Brexit news: Labour abandons support for referendum on Theresa May's deal

Party now says it would ‘not be right’ for public to be given Final Say vote on prime minister’s plan after it was again rejected by MPs

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 13 March 2019 20:49
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John McDonnell says Labour MPs will be whipped to support Final Say referendum

Labour has further backed away from its support for a fresh Brexit referendum by saying it no longer supports a public vote on Theresa May’s deal.

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said the party was ditching demands for Ms May to put her deal to a public vote if it passes parliament, because her plan was no longer “credible”.

Labour had previously called for the public to be given a Final Say referendum if MPs do finally pass Ms May’s deal.

However, it now says it would “not be right” for the prime minister’s plan to be put to the public after it was rejected by MPs last night for a second time,

The announcement marks a further watering-down of the party’s pledge to back another referendum. The Independent revealed last week that Labour had almost immediately ditched its promise to support a public vote on “whatever deal” is agreed by parliament and was instead only calling for a public vote on Ms May’s withdrawal plan.

Having now said it would not support a referendum on this either, it is unclear what sort of Brexit deal, if any, Labour would want to see put to the public.

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “Theresa May’s deal has now been overwhelmingly rejected twice, so we’re not calling for a referendum against her overwhelmingly rejected deal.

He added: “Clearly May’s deal has been overwhelmingly rejected and it is loathed by almost all parts of the political spectrum. Therefore clearly it would not be right for that deal in its current form to be put to a referendum.”

Only last week, however, the party said it would order its MPs to support a Commons motion, tabled by Labour backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, calling for a public vote on Ms May’s deal if it is approved by MPs.

And Mr Corbyn has previously said the prime minister’s plan must be put to a “confirmatory public vote” if it is passed by parliament.

Labour now sees a fresh referendum as merely one of several ways to block a no-deal Brexit or an exit deal it does not support. It is also working to build a Commons consensus behind a softer Brexit that would see the UK stay in a customs union with the EU and maintain close ties to the single market.

The spokesman said: “|n order to stop a damaging Tory Brexit or a no-deal outcome and find a way through the Brexit impasse, we support a general election, a public vote or finding a close economic relationship that can command the support of the Commons, be negotiated with the EU and bring Leave and Remain voters together.

In a hint that securing agreement for a Brexit deal remains the party’s priority, he added: “We said in our manifesto in 2017 that we respect the result of the referendum so it’s not our aim to overturn that result.”

Labour has said it would not necessarily want a referendum on a withdrawal deal the party supported.

Asked if the party would want to put a Labour-backed deal to a public vote, the spokesman said simply: “That doesn’t necessarily follow.”

Pushed on whether he was saying that Labour would not support a referendum on a Brexit deal it approves of, he added: ”That’s not what I’m saying, but I’m not saying we definitely would either. We have to see what happens in this next stage.”

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