary, the Daily Politics host took her to task as he demanded to know the Labour Party’s official stance on the single market following Theresa May’s announcement the UK was abandoning it.
However, instead of delivering a clear message of where Jeremy Corbyn’s party stands, Ms Abbott dodged the question as she desperately tried to turn the focus onto the Prime Minister.
Neil asked the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington: “With membership comes free movement of people, the jurisdiction of the European Court and a multi-billion pound membership fee. Is Labour prepared to pay that price for membership?”
Ms Abbott replied: “I think we’ll find that the Tories are going to have to pay money to be able to get the sort of access they need for British businesses."
Andrew Neil roasted Diane Abbott over Labour’s stance on the single market
“The EU has made it clear that you cannot have, Theresa May…”
Having none of the wavering, the BBC host challenged the Corbyn-loyalist to answer as he thundered: “I’m asking for Labour’s position!”
Unwilling to be drawn, the Labour MP said: “Our position is rooted in reality and the reality is that you cannot have the benefits of being a member of the European Union, including being a member of the single market, without the responsibilities.”
Appearing exasperated with Ms Abbott’s repeated refusals to clarify the opposition party’s position, Neil once more asked if Labour was willing to accept free movement of people and the other requirements of single market membership.
Theresa May has made clear Britain will not seek to retain its membership of the single market
I’m asking for Labour’s position
Ms Abbott responded: “We can only tell you what our goals are and our goals are to protect jobs and to protect the British economy.
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“If we don’t remain a member of the customs union I don’t see how Theresa May can keep her promises to Nissan.”
Losing his patience with the responses, Neil said: “But I’m asking is it Labour’s policy to remain a member of the customs union? Because you said Labour’s position was clear.”
To which the shadow cabinet minister simply insisted they had been.
May's Brexit speech: Europe reacts
Tue, January 17, 2017
Politicians and celebrities tweet their reaction as Theresa May unveils her 12 point plan for Britain leaving the EU.
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The British Prime Minister Delivers Her Brexit Speech
In a historic speech last week setting the course for a bright new future as a truly independent nation, the PM spelled out the UK will decisively break ties with Brussels whatever happens in the forthcoming departure negotiations.
The PM vowed to pull the UK out of the single market, end the medalling of EU judges and halt the annual payments of "huge sums" into the Brussels budget.
And in a stark warning to EU that any attempt to impose punitive departure terms on the UK would be "a calamitous act of self-harm”, she declared: “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”