Brexit: Labour wants second referendum on ‘any deal’, says Corbyn ally Diane Abbott

Shadow home secretary says party now backs Final Say vote even on an agreement it supports, suggesting major shift in policy 

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 28 May 2019 09:08 BST
Labour wants second referendum on 'any deal', says Diane Abbott

Labour is now committed to offering the public a referendum on any Brexit deal, Diane Abbott has said.

The shadow home secretary said her party was now supporting a Final Say vote – even on a deal that Labour has negotiated.

It has previously said it would only want a public vote on a Conservative deal or to avoid a no-deal exit.

But in the wake of a disastrous showing for Labour in the European parliament elections, Ms Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “What we’re saying is that we do want to have a people’s vote on any deal, and I think that’s clear enough.”

Asked what “any deal” meant, she replied: “It means any deal, a future deal, a deal we may negotiate.”

Ms Abbott insisted that a Final Say referendum was now at the “foreground’ of Labour’s Brexit policy.

She said: “A people’s vote has always been part of our policy package and as [shadow Brexit secretary] Keir Starmer put it, we move through the gears. But now, at minutes to midnight on these negotiations, with the Tories plunged in their leadership contest so we get no sense out of them for a few months, we think it’s important to foreground the people’s vote.”

She added: “There is no inherent contradiction between respecting the result of the referendum and having a people’s vote, not least because it’s still not sure how a people’s vote. I’ve always argued that it’s perfectly possible that Leave would win again, but we’re supporting a people’s vote strongly now because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the democratic thing to do.”

Pressure on the Labour leadership ratcheted up several notches after the party lost supporters to the Liberal Democrats and Green Party in the EU elections, leaving Labour with just 14 per cent of the vote.

Hours after the results were announced, Ms Abbott tweeted: “We have to take the time to analyse the EU vote. But, when we come in third after the Brexit Party, that is a clue something is wrong with our strategy. We need to listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote.”

Speaking to Today, she insisted Labour was now “moving towards” a clearer Brexit policy. She said that securing a general election remained the party’s priority but added: “As the clock tickets down, if we’re not going to have a general election, we would support a people’s vote.”

Jeremy Corbyn has promised a consultation on Labour’s Brexit policy that could end at the party’s annual conference in September, but his close ally Ms Abbott insisted he needed to “move quickly”. She said she would personally back Remain in any second referendum.

Former prime minister Tony Blair said he had voted Labour “without great enthusiasm” as he pushed for the party to throw its weight behind a referendum.

He said Mr Corbyn “has got to come to a clear position”, telling Sky News: “The one that is very obvious is that both party leaderships have made the same mistake, which is to think that it’s possible to sit on the fence on Europe and appeal to both sides.

“What the European elections show you is that isn’t possible.”

As Labour divisions on Brexit resurfaced in the aftermath of the elections, MPs in Leave-supporting areas warned against another referendum.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said it would most likely result in a no-deal outcome.

She said: “Obviously in constituencies like Wigan you get very mixed views, you get different views like everywhere in the country, but to most people the idea of a second referendum just seems quite absurd.

“People were asked what they think, you can see from the results that we had here, that very few people have changed their minds and if there is a shift in this area of the country I think it’s towards no-deal Brexit.”

Ms Nandy added: “I think we’ve got to wake up to the seriousness, not just of what we’re about to do to the Labour Party, but what we’re about to do the country because I strongly suspect that if there is a second referendum people here would come out and vote in fairly large numbers and probably vote for no deal.”

She went on: “There is a huge frustration amongst Labour voters who voted Leave, in towns like mine, to see leading figures from the Labour Party out calling for a second referendum before there’s been any serious attempt to implement the result of the first.”

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