Labour divisions over Brexit exposed further as senior Corbyn allies clash over policy

Shadow chancellor says party must ‘move now’ to fully back second referendum but influential trade union leader condemns ‘panic to rush to establish a different position’

Len McClusky says Labour position should be to respect 2016 Brexit decision

Divisions in Labour over Brexit have again exploded into a public row as allies of Jeremy Corbyn clashed over the party’s position.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said Labour should “move now” to back a Final Say vote in all circumstances but Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite trade union, said the party should focus on “respecting the 2016 referendum” and delivering Brexit.

Mr McCluskey reportedly refused to support a policy change when Mr Corbyn met trade union leaders last week to propose that Labour should support a referendum on any Brexit deal that is passed by parliament.

While many Labour MPs had expected the change to be announced after the meeting, the Unite general secretary’s opposition forced Mr Corbyn to say more time was needed for “consultation”. The further delay prompted anger among Labour MPs and members, the majority of whom back another public poll.

Mr McCluskey told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that there was no need to rush to change the party’s current policy, which is to negotiate its own Brexit deal.

Insisting that Mr Corbyn would not be “bullied” into changing his stance, Mr McCluskey said: “The reality at the moment is that there’s a lot of debate taking place. After the European elections, I appealed to people to calm down. There seems to be a panic to rush to establish a different position to the one the Labour Party has had for a couple of years now, which is respecting the 2016 referendum and trying to negotiate a deal that will unite the nation.

“Unfortunately we have had a prime minister who has made huge mistakes and a government which has been incapable of delivering Brexit, and we have had a well-funded Remain lobby that has turned the nation into a toxic situation.”

He added: “We have a policy that nothing should be taken off the table, including Labour’s alternative. Our alternative is to get a Brexit that respects the result of the referendum but actually does so with an agreement that the 48 per cent who want to remain will be happy with.”

Suggesting that any decision on whether or not to fully endorse another referendum could be delayed until Labour’s annual conference in September, he said: “There is no rush to do anything. We’ve got a policy conference coming up in 12 weeks.”

But Mr McDonnell said he was frustrated at the delay in fully backing a second referendum. He admitted that he had expected a policy change to be announced last week but said trade union leaders had asked for “more time”.

He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “What I’ve been trying to say is we need to move now and Jeremy said a month ago that we’re going to put this issue back to the people.”

Mr McCluskey is seen as one of the main obstacles to Labour fully endorsing a Final Say vote.

In a sign of the party’s deep divisions over Brexit, the Unite general secretary said he would support the current Brexit deal if a customs union with the EU was added to it. Mr Corbyn has previously said the deal is “dead”.

He dismissed as “absolute nonsense” polls suggesting that the majority of Unite members want another referendum.

He said: “My union constantly talks to 20,000 Unite members across our sectors. I have 300 constitutional committees, none of whom are seeking the second referendum. I had 100 convenors from all our top manufacturing companies who met in March, none of whom are seeking a second referendum.”

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