Brexit: Labour should 'stop vacillating' over second referendum, says Northern Ireland peace architect

Exclusive: Former deputy first minister Seamus Mallon says new Brexit vote 'absolutely essential'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Saturday 27 April 2019 13:41
'The first was a hopeful decision, the second has got to be an informed decision' Ex-deputy first minister Seamus Mallon calls for second Brexit referendum

One of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement has piled pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to “stop vacillating” over Labour‘s support for a second referendum.

Seamus Mallon, a former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, said a new Brexit vote was “absolutely essential” and expressed concern about the ongoing political chaos threatening the peace process.

Mr Mallon, an MP for Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, for nearly 20 years, appealed to Labour bosses, saying the public was “craving for straight, honest and effective leadership” as the situation was “too serious” for division.

His comments came as the Labour leader faced an angry backlash over a draft leaflet for the European elections which included no mention of a Final Say vote.

Nearly 90 MPs and MEPs, including several frontbenchers, signed a letter urging the party’s ruling body to commit to a public vote when it meets on Tuesday to decide the manifesto.

It also comes as power-sharing talks were due to begin to end the two-year stalemate in Northern Ireland, after a priest leading the funeral of the journalist Lyra McKee shamed politicians over why it had taken her murder to bring opposing sides together.

Mr Mallon, in an interview for the Labour Party Irish Society, said: “I would recommend that MPs now go and support another test of opinion among the population – another referendum.

“Which hopefully would put this matter to rest – in the only way it now can be put to rest.

“The prime minister can’t solve it, the cabinet can’t solve it, parliament can’t solve it ... The first was a hopeful decision. The second has got to be an informed decision.”

Speaking from his home in South Armagh, he said: “The issue of Brexit was put to the people, and the people spoke. But that, what they voted for then, bears no relation to what Brexit now is.

“And the whole circumstances of where Brexit now stands have changed very fundamentally since the initial question was put.

“And I think because of that, because of the international, political and constitutional dimensions which have emerged ... I believe it is absolutely essential that another referendum is now held.”

Mr Mallon also piled pressure on the Labour Party to act and urged them to “stop vacillating on the Brexit issue”.

In a direct appeal, he said: “Give leadership. And show that there is an alternative to the awfulness of the Tory party at the present time.

“People are craving for straight, honest and effective leadership. That’s what the Labour Party should be providing.

“They should not be having divided opinions on this issue. While divided opinions are essential in a political party, this is too serious.

“They have to have a position, stick by it and win with it.”

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Pro-EU Labour MPs are furious about the failure to include calls for a Final Say vote on the leaked flyer for next month’s European parliament elections.

Labour’s party conference voted in favour of campaigning for a referendum if a general election cannot be secured, but the issue remains divisive among senior figures.

There are deep divisions in the shadow cabinet over how to proceed as some frontbencher fear it could damage the party’s election chances among Brexit voters in its former industrial heartlands.

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