Brexit: Corbyn accused of ‘muddle and confusion’ as Labour again fails to agree shift on second referendum

‘The longer this dithering goes on, the more damage will be done to our party’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 25 June 2019 19:51 BST
Put it to the People: MPs from all parties speak as demonstrators flood streets of London in march for a second referendum

Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of more “muddle and confusion” after Labour again failed to agree a shift to fully back a further Brexit referendum.

For the second week running, a shadow cabinet meeting broke up without reaching a consensus to end what has been widely criticised as fence-sitting by the Labour leader.

One source told The Independent there was “no change” in referendum policy, while a second described “no movement”.

The deadlock remains despite John McDonnell - the shadow chancellor and one of the heavyweights pushing for outright backing for a further public vote – saying publicly that he expected developments.

At the meeting, he warned that Labour's position would become irretrievable if it delayed much longer, while shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry - backed by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Tom Watson - repeatedly said that a decision was needed that day, describing it as an issue of leadership.

Mr McDonnell said he had been given the impression there would be "white smoke" - a reference to the Vatican's signal that a new Pope has been chosen - at the meeting and asked if he had been wrong to think that.

And Corbyn loyalist Diane Abbott told the leader that he did not understand how much discontent there was among members on the issue.

Phil Wilson, a Labour MP supporting the People’s Vote campaign, said: “The longer this dithering goes on, the more damage will be done to our party.

“This is the biggest decision facing our country for a generation and Labour voters, Labour members and Labour MPs expect our party to have a clear policy that reflects our values.

“Instead, we have to listen to muddle, confusion and the sound of the can being kicked listlessly down a never-ending road.”

Martin Whitfield, a Scottish MP, urged Mr Corbyn to “follow Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s lead and swiftly move to become a party of Remain”.

“That is what members and voters are crying out for, and as the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership and a no-deal exit grows stronger, it is vital that Labour stands up for the poorest in society who will be hurt by Brexit.”

There was no official announcement from the party about the outcome of the shadow cabinet meeting, despite earlier suggestions that it could be decisive.

Frontbench supporters of another referendum are desperate for Mr Corbyn to start campaigning for it – and to guarantee Labour would back Remain if it took place.

Instead, he has gone no further than arguing for “any deal” to be “put to a public vote”, which could mean a general election or second referendum.

When no decision was reached last week, Mr Corbyn himself said: “I will be hearing trade union views and then I want to set out our views to the public” – hinting at a major speech.

A major poll then revealed two-thirds of union members support a Final Say public vote, and that they want Labour to campaign for the UK to stay in the EU by a three-to-one margin.

Mr Corbyn has alarmed those urging a commitment to campaign for Remain by saying any referendum ballot paper should contain “real choices for both Leave and Remain voters”.

He also floated the option of copying Harold Wilson’s approach, during the 1975 referendum, when the then-leader took no active position, allowing both wings of his party to fight it out.

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