Jeremy Corbyn says public vote is ‘only way out of Brexit crisis’ amid pressure to explicitly back second referendum

Labour leader faces pressure to stem exodus of remain voters to pro-EU parties

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 29 May 2019 22:39
Debunking claims a final say isn't possible with Femi Oluwole

Jeremy Corbyn has inched closer towards throwing Labour’s full support behind a second referendum, saying the only way out of the Brexit crisis is to “go back to the people”.

Amid intense pressure to stem the exodus of remain voters to pro-EU parties, the Labour leader said letting the people decide the country’s future through a general election or a public vote was the only option.

Mr Corbyn will travel to Dublin on Thursday for meetings with political leaders, where he will pledge to “do whatever is necessary to stop a disastrous no-deal” Brexit as a new Tory prime minister could back a disorderly exit from the EU.

It comes as the Labour leadership was scrambling to deal with the fallout of the European parliament elections, when the party suffered its worst national election result since 1910 as frustrated pro-EU voters defected to the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

Shadow cabinet divisions were laid bare, with senior figures including John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary and Tom Watson, the deputy leader, calling for a public vote.

Labour’s preference is still a general election but Mr Corbyn has softened his tone towards a Final Say vote since the European elections, telling MPs that the party was “ready to support a public vote on any deal”, rather than only to stop a Tory Brexit.

Speaking ahead of his trip to Ireland, Mr Corbyn emphasises the shift, saying: “Labour will work with anyone across party boundaries and do whatever is necessary to stop a disastrous no deal outcome, which would open the way for a frenzy of deregulation and a race to the bottom in jobs, rights and protections.

“But faced with the threat of no deal and a prime minister with no mandate, the only way out of the Brexit crisis ripping our country apart is now to go back to the people.

“Let the people decide the country’s future, either in a general election or through a public vote on any deal agreed by parliament.”

Mr Corbyn said the upcoming Tory leadership contest – and the prospect of a “no-deal zealot” becoming prime minister – meant the issue must go back to the people.

It is understood that party position has not changed to offer full backing for a Final Say vote, however Mr Corbyn’s language may give hope to supporters within Labour ranks.

Meanwhile, Mr Watson stepped up his efforts to change party policy by publishing his own survey, which found an overwhelming majority of members and supporters want an online ballot to decide Labour’s Brexit position.

More than 84 per cent of more than 8,800 respondents said they would prefer an all-member poll, while 13 per cent favoured a special conference and only 3 per cent backed an annual conference this autumn.

Posting the results of the three-day survey on Twitter, he said: “The results of my Brexit poll are clear. 84% of Labour members and supporters who took the survey want an all-member ballot to decide our party’s Brexit policy.

“As deputy leader I’ll support them to make this happen.”

Labour MP Bridget Phillipson, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said Mr Corbyn’s comments show he was “at last beginning to listen to what our voters and members are saying”.

She said there was “no immediate prospect of a general election” so Labour should campaign explicitly for a public vote.

It comes after divisions within the party were further exposed by the decision to expel Alastair Campbell, a former spin doctor for Tory Blair, for voting for the Liberal Democrats in the European elections.

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