Labour could sign up to Brexit deal without a second referendum, shadow minister says

Party facing angry backlash over failure to mention public vote in draft election leaflet

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 28 April 2019 15:48 BST
Shadow Minister Rebecca Long-Bailey hints new referendum is not a 'red line' for Labour

Labour could sign up to a Brexit deal without a fresh referendum attached if the government makes significant concessions in the ongoing talks, the shadow business secretary has suggested.

In a blow to pro-EU supporters, Rebecca Long-Bailey said the party was not “hugely prescriptive” on its terms, when asked if the inclusion of a public vote was a “red line” for Labour in the negotiations.

Ms Long-Bailey, who has attended cross-party talks alongside shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, said meetings had been “productive” with discussions about workers’ rights – a key ask for Labour.

Ahead of fresh talks on Monday, she told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “There has been movement in specific areas – we’ve had fantastic discussions on workers’ rights, for example, and the government seems quite amenable to moving towards what I’ve been asking for.

“We’re waiting at the moment to see if that turns into pens on paper.”

Jeremy Corbyn has faced an angry backlash over the failure to mention a Final Say vote in a draft leaflet for the upcoming European parliament elections.

Some 90 MPs and MEPs signed a letter urging Labour’s ruling body to give a clear commitment to a public vote when it meets on Tuesday to decide on the party’s manifesto.

But when asked if it was crucial for Labour support, Ms Long-Bailey said the leadership were “not being hugely prescriptive on the minute detail of specific elements, because we are willing to compromise and we are willing to be flexible”.

Pressed on whether it was a “red line”, she said: “I wouldn’t couch it in terms of a second referendum but our party policy has always been that firstly we want to get a Brexit deal that puts our economy and living standards first and protects our environmental protections, workplace protections, health and safety standards.

“We want a customs union arrangement in order to keep our borders open, so that our manufacturing industry isn’t detrimentally affected, and we keep the movement of goods as freely flowing as possible. And we want a strong single market relationship.”

Ms Long-Bailey also hit back at claims from the Conservatives that her side has been stalling, saying: “We’re certainly not dragging our heels.”

She said: “Honestly I think the discussions so far have been productive, they’ve gone into a lot of detail, there seems to be a willingness on both sides to move towards some form of consensus.

“But as yet we haven’t seen the government move on any of their red lines. We’re having further discussions this week and hopefully we’ll see some movement but at the moment we are focusing on the detail where we stand in relation to our relevant positions and where we could move to.”

Her comments are likely to disappoint pro-EU MPs and MEPs who had been lobbying to make a referendum a central strand of Labour’s European elections campaign.

Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the manifesto is going to be agreed by the National Executive Committee (NEC), but he expected it would endorse Labour’s conference policy.

In a sign of the Brexit divisions plaguing Labour's top team, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson encouraged members to lobby NEC representatives "if you want them to support a confirmatory ballot on a Brexit deal".

But shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said those pushing for a referendum on any Brexit deal were seeking a change in Labour policy.

The party's policy agreed at conference was for a referendum "to stop a no-deal or to stop a bad Theresa May deal", he told BBC 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics.

In a letter to the NEC organised by the Love Socialism Hate Brexit campaign, the MPs and MEPs said Labour had “a clear opportunity to win these elections” if it fully supports a Final Say vote.

They wrote: “These elections are about the kind of Europe we want to live in, and we can’t make a convincing case in them without being clear about Brexit. Labour has already, rightly, backed a confirmatory public vote.

“The overwhelming majority of our members and voters support this, and it is the democratically established policy of the party.

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“Our members need to feel supported on doorsteps by a clear manifesto that marks us out as the only viable alternative to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “There are a number of different texts for different leaflets in circulation, including for a freepost and for other campaign purposes. They all reflect existing party policy.

“Our manifesto for the European elections will be decided next Tuesday.”

The Independent has been campaigning for a Final Say vote on any Brexit deal, which has attracted the support of more than a million people since its launch last year.

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