Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defied calls to throw his weight behind a second referendum on the European Union despite a poll suggesting almost three-quarters of Labour members want one and thousands could quit the party unless it works to bring one about.
A survey of more than 1,000 party members found 72 per cent want a so-called People’s Vote on the terms of Brexit and most would chose to stay in the EU if given the option.
But Mr Corbyn has long resisted such calls. Asked yesterday if he would change his stance, the Labour leader said: “What we will do is vote against having no deal, we’ll vote against Theresa May’s deal.
“And at that point she should go back to Brussels and say, ‘This is not acceptable to Britain’ and renegotiate a customs union, form a customs union with the European Union to secure trade.”
At last year’s Labour Party conference a motion was passed that said if another general election was not called, then Mr Corbyn should pursue another referendum on Brexit.
Speaking about the motion he told reporters the policy was “sequential” on a range of issues, adding: “The issue of another referendum was, of course, one of the options, but that was very much after the votes have taken place in Parliament.
“We haven’t yet had a vote and I think the government really should be ashamed of itself. This vote has been delayed and delayed and delayed.
“It’s finally going to take place the second week of January. That is not acceptable. This vote should have taken place more than a month ago.
“This government is just trying to run down the clock and create a sense of fear between either no deal or May’s deal. Well, both of those options are completely unacceptable.”
The YouGov poll, carried out for the Economic and Social Research Council-funded Party Members Project, found strong backing for a second vote among Labour supporters. A total of 57 per cent of existing Labour voters and 61 per cent of those who backed the party at the 2017 election wanted Mr Corbyn to “fully support” a fresh referendum.
Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of Labour members put Mr Corbyn’s failure to back a second referendum down to a belief that he supports Brexit.
Some 29 per cent opposed the stance the party has taken on Brexit and 56 per cent of those told researchers it had caused them to consider quitting. That proportion would be equivalent to around 88,000 members, according to the project’s analysis.
If there was another referendum and a three-way question, some 88 per cent of Labour members said they would back Remain, 3 per cent said they would vote Leave with Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal and 5 per cent would support leaving with no deal.
Labour backbencher Luciana Berger, who supports the People’s Vote campaign, said Mr Corbyn was “wrong to suggest that either he or Theresa May can negotiate a better Brexit deal”.
She said: “It’s time the leadership stopped hiding behind process and faced up to the scale of the crisis and took the side of the people.”
SNP MP Stephen Gethins called for opposition parties to find common ground in a bid to stop the UK leaving the EU without a Brexit deal.
He said: “A second EU referendum would give the public the chance to reject the false choice of Theresa May’s unwanted deal or an extreme no-deal scenario.”