Labour to fight election with neutral Brexit stance after show of hands

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
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Labour will go into a snap election without a clear position on how it would campaign in a second EU referendum, after a chaotic show-of-hands vote at the party’s conference in Brighton.

In a major victory for Jeremy Corbyn, an attempt to force a pro-Remain stance on the Labour leadership was defeated in controversial circumstances as a vote was taken on the conference floor.

Despite a fiercely contested debate, after a show of hands Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) chair Wendy Nichols ruled that the Remain motion had been defeated, and rejected angry calls for a full card vote.

There were chaotic scenes as Ms Nichols initially suggested she though the motion had been carried, then appeared to change her mind after consulting with Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby.

Labour will now go into a general election promising a referendum on a Brexit deal it will negotiate with Brussels, with a Remain option on the ballot paper.

However, which option the party will back will only be decided at a special conference after a new Brexit deal has been secured.

It comes after the Scotsman revealed internal polling suggesting that Labour would lose more than half its support from the 2017 general election with a neutral stance on Brexit, with 30% of its support across the UK going to pro-Remain parties.

The decision split the shadow cabinet, Labour’s union backers, and even the pro-Corbyn Momentum campaign group, whose founder Jon Lansman claimed the process was a “stitch up” and called on its members to vote with their conscience rather than back the party leadership.

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, an early supporter of a People’s Vote on the terms of Brexit, said the party’s stance was “not tenable”.

“It’s important to recognise that we now have a policy of a public vote on any deal with the option to remain,” Mr Murray said. “That’s really the only show in town.

“But it is of course deeply disappointing that we have not chosen to campaign for remain at this stage, as that certainly does not reflect the strong views of the overwhelming majority of our members and supporters.

“It is simply not tenable for our leadership to be neutral when we face the biggest crisis our country has witnessed in modern times.”

The SNP’s Europe spokesman, Stephen Gethins MP, said Mr Corbyn was “firmly stuck on the fence”.

“This is a real abdication of leadership,” Mr Gethins said. "It beggars belief that more than three years after the EU referendum, and knowing the damage Brexit will do, Labour is still arguing over its position.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said the Labour leader had shown a "total lack of leadership".

"Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly had the opportunity to put the full force of the Labour behind a Remain position, but he has once again shown today that he is a Brexiteer at heart," she said.