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- Labour moves closer to being a fully-fledged pro-referendum party.
- Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour now supports a referendum on any Brexit deal.
- He had previously backed a referendum as a means of blocking a “damaging” deal or no-deal Brexit.
- Corbyn signalled the shift after Labour lost swathes of voters to anti-Brexit parties in the European elections.
- Around 40% of people who backed Labour at the last election voted Lib Dem or Green last week, polling says.
LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn says that Labour now supports holding a referendum on any Brexit deal in a significant shift towards the party becoming an unequivocal pro-referendum party.
The Labour leader’s previous position was that the party supported a new referendum on leaving the European Union in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit or a “damaging” exit deal negotiated by the Conservative government.
However, Corbyn went further than that following the results of the European elections, saying any deal, including one shaped by the Labour Party, “has to be put to a public vote” in the form of a referendum.
He also wrote to his Members of Parliament: “It is clear that the deadlock in parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a general election or a public vote.
“We are ready to support a public vote on any deal.”
Corbyn signalled the shift after Labour lost swathes of Remain voters to anti-Brexit parties at last week’s European Parliament elections. Nearly 40% of voters who supported Labour at the last general election backed either the pro-referendum Liberal Democrats or Green Party in the European elections, according to Lord Ashcroft polling.
This contributed to Labour dropping to a third place finish and losing half of its Members of European Parliament. It plummeted to fifth in Scotland and in Wales finished behind Plaid Cymru in a national election for the first time ever.
Many Labour MPs and members blamed the drop in support on the party’s failure to communicate a clear, pro-EU position and called on the leadership to throw its weight behind campaigning for a referendum immediately.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry have all sought to harden the party’s position backing a new referendum since the results.
Labour’s first preference remains forcing a general election but senior party figures publicly admit that this outcome is very unlikely given that Conservative MPs would almost certainly vote to block it.
McDonnell, a close ally of Corbyn, said: “Our only option now is to go back to the people in a referendum and that is the position we’re in now.”
On Brexit, Labour is struggling to satisfy a voter base which is made up of both passionate Remainers in urban areas who want a referendum, and those in post-industrial areas who voted for Leave and want to see it delivered.
Lisa Nandy, an influential Labour backbench MP, has pleaded with the leadership not to adopt a fully-fledged pro-referendum position, warning that Labour voters in her Wigan constituency see it as “absurd.”
She also pointed to the European election result in her town, where the Brexit Party stormed to victory by winning over 41% of the vote, while Labour’s share dropped by nearly 20%.