Jeremy Corbyn has been urged to “unambiguously” support a Final Say vote after Labour narrowly avoided defeat by the Brexit Party in the Peterborough by-election.
Nigel Farage’s fledgling party came within 683 votes of defeating Labour’s Lisa Forbes, whose 31 per cent tally was the lowest for a by-election victor in memory.
Labour Treasury spokesperson Clive Lewis said the party must recognise that it was saved from defeat by a “surge of Remainers” voting tactically to keep the Brexit Party out.
A close ally of Mr Corbyn appeared to inch the leadership closer towards unconditional support for a referendum on any Brexit deal.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the party’s preferred option of leaving the EU on terms that would protect the economy was “not now available to us”.
Mr McDonald said a no-deal Brexit, or any deal that goes through parliament, should “go back to the people”, adding: “We went into the referendum on a remain and reform platform. If we are looking at crashing out with no deal, the option is to remain.”
But Mr Corbyn himself made clear his preference remains a general election, sending a challenge to the candidates seeking to replace Theresa May as Tory leader to “bring it on”.
Visiting the Cambridgeshire constituency, Mr Corbyn stressed the role that Labour’s position on austerity had played in winning support for candidate Lisa Forbes.
“What we did was offer the politics of hope, not the politics of fear,” he said. “All the experts wrote Labour off yesterday. Write Labour off at your peril.”
But the Best for Britain campaign for a second referendum said the Peterborough result had borne out recent polling analysis it commissioned which suggested that Labour needs to move to firm backing for a Final Say vote if it is to win a majority in the Commons.
“This result confirms what our poll predicted – that Labour’s fudged Brexit position will leave them vulnerable at the ballot box,” said chief operating officer Naomi Smith.
“This was a near-miss for Labour – who were saved by a rush of support from Remainers determined to deny a seat for the Brexit Party. They should be thanking those pro-EU voters who have saved them.
“Peterborough has always been a marginal seat for Labour. Now, if it wants any chance of holding this seat convincingly, it must commit to a Final Say on Brexit.”
Mr Lewis described the result as “a real close shave for my party”.
He said: “By failing to check the Brexit Party in the EU elections, we’ve allowed Nigel Farage and his party to gain millions of pounds of EU MEP funding they can now throw into staff and a ground campaign game.
“They clearly haven’t been able to mobilise this new resource for this by-election to full effect. They will in the very near future though, and that should concern us.
“Let’s face the facts. We were saved by a surge in support from Remainers who wanted to keep the Brexit Party out. Their help was invaluable at such a crucial time.
“Labour must unambiguously back a Final Say on Brexit as soon as possible.”
However, Labour MP John Mann, who wants Brexit delivered, said the Peterborough result showed Mr Corbyn must resist internal pressure to commit to a second referendum.
“The main conclusion to be drawn is that the second referendum for the Labour Party is now dead,” he said. “We didn’t lose many votes to the Liberals. The Liberals got half the votes that they did in 2010. The thing that will stop the Labour Party winning the next general election is all this nonsense about a second referendum.
“We promised to deliver Brexit. That’s what we need to do, and if we do we will be in power.”
Labour’s victory was marred by continued controversy over antisemitic social media posts “liked” by Ms Forbes.
Although she has apologised, the Jewish Labour Movement said that she should be suspended from the party whip immediately when she arrives in Westminster.
The group said in a statement that Ms Forbes “will have to go far, far further than her statement at the weekend to demonstrate to our members and the Jewish community that she isn’t racist against Jews”.
Former minister Dame Margaret Hodge, who has clashed with Mr Corbyn over antisemitism, said she had “seriously mixed feelings” about the result. She said she had formally raised concerns with the party leadership, adding: “Lisa Forbes and the Labour Party have a lot to answer for.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies