Labour MP launches bid for new EU referendum as Corbyn faces pressure over Brexit policy

Jeremy Corbyn is also being urged to allow peers to back a crunch Lords vote that would effectively keep the UK in the single market

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 08 May 2018 12:03
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Can Brexit be reversed?

A Labour MP will launch a parliamentary bid for a public vote on the final Brexit deal, in a move that will add to growing pressure on the party’s front bench over its stance on leaving the EU.

Former trade minister Gareth Thomas is calling on the government to take back control from Brexit “ideologues” by letting the people determine the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc through a fresh referendum in the autumn.

In a week set to be dominated by Brexit, Mr Thomas will use a 10-minute rule motion to test parliamentary support for a public vote, an idea he believes has cross-party backing.

It comes as Jeremy Corbyn faced calls to soften his stance and allow peers to back a crunch vote in the Lords on Tuesday, which would effectively keep the UK in the single market after Brexit.

Mr Thomas said he believed there was growing support in all parties for a vote on the final deal but acknowledged his bill was unlikely to become law.

He told The Independent: “Given that every analysis by the government shows Britain worse off under all possible variations of Brexit, and given claims of more funding for the NHS and other key services after we leave are now clearly false, the public should have the right to vote on whether to accept the final deal.

“As a former trade minister, I know that the trade deals ministers want to negotiate will involve significant immigration into the UK – a truth ministers have been reluctant to explain to those who voted Leave, for this issue.”

The Harrow West MP said he does not want to stop Brexit, adding: “A people’s vote would give the British people the chance to take back control over Brexit from a small cabal of Leave ideologues and instead to determine together our country’s economic, social and cultural futures.

“On an issue as significant as this for all our futures I believe the people of our country should have the final decision on whether the deal the government negotiates is good enough.”

Fellow Labour MP, Geraint Davies, has also brought forward a private member’s bill calling for a public vote, which will be heard in Parliament on Friday.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have ruled out allowing a further referendum but pro-EU MPs have been emboldened by recent defeats of the government in the Commons and the Lords, as well as a softening of Labour’s Brexit stance in favour of staying in a customs union with Europe.

Both Sir John Major and Tony Blair have backed another referendum but only the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are officially in favour.

It comes as pro-EU politicians accused the Labour leadership of ”cowardice” and adopting a “ridiculous” position by telling peers not to support a call for the government to negotiate a Norway-style Brexit within the European Economic Area (EEA).

Tory rebels told The Independent they have enough support to defeat the government if Labour joins them but party bosses have ordered peers to abstain – preventing it from being voted on in the Commons.

Former shadow cabinet minister Chuka Umunna said it would “go against Labour’s progressive values” not to back the move in Parliament on Tuesday.

“Given the numbers of Conservative MPs now supporting the UK continuing to participate in the EEA, Labour is looking a gift horse in the mouth,” said Mr Umunna, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign.

Labour’s Lord Alli, one of the signatories to the amendment, accused the party leadership of “complete cowardice” by ordering Labour peers to abstain.

But shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “The EEA option would actually have less control, we would be bound by the regulations but we would have no seat at the table in deciding what those regulations were.”

He added: “We should not vote for a substantive amendment that talks about staying in the EEA.”

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