Grassroots to send ultimatum to Corbyn on Brexit

Senior Labour figures will face immediate pressure from party members to change party policy and oppose Brexit within hours of the meaningful vote on Theresa May's deal with Brussels.

The Labour leader angered many supporters by insisting he would press ahead with EU withdrawal as Prime Minister. Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty
The Labour leader angered many supporters by insisting he would press ahead with EU withdrawal as Prime Minister. Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty

Key allies of Jeremy Corbyn at the top of the Labour party will be confronted with grassroots demands for a second EU referendum less than 24 hours after the Commons vote, set for Tuesday, which the government is expected to lose heavily.

The Prime Minister will have three days to return to the Commons with a “plan B” for Brexit, during which time opposition parties will also seek to impose their will on the next steps in the process.

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The Labour leader has resisted pressure to fully embrace a second EU referendum that could reverse Brexit, saying his priority is a general election.

But this week saw confusion at the highest levels over what Brexit policy Labour would take into that election, with members of the shadow cabinet and Scottish party leader Richard Leonard facing criticism for failing to spell out the position, while shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said an extension of Article 50 was now “inevitable”.

A survey of Labour members found that 86 per cent want a second referendum on EU membership, and polling suggests the party could be particularly badly hit in Scotland if Labour backs May’s Brexit deal.

The YouGov poll for the People’s Vote campaign found that support for Labour in Scotland would fall by 6 percentage points to 15 per cent, costing all but one of the party’s seven MPs north of the border.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rebecca Long-Bailey, will hear direct pleas from party members for a robust anti-Brexit policy at a key policy meeting scheduled for Wednesday at Labour HQ in London.

The two Labour front benchers sit on the Economy, Business and Trade Commission of the party’s National Policy Forum (NPF), which will consider submissions from ordinary members, elected Labour officials and constituency Labour parties.

The open submissions process has been flooded with demands for a People’s Vote since Corbyn gave an interview to the Guardian saying that Labour would press ahead with Brexit if it won power. At its conference in September, members committed the party to seek a fresh EU vote if a general election can’t be secured.

Out of 27 new submissions since 21 December, 18 call for Labour to support a second referendum or oppose Brexit.

A Labour source said: “Members are making clear their fury about Labour’s ambiguous position on Brexit. Jeremy promised that his leadership would be led by the membership, so the membership is making it clear that he must drop his support for Brexit.

“It’s vital that NPF reps and the leadership listen to what the members are saying, come out firmly against any type of Brexit, and back a People’s Vote.

“If we fail to do so, the voters will not return us to power.”

As well as submissions from constituency parties, individuals have made their views known, with one warning the party’s policy on Brexit “is no longer tenable”, while another writes: “If we go into the next election offering Brexit-lite, just as we did offering austerity-lite under Ed Miliband, we will lose the next election.”

Several other influential figures within the Labour movement sit on the Economy, Business and Trade Commission, including union chiefs Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, and Tim Roache, who leads the GMB. Jackie Baillie, who was sacked from Leonard’s front bench over her criticism of his Brexit stance, also sits on the commission.