Brexit: Corbyn's position 'in peril' if he 'betrays' Labour over second referendum, shadow minister says

Exclusive: 'You can only drive a wedge so far between yourself and the people who put you in that position', Clive Lewis tells his leader

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 19 May 2019 19:50 BST
Put it to the People: MPs from all parties speak as demonstrators flood streets of London in march for a second referendum

Jeremy Corbyn will plunge his own position into jeopardy if he “betrays” Labour supporters by refusing to push for a further Brexit referendum, a shadow minister has said, in an outspoken interview.

Clive Lewis warned Mr Corbyn’s leadership would be “in peril” if he failed to fully support a Final Say public vote because the activists who “put you in that position” could turn against him.

“You can only drive a wedge so far between yourself and the people who put you in that position before your opponents start looking at their options,” the shadow Treasury minister told The Independent.

Mr Lewis warned Labour was “haemorrhaging” support from Remain voters and attacked senior party figures happy to finish second in next week’s European elections “as long as we beat the Tories”

The strategy would “open the door to pseudo-fascists in the form of Nigel Farage and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon [known as Tommy Robinson]”, he said.

“There are those who think Labour coming second is an acceptable position, as long as we beat the Tories, but that will open the door to them [the hard right] – an appalling situation.

“Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will vote for these parties for the first time and, once they have broken that seal of always voting Labour, then doing so in subsequent elections becomes easier.”

Mr Lewis, a leftwinger, is a long-time supporter of a frsh referendum, quitting his frontbench position when he refused to vote to trigger Article 50 two years ago, before regaining it.

He was among more than 100 MPs who signed a letter demanding Mr Corbyn endorse a public vote in the European elections manifesto, under the ‘Love Socialism, Hate Brexit’ banner.

Mr Lewis predicted frontbench resignations had Mr Corbyn ordered his MPs to abstain on the withdrawal agreement bill – a possibility, before the cross-party talks collapsed on Friday.

“It would be a betrayal of our conference position and the vast bulk of our members and voters,” he said.

“The leadership would have had a real struggle enforcing that with the vast majority of the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] – I for one will not be abstaining on Theresa May’s deal.”

The Norwich South said it would be “very silly to speculate about leadership challenges”, given Mr Corbyn had won two contests, but insisted: “It would put in peril the political project so many of us want to see enacted.”

“I don’t want to see our party driven dragged back to the centre-ground of British politics, which has few answers to the radical challenges that face our society.”

In recent weeks, the Labour leadership has unveiled a blitz of domestic policies on housing, the wages of young people and green energy, among other key issues.

But Mr Lewis suggested the attempt to win a hearing until Mr Corbyn was willing to nail his colours to the mast on Brexit.

“Many Labour voters are among those most affected by austerity and have real fears about special needs education, the NHS, social care and children’s centres,” he said.

“But, on the Remain side, we can’t get to talk about these things because they feel so passionate about a confirmatory vote. It’s in effect become an identity issue.”

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