Brexit: John McDonnell dismisses union leader’s claim that Labour backing fresh referendum would betray Leave voters

Shadow chancellor says he does not agree with influential Unite boss Len McCluskey and insists voters would ‘recognise’ need for public vote

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 07 December 2018 14:29 GMT
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Louise Thomas

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John McDonnell has hit back at Len McCluskey‘s suggestion that Labour should not support a fresh Brexit referendum.

The shadow chancellor dismissed the Unite general secretary’s opposition to another vote, insisting voters would “recognise” the need for one if other options are exhausted.

In a private meeting earlier this week, Mr McCluskey, a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, reportedly told Labour MPs that a would been seen as a betrayal of voters.

But speaking in Glasgow, Mr McDonnell said the party may have no alternative if its attempts to force a general election fall short.

Asked if he agreed with Mr McCluskey’s opposition to another referendum he said: “No”.

The shadow chancellor said it was crucial that any Brexit deal protects jobs and the economy, adding: “If we can’t get that, we need a general election because we can then change the team that will then do the negotiations.

“If we can’t do that, well, I think people will recognise we have no other option but to consider another public vote and people will respect us for doing our best to implement the spirit of the referendum.

“We’ve got to resolve this issue. We can’t go on like this.”

He said it was “inevitable” that such a vote would be between Ms May’s deal and remaining in the EU, adding: “And if it was, I would vote remain.”

The comments will be seen as evidence of growing support among Labour’s leadership for the idea of a fresh public vote.

Last week, Mr McDonnell said the party would “inevitably” back a second referendum if it is unable to secure a general election.

Labour’s first priority if Ms May’s deal is rejected is to try to bring down the government and trigger an election, but senior party figures have admitted this is unlikely to succeed.

The party would then consider other options, including another referendum.

Speaking during a two-day visit to Scotland, Mr McDonnell also said he believed the EU would be willing to reopen negotiations if Theresa May’s deal is rejected by MPs next week, and said Labour would “rapidly” restart talks if it wins power.

He said: “We believe that next week, when Theresa May’s deal is voted down, Parliament will have the opportunity to explore other routes.

“We’ve offered a route that could gain sufficient support and that does mean reopening negotiations rapidly.

“It happened with regards to the Lisbon Treaty when a couple of countries had a referendum and took a different view.”

He added: “The consequences of the government’s proposal is that it would make every region and every nation of the UK poorer as a result of what we think is a badly negotiated deal.

“I think the concerns that were expressed yesterday on a number of sides of the House were that the deal itself won’t be voted through, it doesn’t stack up economically and, as a result of that negotiations, it needs to start very, very quickly.”

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