Labour braced for showdown over Corbyn’s Brexit position

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Jeremy Corbyn has opened the door to a possible second referendum on EU membership by saying he will be “bound” by a vote at the Labour conference in Liverpool on party’s Brexit policy.

Jeremy Corbyn has opened the door to a possible second referendum on EU membership by saying he will be “bound” by a vote at the Labour conference in Liverpool on party’s Brexit policy.

Tom Watson(right) is thought to be sympathetic to the idea of a People's Vote. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Tom Watson(right) is thought to be sympathetic to the idea of a People's Vote. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour members and unions have pushed for the party to support a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ on the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal and will debate the issue on Tuesday.

However, the exact wording of the motion to be voted on by party members will only be confirmed tomorrow, 
with more than 100 constituency submissions being compiled into a text for debate last night.

An early draft was understood to be six pages long and contained a single reference to a new referendum as just one option that Labour could pursue. Many expect the final motion that emerges from the ‘compositing’ process to allow Mr Corbyn to retain broad room to manoeuvre.

In interviews yesterday, the Labour leader made clear he still believed that an early general election was the best way to resolve the political crisis over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

He said his party was ready to “put our case to Parliament” for an early poll in comments likely to fuel speculation that Labour will table a vote of no confidence in Theresa May if talks with Brussels fail.

However, he pledged to respect the outcome of tomorrow’s debate despite saying last week Labour wouldn’t hold a second EU referendum under a Corbyn premiership.

Mr Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Let’s see what comes out of conference. Obviously I’m bound by the democracy of our party.

“There will be a clear vote in the conference. I don’t know what’s going to come out of all the compositing meetings that are going on.”

A YouGov poll at the weekend found 86 per cent of Labour members think voters should have the final say on the outcome of Brexit negotiations and 90 per cent would now vote to remain in the EU.

Even in the North and Midlands, where many Labour constituencies voted Leave in 2016, there was overwhelming support – 86 per cent and 88 per cent respectively – for a second vote. Some 81 per cent believe their standard of living would get worse after Brexit and 89 per cent said it would be bad for jobs.

Deputy leader Tom Watson said the party leadership must “respect” the views of members if conference opts to give voters a “final say” on Brexit.

Conservatives seized on their comments as a sign Labour was ready to seek to overturn the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum.

However, the influential union leader Len McCluskey said it would be wrong for Labour to start campaigning for a second referendum.

He told BBC radio any second vote should not include an option to stay in the EU.

“We have already had a people’s vote – they voted to come out of the EU,” the Unite leader said.

Pro-EU activists staged a rally and march in Liverpool as the annual Labour conference got underway yesterday in a bid to pile pressure on the leadership.

A crowd waving EU and other flags chanted “bollocks to Brexit” and “it’s not a done deal” as they walked from St George’s Hall to a rally at Pier Head, close to where the conference is taking place.

Some sections of the crowd also chanted directly at Mr Corbyn, saying: “Hey Jeremy, take a note, for the many, People’s Vote.”

Tottenham MP David Lammy and peer Lord Adonis were among the speakers while MP Luciana Berger led the march.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, told the crowd he supported Mr Corbyn and said: “If there is one thing I know about Jeremy Corbyn, it’s that he respects democracy. When conference votes to say Labour should campaign for a People’s Vote on the terms of Brexit, he will go along with it.”

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis MP said: “The last pretence that Labour ever respected the democratic decision of the British people is rapidly disappearing.

“If Labour back a second referendum, they will have broken their manifesto pledge and betrayed millions of people who voted in good faith.”