Labour activists put pressure on Corbyn to back cancelling Brexit as row looms at party's annual conference

More than 60 local branches vote for motion saying party should 'campaign energetically for a public vote and to Remain'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 13 September 2019 11:31
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Jeremy Corbyn says Labour will back an election once a no-deal Brexit is ruled out in law

Labour activists have backed a move to force Jeremy Corbyn to fully oppose Brexit, paving the way for a major battle at the party's annual conference later this month.

More than 60 local Labour Party branches have voted to submit a motion to the conference calling for the party to shift its position to clearly back remaining in the EU.

Most of the motions submitted are based on a template saying Labour should “campaign energetically for a public vote and to Remain" and “support revoking Article 50 if necessary to prevent no-deal”. They say the party should also “defend free movement and extend migrants’ rights."

It raises the prospect of a fresh battle between activists and the party leadership when the motion is debated by delegates at the gathering. The text is likely to be amended during lengthy discussions to hammer out a compromise, with Mr Corbyn's team and some trade unions expected to try to tone down some of the more anti-Brexit language.

Anti-Brexit campaigners said 61 Labour branches had voted to submit the motion to the conference, which takes place in Brighton later this month. The actual figure could be higher when Labour releases the official totals next week.

The move has been orchestrated by anti-Brexit campaign groups Another Europe is Possible, Labour for a Socialist Europe and Open Labour, who said they were now turning their focus to ensuring that the motion is approved at the conference.

It comes amid a row between senior Labour figures over the party's Brexit policy. Tom Watson, the deputy leader, said this week that Labour should "unequivocally back Remain" if there is another referendum, but Len McCluskey, the influential leader of the Unite union, is understood to have warned Mr Corbyn against this.

The Labour leader hinted earlier this week that the party could decline to back any outcome in a future referendum and simply let voters decide between "credible" Leave and Remain options.

Labour's current position is that it would negotiate a new Brexit deal and put this to the public in a referendum, along with the option of remaining in the EU.

But pro-EU members and MPs want Mr Corbyn to promise to campaign to scrap Brexit entirely, even if the alternative is leaving on the terms of a deal he has negotiated.

Some fear that a stance that requires a lengthy delay to Brexit to reopen talks with Brussels will be unpopular with voters who are fed up with the ongoing uncertainty. They argue that Labour also risks losing votes to the Liberal Democrats and other pro-Remain parties if there is an election later this year.

Each local Labour Party can only submit one motion to the conference.

Labour MP Clive Lewis, a supporter of the campaign, said: “As an MP, I know what wins elections for Labour - it’s our members, who are more than 90 per cent in favour of Remain.

"Our army of volunteers aren’t just footsoldiers, they’re members of a democratic movement. They need to feel ownership over our Brexit policy, they need to be excited and enthused by it. Yes, the people should have the final say, but for our morale we need a clear anti-Brexit position in Labour. That means we must campaign in any public vote for Remain.”

Michael Chessum, national organiser for Another Europe is Possible, said: “In an election, Labour needs the space to articulate a radical set of policies that will transform the economy and people’s lives. In government, it needs to be able to deliver on its promises. To have either of these things, we need to defeat Brexit and move the conversation on.

"The public wants this to be over - any sense that we are going to engage in a lengthy renegotiation will be deeply unpopular. In government, Brexit would be an albatross around our necks - a pointless loss of time and energy, probably a loss of rights and protections and a fracturing of our support base.”

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