Sunday 17 February 2019 11:55 am

John McDonnell says Labour has ‘held the party together on Brexit’ as rumours of split harden

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said the Labour leadership has "held the party together" over Brexit as he addressed reports of an impending split.

Jeremy Corbyn's number two said it would be "ridiculous" for the party to be divided over Brexit, saying there was "no need to split".

However, a number of MPs, including former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie,  Chuka Umunna, and Luciana Berger, have not denied that they are mulling an imminent breakaway from Labour. They are reportedly in talks with Tory MPs to form a new centrist party in the wake of dissatisfaction over Brexit.

Read more: Labour MP Luciana Berger faces no confidence vote

Asked by the BBC on the apparent impending split, McDonnell replied: "I don't see why there's a need to. On all the issues that people have raised that has the potential for a split, we're dealing with. We're holding the party together on Brexit, those who are saying they'll split if we don't have a people's vote – well we've still kept that option on the table. Why split over that, it's ridiculous."

McDonnell said that if Labour was to split it would "be like the 1980s" where the party lost seats to the Conservatives and allowed Margaret Thatcher into Number 10. He said those who were reported to be on the cusp of leaving were "Labour through and through" and "wouldn't want this".

Read more: Labour loses up to 150,000 members over its stance on Brexit

The Labour party has found itself divided on Brexit, and especially over the issue of whether to call for a second referendum or People's Vote. Corbyn is lukewarm to the idea of a second referendum and the leadership's stance has been that may only be called in the event that the party cannot secure a general election. 

McDonnell said he wasn't "giving up" on a general election but admitted that "we're at the end of the line" and the option of going back to the public "had to be there".