Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'farcical' cop-out after refusing to back second Brexit referendum

Leon Neal/Getty Images
  • The Labour party is set to say it will support another Brexit referendum.
  • After months of pressure from its pro-EU membership, Jeremy Corbyn’s party has decided to let delegates vote on a motion calling for a so-called People’s Vote to be party policy.
  • However, the motion has some big caveats. Labour will only consider supporting another referendum if there is no Brexit deal, and no general election takes place.
  • Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said staying in the EU would not be an option in any new Brexit referendum.
  • Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer later slapped down McDonnell, claiming staying in the EU could be an option.
  • Labour MP David Lammy described the motion as “farcical.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – The Labour party has been accused of a “farcical” cop-out after refusing to commit to supporting a referendum on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

Under a motion submitted to its party conference in Liverpool, Labour is set to support the “option” of a nationwide referendum on the outcome of Brexit talks – but only if there is no Brexit deal and no “immediate” general election.

And any referendum would not include the option of remaining in the EU, according to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. This was later denied by Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesperson.

The motion was welcomed by some anti-Brexit groups. Eloise Todd, CEO at anti-Brexit group Best For Britain called it “a welcome step forward for the party and it also reflects the huge shift in the country as more people than ever, particularly Labour voters, want to stay in the EU.”

However, Labour’s influential pro-EU MP David Lammy described the motion as a farce.

“Dozens of motions were submitted to #Lab18, thousands have marched on the streets, and millions more have called for a #PeoplesVote,” he tweeted.

“They did not do this to be offered a farcical referendum on No Deal or a Bad Deal. It absolutely must include the right to remain in the EU.”

The motion comes after weeks of pressure from its overwhelmingly pro-EU membership and comes with some major caveats.

Firstly, Corbyn’s party will only support a so-called People’s Vote if there is no Brexit deal. Secondly, it will only look at backing another referendum if a general election doesn’t take place.

And thirdly, the motion says that even in these circumstances, the option of a People’s Vote would remain “on the table,” and will not necessarily become official party policy.

The motion, which 1,650 Labour delegates will decide whether to accept or not, states: “Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the government.”

It adds: “In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power.

“If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”

Brexit backlash

Two of the party’s most senior figures have cast further doubt over the motion, triggering a backlash from pro-EU campaigners.

Shadow Chancellor McDonnell told BBC radio on Monday that any referendum backed by Labour would not include an option to stay in the EU. “It will be on the deal itself. We will respect the referendum,” he told Radio 4.

Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, later slapped down McDonnell, telling the BBC that staying in the EU had not been ruled out as a referendum choice.

“The meeting last night was very clear that the question of a public vote should be open. We weren’t ruling out options and nobody was ruling out remain. There were 300 people in the room and that was absolutely clear,” he told the BBC.

John mcdonnell mp labour politicianLeon Neal/Getty ImagesShadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell addresses delegates in the main hall on the second day of the Labour Party conference on September 25, 2017 in Brighton, England.

Tom Brake, Brexit spokesperson for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, accused Labour of “aiding and abetting” the Conservative government’s handling of Brexit.

He added: “It beggars belief that McDonnell and co are spending so much time trying to trick and stitch up their own conference, rather than campaigning for an exit from Brexit to protect jobs and services in the UK.”

A YouGov poll published over the weekend found that 86% of Labour members want the party to back another referendum.

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