Brexit: Labour 'moving towards' backing a fresh referendum, John McDonnell says

The shadow chancellor said the party’s existing policy did mean a new public vote had been ‘kept on the table’

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Friday 22 February 2019 15:30 GMT
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says Labour will only back Brexit referendum 'in extremis'

John McDonnell has insisted that Labour is “moving towards” backing a new referendum as the party seeks to stem the flow of defections over Brexit.

The shadow chancellor said that the party’s existing policy did mean a new public vote had been “kept on the table”.

He also said that a proposal being put forward by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which if adopted by the party would see Labour back Ms May’s deal as long as it was put to a referendum, “could be a solution”.

Today, Ian Austin became the ninth Labour MP to quit the party this week, citing disgust over the failure to crack down on antisemitism and “intolerance” under Mr Corbyn’s leadership – though previous resignations have also happened in protest at the leader’s approach to Brexit.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Mr McDonnell said: “On the people’s vote, we’ve kept it on the table and we’re moving towards that.”

The shadow chancellor revealed Mr Kyle and Mr Wilson had been asked to redraft their amendment. And he said that if the prime minister’s deal was rejected by the public, Britain would remain in the EU by default.

He said: “If we were going on a people’s vote based on a deal that has gone through parliament in some form, if that got voted down then you’d have status quo, and that would be Remain.”

His words clashed with those of Unite union leader Len McCluskey who said on Wednesday that Remain should not be on the ballot paper as it was “not the best option for our nation”.

Both Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, and Mr McDonnell have met with Mr Kyle and Mr Wilson, with their plan’s advocates arguing that unless Mr Corbyn also backs it he will face further resignations from his benches.

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