Labour backs second EU referendum

Jeremy Corbyn signals dramatic shift in party’s Brexit policy

A People's Vote March last year
(Image credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Labour has said it will back a second EU referendum in order “to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”, in a dramatic policy shift after months of lobbying by supporters of a People’s Vote.

Jeremy Corbyn told a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party he will move to back another vote if their own proposed Brexit deal is rejected tomorrow.

The Labour leader will put down his own amendment this week setting out plans for a comprehensive customs union and close alignment with the single market, as well as workers’ rights protections and continued involvement in EU agencies.

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The party has also indicated it will throw its weight behind the cross-party Cooper-Letwin amendment which would rule out a no-deal Brexit and seek an extension to Article 50 if the prime minister is unable to secure a Commons majority for her deal.

According to The Guardian, “the move is aimed at preventing Theresa May from forcing through either her deal as it stands or no deal – not necessarily at stopping Brexit in any form”.

The BBC's Vicky Young said it was a highly “significant” development, while The Independent says it represents “a significant shift in the party’s much-criticised policy”.

Pro-EU campaigners “responded jubilantly,” The Times reports “although there is little detail yet on what form Corbyn’s proposed referendum would take, and whether an option to remain would definitely be on the ballot paper”.

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Labour MP David Lammy said: “It is welcome news that the Labour party is now, at long last, signalling it will accept the principle of giving the public the final say on Brexit.”

“If Labour does throw its weight behind a Final Say referendum, it could deliver a Commons majority,” The Independent says, “although not definitely, because some of its MPs would refuse to back it.”

Any vote to back a People’s Vote would be bitterly be opposed by Labour MPs in Leave-supporting constituencies who fear electoral wipeout at the next election if they are seen to vote against, or even delay, Brexit.

Will Labour’s party within a party prevent mass exodus?

Disaffected Labour MPs unhappy with its direction and leadership are being urged to join a new group within the party, in a last-ditch effort to avoid further resignations and a permanent rupture.

The move, led by deputy leader Tom Watson, “is intended to give more of a voice to MPs from Labour's social democratic tradition”, says the BBC.

Politics Home says the move comes after the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, rejected Watson’s call for him to promote more up-and-coming MPs from different wings of the party to his frontbench.

“Their voices are not being heard on the frontbench,” said a source. “This would be about bringing bright, young backbenchers into the policymaking process.”

It follows the departure of nine moderate Labour MPs last week, who quit the party in protest at its “lurch to the left”, its failure to tackle anti-Semitism and bullying, and its Brexit policy.

Watson, who has struck a more conciliatory tone towards the rebels than the leadership, said the new internal grouping was the only way to hold the party together, and would give a platform to MPs whose views were not currently represented in the shadow cabinet.

“The idea is to create a forum for moderate MPs to debate issues such as automation, an ageing society, social care and climate change, and to commission research and publish policy papers to feed into Labour’s National Policy Forum”, The Financial Times says.

“But there could be an iron fist in this velvet glove,” says BBC political correspondent Iain Watson.

“At the moment we are seeing a steady trickle of Labour MPs leaving,” he writes. “If, however, a much larger group feel subsequently that their ideas are being ignored, then - as one source put it - there is 'strength in numbers'. So Jeremy Corbyn could be told - change position or face not a splinter, but a proper split.”

The as-yet-unnamed group, “is expected to meet in the next fortnight”, The Guardian reports, but both the FT and Politic Home say the initiative will be seen as “a direct challenge to Jeremy Corbyn”.

In response, the leader’s office have said they would welcome greater discussion of policy, but stressed there would be no big shift away from the 2017 general election manifesto, which had proven popular with voters.

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