Labour will not support a second EU referendum under any circumstances, but will commit in its European election manifesto to hold one if it can’t secure its own preferred Brexit deal, the party’s executive agreed after five hours of talks yesterday.
Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn on the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) fought off an attempt by deputy leader Tom Watson to adopt a ‘confirmatory vote’ as party policy, whatever the eventual terms of Brexit.
Instead, the NEC agreed to endorse existing party policy, which calls for a second EU referendum if Labour cannot force changes to the government’s Brexit deal, and is unable to secure a general election.
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It came as polling showed the public remain confused about Labour’s Brexit policy ahead of European elections, with voters divided over whether Mr Corbyn’s party backs leaving the EU or not.
A Labour source said: “The NEC agreed the manifesto which will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy - to support Labour’s alternative plan, and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a general election, to back the option of a public vote.”
Mr Corbyn’s allies and MPs representing Leave-voting constituencies across England have resisted calls to give unequivocal backing to a People’s Vote, fearing it could damage Labour’s electoral prospects.
Pro-EU critics and opposition parties accused Labour of supporting Brexit and abandoning its Remain-voting members. The official People’s Vote campaign said Labour were doing the “bare minimum”.
But Labour MPs who are pushing for a so-called People’s Vote said they were satisfied with the outcome, arguing that events were likely to lead the party to back a second EU referendum.
Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, an early supporter of a second EU referendum, said that “given there won’t be a General Election and the Tories will not agree Customs Union and Single Market, the Labour EU manifesto commits to a public vote”.
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But Nicola Sturgeon claimed the decision was “Confirmation, if it was needed, that Labour is a Brexit supporting party”, and the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Labour was “conspiring in the Tory-led Brexit shambles”.
“Jeremy Corbyn today had an opportunity to help bring an EU referendum closer, but instead he has chosen to continue his complicity in the Tories’ plan to remove us from the EU,” Mr Blackford said.
“The Labour leader has not just abdicated his responsibility as leader of the Opposition, he has abdicated his responsibility of standing up for the rights and living standards of people across Scotland and the UK in the face of Brexit, which we know will harm our economy, costs jobs and hit people’s pockets.”