Jeremy Corbyn took another step towards backing a second EU referendum by telling his shadow cabinet that a ballot paper would need to contain “real choices” for Leave and Remain voters.
The Labour leader reiterated his belief that any Brexit deal should be put to a public vote, despite 26 of his own MPs in mainly pro-Leave seats writing to him to warn that backing another poll would be “toxic” to the bedrock of the party’s supporters.
Mr Corbyn stopped short of saying Labour would campaign to stay in the EU, telling the shadow cabinet yesterday that the party remained “committed to respecting the result of the referendum”.
But he added: “I have already made the case… that it is now right to demand that any deal is put to a public vote. That is in line with our conference policy which agreed a public vote would be an option.
“A ballot paper would need to contain real choices for both Leave and Remain voters.”
Rother Valley MP Sir Kevin Barron, Don Valley’s Caroline Flint and Rotherham’s Sarah Champion were among the signatories to the letter to Mr Corbyn, which said Labour support for a second referendum risked driving a wedge between traditional voters and the party.
They also warned that a no-deal Brexit would “alienate” many who supported the party at the last general election.
The letter follows poor results for the party in the European and local elections, and a narrow victory in the Peterborough by-election. They wrote: “A commitment to a second referendum would be toxic to our bedrock Labour voters, driving a wedge between them and our party, jeopardising our role as a party of the whole nation, and giving the populist right an even greater platform in our heartlands.”
The letter added that the battle for a better Brexit deal was “best fought in stage two, after the UK has left”, and warned: “Rejecting any Brexit in the hope of securing a perfect deal risks the worst outcome – a no-deal Brexit.”
A Labour Party spokesman said: “As Jeremy said after the EU election results, he’s engaging in a process of consultation on our Brexit position and that will continue this afternoon at shadow cabinet.”
Edinburgh MP and People’s Vote campaign supporter Ian Murray welcomed Mr Corbyn’s comments, saying “step by step the Labour leadership are coming closer to the increasingly clear view of the party’s supporters, voters and members... that staying in the European Union must be an option in that final say referendum.”