Brexit: Jeremy Corbyn faces furious backlash from MPs after shifting Labour towards second referendum

Labour leader won plaudits from pro-EU MPs when he ended months of uncertainty by rowing in behind a Final Say vote

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 26 February 2019 18:42
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No-deal would not be on the ballot in second referendum backed by Labour, says Keir Starmer

Jeremy Corbyn has faced a furious backlash from his own MPs after he dramatically shifted Labour‘s Brexit stance in favour a second referendum.

Brexiteers on his own benches warned the move could cause “catastrophic” damage to support in Labour heartlands and acted as a “distraction” to finding a way out of the Brexit chaos.

The Labour leader won plaudits from pro-EU MPs when he ended months of uncertainty by rowing in behind a Final Say vote, if his own softer Brexit plan is rejected by MPs, as expected.

However, the shift towards a public vote led to warnings of electoral disaster in Leave-voting areas, as well as a spat over the choices on the ballot paper for a fresh poll.

Mr Corbyn told the Commons: “The prime minister’s botched deal provides no certainty or guarantees for the future and was comprehensively rejected by this house.

“We cannot risk our country’s industry and people’s livelihoods and so if it somehow does pass in some form at a later stage, we believe there must be a confirmatory public vote to see if people feel it is what they voted for.”

However Brexit-backing MP John Mann said the move would be “catastrophic to Labour in the midlands and the north”.

The Bassetlaw MP told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Voters won’t have it. The last person to renege on their manifesto was Nick Clegg – it didn’t end very well for him on tuition fees.

“Our manifesto was unambiguous, we would accept the result of the referendum. A second referendum doesn’t do that and the voters – in very, very large numbers – will not accept that.”

Labour ex-minister Caroline Flint said there were people on both sides that for whom “no deal will ever be good enough”, adding: “The time has come to recognise, as it said in the first line of the first leaflet in the 2017 election from Labour, the decision to leave has been made by the British people.

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“We said, in the chapter of our manifesto, we are here to negotiate Brexit, not stop it.”

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Gareth Snell suggested that shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer had engineered the shift in Labour’s stance.

“If I was being a bit unkind, part of me thinks this has been what Keir wanted all along, to move the Labour Party to a point of so much confusion this seems to be the only way forward,” he told the BBC.

“Which is disappointing, because in the early days I thought he really wants to speak to those of us in Leave areas who have real concerns, not just for what this means for our party but what this means for the connection our party has with those communities.”

Labour veteran Sir Kevin Barron also rejected the move, tweeting: “The Labour manifesto in 2017 clearly stated that we accepted the referendum result.

“I will be sticking to the promise that I made to my constituents and voting against any attempt to force a second referendum.”

The move comes six months after The Independent launched its campaign for a Final Say referendum, which has been backed by more than 1.1 million people.

Plenty of Labour politicians backed the move. Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon said: “What would be the better democratic outcome for the country?

“Accepting a second-rate deal resulting in a second-rate future, or a second public vote asking the public whether they support or reject a second-rate future for their children and grandchildren?”

Hove MP Peter Kyle, who proposed backing Ms May’s deal subject to a referendum, hailed the news as a major step. He added: “There’s no going back on this now for Jeremy or the party.”

Former Labour shadow chancellor and now Independent Group member Chris Leslie said the public were “sick and tired of this impasse, born of politicians putting their party political interests always above the national interest”.

He called for a people’s vote, urging Mrs May “not to belittle the genuine heartfelt concerns that many [MPs] have in here about the real lives, the real jobs, the real livelihoods that are at stake in a botched Brexit, that can’t just be swept under the carpet and we shouldn’t just turn a blind eye to”.

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