Labour members launch plan to make Jeremy Corbyn back new referendum on final Brexit deal

Activists seek to force vote at party's annual conference to give public a 'final say' on Britain leaving the EU

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 06 August 2018 10:54 BST
Jeremy Corbyn rules out Labour advocating a second referendum

Grassroots Labour activists will attempt to force Jeremy Corbyn to shift his Brexit stance by asking the party’s annual conference to back calls for a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

They are calling on party members across the country to back a motion to “stop Tory Brexit” and commit Labour to holding a “People’s Vote” on the final deal.

It comes as pressure for another referendum mounts and a petition in support of The Independent‘s Final Say campaign in favour of another public vote passed 580,000 signatures.

The new grassroots campaign demands that Labour MPs and peers vote against the deal Theresa May negotiates with Brussels and instead push for a general election at which the party’s manifesto would promise another Brexit referendum.

If attempts to force an election fail, the motion says, Labour should instead campaign for a People’s Vote.

The campaign is being organised by Labour for a People’s Vote, which hopes to force a vote on the motion at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September.

The group said more than 130 constituency Labour parties (CLPs) across the country will discuss the motion on Brexit and vote on whether they want to propose it for discussion at the conference. Some have already agreed to do so.

Each CLP is allowed to propose one motion for discussion at conference, with those receiving the most support from delegates at the gathering likely to be put to a vote. The window for submitting motions opened today.

The motion could become party policy if passed, but the Labour leadership is likely to strongly resist attempts to force it to change tack.

Last year, grassroots attempts to have Brexit debated by delegates at party conference were seen off by Mr Corbyn’s team and trade union Unite, who feared they could force a change in party policy.

The latest campaign was endorsed by a number of prominent Labour figures.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA trade union, said: “Brexit is a Tory con trick for the benefit of the richest one per cent. It will rob workers and drive down wages. The wealthy chums of Boris, Gove and Fox will line their over-filled pockets on the back of burning workers’ rights and attacking the rest of us.

“It’s them – the ruling class of this country – that are to blame for the fact that their austerity has seen our living standards fall. Yet they have the gall to try and pin the blame on migrants for their class war which is making us poorer. Labour cannot collaborate with their Brexit agenda as it’s out of Bannon’s fascist notebook”

Mr Cortes has already backed The Independent‘s Final Say campaign.

Ann Pettifor, an economist who advises John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said: “I am no fan of the EU elite. I voted ‘out’ in 1975 and I have fought the advance of neo-liberal orthodoxy for decades. But Brexit isn’t just about Britain’s membership of the EU. Its right wing proponents are the British franchise of a global movement, stretching from Trump in America to Orban in Hungary, Salvini in Italy and Marine Le Pen in France.

“Its effects will be to bolster these far-right and neo-fascist movements internationally, and domestically to further deregulate the economy and attack working class people. That’s why I’ll be backing a People’s Vote at this year’s Labour conference.”

The move to have the issue debated at Labour conference is likely to raise pressure on Mr Corbyn to soften his Brexit stance. A number of senior Labour figures, including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, have suggested the party could join calls for a People’s Vote. But the Labour leader has insisted: “It’s not our policy to have a second referendum, it’s out policy to respect the result of the referendum.”

It comes amid signs of growing support for a fresh referendum among left-wing supporters of Mr Corbyn. The influential Momentum campaign group is set to vote on a motion calling for a People’s Vote after a petition started by a member in the London borough of Tower Hamlets received the 4,000 signatures needed to trigger a ballot of all Momentum members.

If passed, it would put Momentum at odds with Mr Corbyn, who the organisation was founded to support.

Jacob Rees-Mogg suggests a second Brexit referendum would be acceptable in clip from 2011

The Labour for a People’s Vote motion says the Brexit strategy being pursued by Theresa May “is a threat to jobs, freedom of movement, peace in Northern Ireland, and the future of the NHS and public services”.

It continues: “Tory Brexit will wreck the British economy, will commit us to a series of long-term trade deals which will enforce American-style deregulation, and will undermine the rights, freedoms and protections currently enshrined in EU law. All of this will bind the hands of a future Labour government, and will make it far harder for us to deliver on our promises.”

It says Labour must “oppose any Brexit deal that does not satisfy Labour’s six tests” and instead “call for an immediate general election, and make a manifesto commitment to call a public vote on the Brexit deal with an option to remain in the EU if the public rejects it”.

If the party “cannot get a general election”, the motion says it should “campaign for a public vote on the deal with an option to remain in the EU; and following a defeat for the government, call for an immediate general election”.

The launch of the campaign coincides with a nationwide “Left Against Brexit” tour to encourage left-wing activists to speak out against Brexit. Organised by the cross-party Another Europe is Possible group, events have been held in a number of major cities and many more are planned for the coming weeks.

Marina Prentoulis, a spokesperson for Another Europe is Possible, said: “Time is up on the Brexit process, and the only version of Brexit we are going to get is a Tory one. If Labour comes to power before exit day, we will be faced with a choice between no deal and an off-the-shelf Norway-style deal – a choice between economic catastrophe and a becoming a rule taker with no say in the making of EU rules. No one voted for this, and implementing it isn’t the democratic option.

“Democracy means giving the people the right to determine their own future, with a referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal with an option to stay in the EU if it is rejected.”

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