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- Labour is ready to back a new Brexit referendum, Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday.
- The Labour leader announced that the party would support an amendment which pushes for a new referendum in the next few weeks.
- Anti-Brexit MPs welcomed the announcement.
- However, Labour’s first preference remains for the UK to leave the EU on Corbyn’s terms.
LONDON – The Labour Party is set to back a new referendum on Brexit in the next few weeks, leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced.
In a move that pleased anti-Brexit Labour MPs and the party’s overwhelmingly pro-EU membership, Corbyn on Monday said that he will “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit.”
That means that Labour will for the first time tell its MPs to support an amendment which calls for a new referendum.
The move comes after eight MPs quit the Labour Party last week, citing Corbyn’s refusal to back a new referendum as one of the reasons for their dramatic departure.
Corbyn has been under intense pressure to support a second referendum after Labour’s autumn conference agreed that a new public vote on the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union should be an option.
Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, said on Monday evening that Labour would back an amendment calling for a referendum if MPs defeat the party’s latest attempt to force Theresa May into accepting their alternative Brexit plan.
Corbyn’s first preference is for the Conservative government to accept Labour’s Brexit plan of a permanent customs union with the EU, close ties with the single market, and continued EU-level workplace rights.
However, should Labour fail to force the prime minister into accepting its alternative Brexit deal, then it will pivot to pushing for a new referendum, Corbyn said today.
A note sent to Labour MPs following the announcement confirmed that the party wants staying in the EU to be an option in any future referendum. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry later said that “Remain” would an option in a future referendum and that Labour would campaign for it.
Pro-EU Labour MPs welcomed the announcement.
David Lammy, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a new referendum, said: “It is welcome news that the Labour Party is now, at long last, signalling it will accept the principle of giving the public the final say on Brexit.”
His colleague Labour MP Clive Lewis said: “This decision is a hugely positive step for the Labour Party and our movement as a whole. With this announcement we’re now offering real and unambiguous opposition to Tory Brexit and giving the public the final say on the issue.”
A majority of MPs in the House of Commons voting for a new referendum is still an unlikely prospect, given that the vast majority of Conservative MPs and a significant number of Labour MPs are against it.
Pro-Brexit Labour MP John Mann warned Corbyn on Monday night that backing a referendum would cost Labour votes in constituents which the party must win to have a chance of forming a government at the next election.
“In the Midlands and north of England this decision today will stop you from being prime minister,” Mann told Corbyn at a meeting of Labour MPs on Monday evening.
However, the Labour leader’s announcement will give campaigners for a new referendum fresh hope that it will be possible to create a House of Commons majority for it in the coming weeks.
Corbyn also announced that Labour would support an amendment tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Conservative Oliver Letwin, which would force the government to delay Brexit if May doesn’t have an approved deal by March 13.
“Jeremy Corbyn will tell a meeting of Labour’s Parliamentary Labour Party this evening that the party will back the Cooper-Letwin amendment to take ‘No Deal’ off the table and announce that Labour will also put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit,” the party said tonight.
Here’s Corbyn’s statement:
“The Prime Minister is recklessly running down the clock, in an attempt to force MPs to choose between her botched deal and a disastrous No Deal. We cannot and will not accept. “Last week, after our visit to talk to EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid, no one can be in any doubt Labour’s alternative Brexit plan is serious and credible. We are convinced our alternative, which puts jobs and living standards first, could command support in the House of Commons, bring people who voted Leave and Remain together, and be negotiated with the EU. “That’s why we will be putting down an amendment in parliament this week setting out Labour’s plan: for a comprehensive customs union with a UK say; close alignment with the single market; guarantees on rights and standards; protection for Britain’s role in EU agencies; and a security agreement which guarantees access to the European arrest warrant and vital shared databases. And we will be calling for legislation to underpin this mandate. “We will also be backing the Cooper-Letwin amendment to rule out a No Deal outcome. One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent No Deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal. “That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”