Brexit: Labour urged to resolve second referendum question
The Labour MPs behind the parliamentary drive for a confirmatory referendum on Brexit have written to their party’s governing body urging it to use the European elections to campaign for a fresh poll regardless of whether a deal has been reached with the government.
The call, from Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, comes before a crunch meeting of the party’s national executive committee on Tuesday to consider a draft manifesto for the 23 May vote. Presented by Labour’s policy chief, Andrew Fisher, the manifesto is expected to stick closely to the conference policy of supporting a referendum but only to prevent a Conservative version of a Brexit deal.
Wilson and Kyle, who have drafted an amendment to any future binding Brexit vote which would commit MPs to passing May’s withdrawal deal subject to a public vote, said that option had the most popular support in the party.
In their letter to the NEC on Monday the pair wrote that it was “an opportunity to hold the Tory government to account on its botched approach to Brexit
The letter said a confirmatory ballot was supported by 203 Labour MPs, including 110 from seats that had a majority leave vote three years ago and had been whipped by the Labour frontbench when MPs took part in indicative votes in parliament.
“If a ‘deal’ is implemented without first going to the people for confirmation, then in the months and years ahead, the public will have a right to say ‘this isn’t the Brexit I voted for’,” the letter said.
“The public wants Brexit to be over. They are looking to the Labour party to resolve this Brexit crisis. The way to resolve this crisis is in a confirmatory ballot with the facts of the deal before the British people.”
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who sits on the NEC, is expected to use the meeting to push for a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal to be included in the manifesto. He urged Labour members on Sunday to lobby members of the NEC to support his efforts.
Jon Lansman, an NEC member and the founder of the leftwing grassroots group Momentum, replied in agreement on Twitter: “At conference we agreed: ‘If the Govt is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy & communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.’ So surely we too can all agree to a confirmatory vote on any govt deal in our manifesto!”
However, another NEC member, Claudia Webbe, accused Watson of being divisive. “Our number one priority should be for a democratic socialist Labour government to deliver a sustained & irreversible shift in wealth & power in the UK,” she tweeted.
“Supporting Jeremy Corbyn & the Labour Party to achieve this to kick out the Tories should be your focus.”
Pressure is also growing from Labour candidates in the European election, 21 of whom have signed a pledge to say they will push for a referendum with remain on the ballot paper.
Andrew Lewin, of the party campaign group Remain Labour, said he hoped more candidates would sign up in the coming days.
“Remain voters across the country who want to defeat Nigel Farage’s Brexit party can now vote with confidence and enthusiasm for Labour candidates who have pledged to fight for our future, as members of the European Union,” he said.
Labour sources have played down the prospect of a fiery showdown at the NEC. “Watson will say his piece, Richard Corbett [the Labour leader in the EU parliament] will say his piece and then everyone will agree the conference policy is a sensible compromise,” one source close to the NEC said.
Labour was to resume cross-party Brexit talks with the government on Monday about whether a path can be found to a deal that both sides can support or to a process in parliament for determining what can command a majority.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, made clear on Sunday that if Labour’s Brexit demands were met by the government, she would not expect the party to insist it be put to a public vote.