Labour’s divisions over Brexit erupted last night as leadership challenger Owen Smith hinted Jeremy Corbyn lied about voting “In” at the European referendum as the pair clashed during an ill-tempered hustings event in Glasgow.
There were also angry exchanges over the plight of Labour in Scotland amid claims the country had been “ill-served” by the party.
Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale’s name was even jeered at the heated head-to-head featuring the two men vying for the party’s UK leadership.
Mr Smith has said he will seek to stop Brexit without guarantees of a second referendum on the final terms of the UK’s departure from the Brussels bloc, or another general election on the issue. And he turned on Mr Corbyn, widely criticised over his half-hearted approach to the recent referendum campaign, after the left-winger refused to back this stance.
“Jeremy has never wanted us to stay in the European Union – his record is clear, he’s always been opposed to it,” Mr Smith said. “I’m not even sure Jeremy did vote ‘In’ in the referendum.”
He added: “Are you absolutely certain that you did vote in?”
But this prompted an angry response from the Labour leader who accused his rival of “questionable” tactics and reminded them they had campaigned to together in Cardiff against Brexit.
“I’m very surprised and even quite disappointed that you should raise this question,” Mr Corbyn added. “You know very well I voted remain.”
The Labour leader told the audience, which regulalry jeered both candidates throughout, that politicians had to respect the outcome of the democratic process even if they didn’t like the result.
But Mr Smith went on: “The reason I think Jeremy can be so complacent and passive about this is that he’s happy with the result.” He told the audience his rival had attacked the late John Smith when he was UK Labour leader over his support for the EU.
“Jeremy is quite content now for us to sit back and for that ‘hard’ Brexit that Liam Fox and David Davis and Theresa May are going to introduce to take place,” he said.
The situation in Scotland also came under the spotlight, with both men accusing the SNP of imposing their own austerity on Scots as hundreds of millions of pounds are axed from council services. Mr Corbyn said there have been “tough challenges” in Scotland after the party finished third in the May’s Holyrood election.
He added: “The SNP are very good at adopting the clothes of Labour tradition in Scotland. The reality is something very, very different from what they actually do in their economic strategy.” Mr Smith said falling to third place behind the Tories in Scotland should be a “wake-up call” for Labour north of the Border.
He told Mr Corbyn: “The reality is in the last year when you’ve been leader of the Labour party across the UK, we’ve gone from second to third behind the Tories. We’ve gone backwards in Scotland.”
He went on: “People did feel that the last Labour government wasn’t radical enough.
“Scotland is a radical country and a socialist country and people want to see a Socialist government at Westminster.
Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale has already pledged her support for Mr Smith. But the Pontypridd MP was forced to defend the Lothians MSP when her name was met with jeers as he praised the “brilliant job” she had done in Scotland.
“I’m really gutted that there’s a Labour audience laughing and jeering at the leader of Scottish Labour.”
The current leadership race comes just a year after Mr Corbyn won a similar contest last year. But he has suffered a wave of front bench resignations amid concerns over his ability to do the job.
He told supporters that figures “underline the concerns” of Scots who rejected independence in the 2014 referendum. “A Scottish deficit of £15 billion raises a huge question mark over the central economic mission of the SNP,” he said.