Owen Smith has told Sky News he was sacked from the shadow cabinet for voicing views on Brexit that are shared by the “overwhelming majority” of Labour members.
Speaking a day after he was removed from his job as shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Mr Smith called the decision “disappointing” but insisted he did not regret urging his party to campaign for a second EU referendum.
Mr Smith said “the vast majority of Labour members” want the country to have a say on Brexit “either at a General Election or at a further referendum” once the UK’s deal with the EU is agreed.
He told Sky News: “Given this is the most pressing economic crisis that we’ve faced in our country for many generations, we need to be honest to the country and true to our beliefs about the scale of the crisis we face.
“The country, the people, ought to be given the chance to make a decision when the facts are properly known and understood, not on the basis of the flimflam and the lies from Boris Johnson and the rest of them.”
He added: “Labour has many opinions about Brexit but the majority opinion – the opinion that is shared by the overwhelming majority of Labour members and Labour supporters, shown in poll after poll – is the one I articulated.”
Mr Smith said Jeremy Corbyn had sacked him because the Labour leader was “unhappy” with his position on Brexit.
But he denied Mr Corbyn saw him as a “personal threat” after Mr Smith previously challenged for the Labour leadership in 2016.
The Pontypridd MP said: “(Mr Corbyn) ought to be able to, frankly, have challenging voices within the shadow cabinet, especially on an issue of such national significance and national importance.”
After Mr Corbyn was criticised for his apparent support for an anti-Semitic mural, Mr Smith said the Labour Party needed to be “more robust” to tackle anti-Semitism.
He said: “The reality is there are anti-Semites in all form of politics but we do, I think, have people in the Labour Party who have been readmitted having expressed anti-Semitic views.
“I think there should be no place for those views and, frankly, no place for those people if they have expressed those views.”
Mr Smith’s sacking was criticised by a number of prominent Labour politicians including Chuka Umunna and ex-Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain who called the decision a “terrible Stalinist purge”.
Its extraordinary that a shadow cabinet member -doing an excellent job in their brief – should be sacked for standing up for our principles and advocating a Brexit policy that commands the overwhelming support of our members, supporters and voters. What has happened to our party? https://t.co/DBYDlNXSZ0
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) March 23, 2018
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told Sky News that Mr Corbyn had made “a mistake” removing Mr Smith from his shadow cabinet post.
“I think it’s a shame Owen has been sacked,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“He’s been doing a fantastic job in Northern Ireland, one of the few British politicians who understands… the disastrous implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland and the peace process.”
Mr Smith has been replaced as shadow Northern Ireland Secretary by veteran former minister Tony Lloyd.
Mr Corbyn said: “Tony is a highly experienced former government minister who is committed to ensuring that peace in Northern Ireland is maintained and helping to steer the devolution deal back on track.”