Brexit: Labour agrees to back amendment for new EU referendum in major policy shift

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 25 February 2019 18:41 GMT
Chair of Brexit Select Committee Hilary Benn presumes second referendum will be a choice between Theresa May's deal and remaining in the EU

Labour says it is committed to backing an amendment to deliver a fresh Brexit referendum, in a significant shift in the party’s much-criticised policy.

Jeremy Corbyn will tell a meeting of the party’s MPs that the move would “prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country”.

However, it was unclear – from the statement issued by the Labour leader – whether Mr Corbyn was pledging to back a referendum on Theresa May’s deal, or on its own Brexit proposals.

The announcement made no mention of an amendment, to be tabled by two Labour backbenchers, which would allow the prime minister’s deal to pass – subject to a fresh public vote.

Furthermore, Mr Corbyn also announced that Labour would first push its own five-point plan for a softer Brexit, including customs union membership, in a vote on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the move was welcomed by the People’s Vote campaign, as a big step in the right direction

“It is welcome news that the Labour party is now, at long last, signalling it will accept the principle of giving the public the final say on Brexit,” said David Lammy, a Labour supporter.

“These are dangerous times for the Labour Party and our country. Jeremy Corbyn is today taking the first step to reunite our party by showing he is listening to our voters and members on this, the biggest issue of our time.”

Crucially, Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, suggested the party would back a further referendum if its “alternative plan” was rejected this week.

“If parliament rejects our plan, then Labour will deliver on the promise we made at our annual conference and support a public vote,” he tweeted.

If Labour does throw its weight behind a Final Say referendum, it could deliver a Commons majority – although not definitely, because some of its MPs would refuse to back it.

Mr Corbyn himself said: “The prime minister is recklessly running down the clock, in an attempt to force MPs to choose between her botched deal and a disastrous no-deal. We cannot and will not accept.”

He confirmed Labour would back the Cooper-Letwin amendment, designed to force the prime minister to seek an Article 50 extension if her deal does not pass the Commons by the middle of March.

And he said: “One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no-deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Sadiq Khan, London’s Labour mayor, said: “I welcome Jeremy Corbyn's move tonight to commit to putting forward, or supporting, an amendment in favour of a public vote. It is the right decision.”

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