Pro-Brexit newspapers 'panicking' that voters will want second EU referendum

Labour MEP Richard Corbett expresses surprise at media attacks to 'obscure' amendments which were rejected 

Will Worley
Sunday 18 December 2016 16:16 GMT
Richard Corbett was a Remain campaigner
Richard Corbett was a Remain campaigner (Euromove)

A senior Labour MEP has criticised the right-wing press about his amendments to an “obscure report” about Brexit as “silly and contrived” and said their concerted attack on him shows they are panicking over the likelihood of a second EU referendum.

Richard Corbett, deputy leader of Labour’s MEPs, was accused of “plotting to sabotage Brexit” by amending European Parliament legislation.

He also drew criticism for suggesting Leave voters may want a second referendum in order to change their mind.

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In October, the Yorkshire and Humber MEP tabled a series of amendments to a report by Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt to the Constitutional Affairs Committee in Brussels which appeared to downplay the significance of the referendum.

One changed a line that said the European Parliament "stresses that this wish (to leave the EU) must be respected" to simply that the body "notes" the referendum.

However, the proposed changes were rejected. Mr Corbett told The Independent the documentation was a “non-legislative report” which the Parliament was “drawing up on its own initiatives” and was “just putting ideas on the table”.

It was not focused on Brexit but the long-term developments of the European Union, Mr Corbett said, and will have no bearing on how the UK extracts itself from the EU. However, the right wing press presented the documentation as important.

Mr Corbett said he decided to propose the changes because he was the only non-Ukip British member of the Committee and that part of the report referred to the UK. “My amendments were partly on a factual point, because it referred to the decision of the UK to leave. Given what the High Court has said, the decision is for parliament. The referendum was legally advisory. I was just correcting that point.

“There was an idea floated about Britain, Ukraine and Turkey being associate members and that might satisfy the 52 per cent of voters who voted to leave. I said it might be a way of perhaps reconciling the 52 per cent and 48 per cent.”

Mr Corbett also defended a point he made which said the EU shouldn’t stand in the way of the UK re-joining if the public changed its mind. “I maintain that’s just common sense. If Britain were to reconsider – the EU can’t force it to reconsider – they shouldn’t prevent that. Whether we do or not is a British choice and a British debate.

He continued: “I would argue that if there is a mandate for Brexit from this referendum, its surely for one that works without sinking the economy.

“And as we go on it turns out to be rather costly, then people who voted leave at no cost – because they were told there would be no cost, there would be a benefit to the NHS – when they see that it’s going to be a rather costly exercise, then surely they are entitled to say: ‘Hang on a minute That’s not what I voted for, I want the opportunity to reconsider?'”

This point has been met with massive criticism from pro-Brexit MEPs and contributed to the “concerted attack” from the Eurosceptic press on Mr Corbett.

However, the MEP said the newspapers “must be in a panic" over the idea that people might start demanding a rethink.

He added: “I thought it was strange a curious they latched onto these three obscure amendments in an obscure report and made such a song and dance about it.”

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