- Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn under mounting pressure to back a second Brexit referendum
- Leading Labour MEP tells Corbyn to “come over the hill” and back a soft Brexit.
- Labour’s biggest union backer opens the door to a second vote.
- Corbyn’s party remains commited to implementing Brexit.
BRUSSELS & LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn is under growing pressure to back a second Brexit referendum as figures from across the movement called on him to think again.
On Tuesday Labour’s biggest union backers Unite, passed a conference motion leaving the door open for a second Brexit referendum.
The chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, Theresa Griffin MEP, joined the calls for a rethink, telling Business Insider that Corbyn must “come over the hill” and embrace a softer Brexit policy, including a referendum on the final deal.
Griffin, the Labour MEP for northwest England, is the latest figure to join a growing chorus of voices within the Labour Party which is calling on the Westminster leadership to offer the British public the chance to reverse Brexit.
At least 2,600 members of Momentum, the pro-Corbyn group,have signed a petition calling for a second referendum, with 4,000 needed to trigger a poll of all members. Labour MPs from London, Wales and the northeast have publicly called on Corbyn to back another referendum in recent weeks – or what they describe as a “people’s vote.”
Last week, 62 local Labour parties and figures including an advisor to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell declared their support for the Labour For A People’s Vote campaign. On Tuesday, Unite the union said it was “open to the possibility of a popular vote being held on any [Brexit] deal, depending on political circumstances.”
Griffin told BI that after months of personal deliberation over whether to support another referendum, she now believes the British public should be given another say on EU membership.
“We [Labour] are in a difficult position but we’ve got to come over the hill to say actually, when people voted in the referendum, they didn’t realise the implications of all of this,” the MEP told BI.
“The problem we’ve got is that until it [Brexit] actually happens, we won’t see just how bad this is going to get. I have lost thousands of jobs in the northwest since the beginning of December – and it hasn’t even started yet.”
She added: “I’ve come around to the idea that the referendum gave consent to the UK Government to begin the process of negotiating a deal to leave the EU. But as we didn’t know at the time what that deal would be, it is now necessary to ask the people if they agree with the terms of the deal once we know the impact.”
Griffin, who has been an MEP since 2014, added that it would be an “enormous mistake” for the Westminster Labour Party to not make staying in the single market part of its Brexit policy.
“My job is to mitigate Brexit and save as many jobs as I can in my region. To save as much regulation as I can in my region. To save the economies of my region. It makes no sense for my region to leave the single market,” she said.
A vast majority of Labour Party members want to stay in the single market but the Westminster leadership is wary of how Labour voters and constituencies which voted Leave would react to this policy.
Griffin told BI she understands the importance of “timing” but said the only way Labour can expect Leave voters to embrace a softer Brexit position is by first making the argument for it.
“I was addressing a meeting of shop stewards in the automatic industry prior to the referendum and they were saying they were voting leave and I said ‘hang on a minute, your jobs depend on the single market’.
“That opinion is shifting, but only because we are talking with them. We cannot leave anyone behind,” she said.
Speaking to BI in Brussels, Griffin warned that Brexit poses a “disaster” to jobs and businesses nationwide, but stressed that few regions will take a bigger hit than northwest England, which she represents.
Both the IPPR and the University of Birmingham have said that leaving the EU will have a much bigger negative economic impact on the northwest than London. The latter predicted that 16.3% of Cumbria’s GDP and 15% of Lancashire’s are under threat. The UK government’s own impact assessments found that the Theresa May’s Brexit policy – a free trade agreement with the EU – could hit northwest GDP by 8%.
The Labour MEP said that Siemens, Volkswagon and Jaguar Land Rover have all warned that they could scale back production in their northwest bases if frictionless trade with the EU doesn’t continue after Brexit.
“This is generational. It will several generations to make up,” she said. “In the northwest, we have a lot of advanced manufacturing jobs which are in ‘just in time’ production. If we’re not part of the single market and customs union, we are facing both costly time delays and tariffs. For every job that goes, you’re talking about a family.”
If you ask their view of the UK negotiating team, they’d say we are a laughing stock.
She referenced northwest universities, like UCLAN in Preston, which are still unsure whether they will be able to receive EU grants from which they have been net gainers after the UK has left the bloc. “I’ve got 13 [universities in the north-west. They impact hugely on their local economies,” she said.
Griffin said she expects “reality will soon dawn” on Prime Minister May and force her to keep the UK closely aligned to the EU. “Given the glacial pace and incredible ineptitude of the UK’s Tory negotiating team, it seems likely that it will cave on at least some of their red lines in order to secure tariff-free access to the single market,” she said.
The Cabinet will meet on Friday to thrash out the details of the government’s highly-anticipated Brexit white paper, amid intense speculation that May is considering keeping the UK wedded to aspects of the single market.
However, even if the UK does end up with a soft version of Brexit, Griffin said she fears serious damage has already been done to UK-EU relations as a result of the Conservative government’s handling of the process.
“If you asked other MEPs from different countries whether they’d have the UK back tomorrow, the answer is yes.
“If you ask their view of the UK negotiating team, they’d say we are a laughing stock.”
She added: “Every time Boris Johnson opens his mouth and says something about business, everybody here reads the British press. Most people here speak English. When he is insulting about the negotiators, it gets picked up. We are losing credibility, hugely. I’m really worried that from a starting point of lots of goodwill, we have lost it.”
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