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Corbyn admits Labour could still fight next general election as pro-Brexit party

‘We will decide very quickly at the start of that campaign exactly what our position will be,’ Labour leader says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 09 July 2019 20:29 BST
Corbyn says Labour could still be pro-Brexit at next election

Jeremy Corbyn has admitted Labour could still fight the next general election as a pro-Brexit party, saying: “We’ll decide our policy when the election comes.”

Speaking after pledging to “campaign for Remain” in a referendum on any withdrawal plan put forward by the Tories, the Labour leader said his stance could change in an election campaign.

Asked if Labour was now a “leave or remain party”, Mr Corbyn said only that he would “give the people the choice” of whether to leave the EU, in a referendum.

Labour is determined to “do everything we can to prevent no deal and give people a choice”, he told the BBC.

Mr Corbyn also pointed out that that the next election “could be this October, it could be next year, it could be in 2022”.

“We have a democratic process, we will decide very quickly at the start of that campaign exactly what our position will be,” he added.

The Labour leader also ducked a question about whether pro-EU Labour MPs would be given the freedom to campaign for Remain, if the party took the opposite position.

The comments – on an issue ducked in the earlier announcement – are certain to add to criticism that Labour’s policy on Brexit is still “a fudge”.

However, most pro-EU Labour MPs are delighted that Mr Corbyn has, finally, made clear he backs a referendum and Remain, faced with the likely threat of Boris Johnson as prime minister.

One shadow cabinet member told The Independent it was a “massive step forward” and that they would celebrate “seizing that ground”, after a long battle.

It now appears that Labour policy is settled for the summer, with the issue of what Labour does at an election shelved – despite the ongoing threat of losing voters to the Liberal Democrats.

Pro-referendum members decided to park the controversy of whether Labour could end up backing a “soft Brexit” deal it had renegotiated, rather than confront it now.

They are also confident that – after months of campaigning for Remain – it will be impossible for Labour to perform a U-turn if Mr Johnson calls a snap autumn election.

Even Tom Watson, Mr Corbyn’s biggest Brexit critic, was satisfied, saying: “We are going to campaign for Remain, and for a people’s vote on any deal adopted by the current government.

“Our members have been telling us for some time now that they want us to be a Remain party. I’m very proud that the shadow cabinet has listened to their concerns.”

In the interview, Mr Corbyn was asked whether he had “given into pressure from colleagues and the mass membership” or if he had changed his mind.

He replied: “What I’ve done is what I think a leader should do and that is spend some time listening to people.”

He denied he was worried that Leave-supporting Labour voters would now “turn away” from the party, saying: “No not at all. We said we would respect the result of the 2016 referendum ... we supported the invocation of Article 50 early in 2017. We fought the general election respecting that result.”

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