UK government must spell out Brexit plans: opposition Labour

September 26, 2016 8:28 AM EDT

The Leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn (L) leads the applause in a tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox on the first day of the Labour Party conference, in Liverpool, Britain September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

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By Kylie MacLellan

LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) - The main opposition Labour party called on the government to spell out its strategy for negotiating Britain's exit from the European Union, saying it had no brief to "do whatever the hell they like with our country".

Just over three months since Britons voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government has given little away about its Brexit plans. It has said it needs more time to prepare before triggering formal divorce talks and that it will not give a "running commentary".

While holding the June 23 referendum was a Conservative re-election pledge, little was said during the campaign about what a post-Brexit relationship with the EU would look like and the government banned public servants from contingency planning.

"They had that referendum but in my view it does not give them a democratic mandate to put themselves into a locked room and do whatever the hell they like with our country," Emily Thornberry, Labour's foreign affairs and Brexit spokeswoman, told an event on the sidelines of its annual conference.

"It is about time they started telling us what their negotiating position is going to be ... because we, the opposition, want to scrutinize it."

Labour has been embroiled in a divisive internal power struggle since the referendum. Many of the party's lawmakers have criticized leader Jeremy Corbyn for not doing enough to persuade Labour voters to back remaining in the EU.

The veteran leftist Corbyn's re-election as Labour leader last week has fanned fears among some that a move to drive the party further left will make it unelectable indefinitely and allow the Conservatives free rein over the terms of Brexit.

Labour strongly promoted immigration during its 13 years in power until 2010. But it saw many of its traditional heartlands support Brexit on June 23, with the pressure on jobs and public services blamed on EU immigrants a central driving factor.

Thornberry said Labour also needed more time to establish its stance on Britain's future relations with the EU.

"We are still considering it. We need to consider it with some care. We need to consider the messages that we got from the referendum ... We have to get the best deal possible but it is unclear what the British public wants."

May‎ has said the June 23 vote showed immigration from the EU cannot continue as before but she will be under pressure to seek to balance curbs on immigrants with maintaining British access to the lucrative EU single market.

Addressing the Labour conference, Thornberry said a Labour government would make up any shortfall in EU structural funding for deprived British regions beyond 2020, and would fight to protect workers' rights after a departure from the EU.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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