Wes Streeting has revealed Keir Starmer privately asked him whether he should quit Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet team over “challenges” the party faced, including antisemitism.
The comments from the shadow health secretary — a critic of Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the party — came as he defended the Labour leader for remaining in his predecessor’s top team.
Sir Keir was appointed shadow Brexit secretary after Mr Corbyn overwhelmingly defeated a leadership challenge in 2016 and remained in the top team until April 2020 when he was elected as leader.
Since then, Sir Keir has repeatedly clashed with the left and suspended the whip from Mr Corbyn, but has faced criticism from Tory MPs for sticking by his predecessor in the shadow cabinet.
Addressing the issue, Mr Streeting, who was appearing as a guest presenter on LBC, said: “I’m not sure I’ve shared this publicly before.
“I remember having a conversation with Keir once and he was the shadow Brexit secretary and [had] a very important job with all of the negotiations that were going on on the biggest issue of the day.
“I remember talking to Keir about anti semitism and some of the other challenges we had, because I always saw him as one of the reasonable, fair-minded, decent people in the shadow cabinet that I could go to and talk to.
“We had quite a robust conversation about these challenges and Keir said, ‘Look, do you think I should resign from the shadow cabinet, is that what you’re saying to me?’
“And I said, ‘Oh no, for goodness sake, don’t do that, we absolutely need you in there, we need you to try and make a difference’, whether on Brexit or some of the other challenges the Labour party had.”
While Mr Streeting described Mr Corbyn’s position in 2016 as “untenable” and did not serve in the shadow cabinet, he insisted he did not “judge” Sir Keir “harshly or badly for doing so”.
“He was one of a number of people who were trying to make a difference, trying to stop the Labour Party from losing a general election, trying to stop the Labour Party lose its moral compass on issues like antisemitism,” he added.
Addressing the Tory leadership contest, Mr Streeting also claimed it was a “very, very odd choice” for MPs in the party to select Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, and foreign secretary Liz Truss for the final run-off.
“We’ve ended up with the final two who will surely have the hardest job distancing themselves from Boris Johnson,” he said.
Referring to Ms Truss’ loyalty to the outgoing prime minister and Mr Sunak being fined over the Partygate scandal, the Labour frontbencher said: “It’s a very, very odd choice to put Sunak and Truss in the final two because there were other candidates who represented change”.