Labour deputy leader calls for second referendum before general election

In a speech today, Tom Watson will call from deputy leader Tom Watson for a second referendum before any general election.Picture: Getty Images
In a speech today, Tom Watson will call from deputy leader Tom Watson for a second referendum before any general election.Picture: Getty Images
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Fresh Labour Party divisions have opened up over Brexit with a call from deputy leader Tom Watson for a vote on a second referendum before any general election.

In a speech on Wednesday, Mr Watson will say that a single-issue Brexit election may not break the deadlock in Parliament - something only a second referendum can achieve with certainty.

He will also argue that if a referendum were to follow an election, then Labour should commit "unambiguously and unequivocally" to campaign for Remain.

His latest intervention puts him on a fresh collision course with Jeremy Corbyn, who has made clear his priority is for an election once Parliament has closed off a no-deal Brexit.

Addressing the TUC in Brighton on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn confirmed an incoming Labour government would hold a new referendum - with Remain and a "credible" option for Leave on the ballot paper - but he has yet to say which he would support.

The latest row follows a series of clashes between the two men over Mr Corbyn's reluctance to embrace a second referendum and the party's handling of complaints of anti-Semitism.

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In his speech to the Creative Industries Federation, Mr Watson will say that while a Brexit election might at the moment seem "inevitable", such single issue campaigns were never desirable.

"Boris Johnson has already conceded that the Brexit crisis can only be solved by the British people," he will say.

"But the only way to break the Brexit deadlock once and for all is a public vote in a referendum. A general election might well fail to solve this Brexit chaos."

He will also argue that it is not too late for Labour to win back Remain voters put off by confusion over the party's position on Brexit, if they were to commit clearly to campaign to stay in the EU.

"My experience on the doorstep tells me most of those who've deserted us over our Brexit policy did so with deep regret and would greatly prefer to come back; they just want us to take an unequivocal position that whatever happens we'll fight to remain, and to sound like we mean it," he will say.

"If we did it we could win, whereas if we don't I fear we won't."

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Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Mr Watson's comments showed Labour was determined to cancel the 2016 referendum result.

"This latest trick would mean delaying Brexit again for up to a year, handing over £250 million a week to Brussels for no purpose. Labour are running scared of an election and only offer more dither and pointless delay," he said.

"Only Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will deliver Brexit by October 31, no ifs or buts, so we can move on and focus on the issues that matter to people - investing in the NHS, reducing violent crime and cutting the cost of living."

Meanwhile, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer will insist that Labour will not be silenced in its bid to prevent a no-deal Brexit by Boris Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks.

In a speech to the TUC conference, he will tell delegates: "Prime Minister Johnson now thinks that by shutting down Parliament he will shut us up. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"Just as we worked throughout the summer to pass a law preventing no deal, so we will work each and every day we are shut down to enforce that law."