Tom Watson: Labour deputy leader storms out of meeting in row over Brexit referendum stance

Relations between Jeremy Corbyn and his deputy plunge to new low - ahead of decision on European elections manifesto

Tom Watson says it's right for the people to have another say on Brexit

Tom Watson has walked out of a shadow cabinet meeting after Jeremy Corbyn refused to allow its members to see a draft policy on a fresh Brexit referendum.

Relations between the leader and his deputy plunged to a new low – hours before the party was due to decide Labour’s European elections manifesto at a marathon meeting.

Shadow cabinet members were only shown the document on a big screen, rather than being handed hard copies of the text, The Independent was told.

“The shadow cabinet were not going to see the draft, so what’s the point in being there,” said a source close to Mr Watson. “It was very disrespectful to the shadow cabinet.”

Mr Corbyn’s top team met ahead of a decisive meeting of the ruling national executive committee (NEC), at which he will attempt to fight off demands – led by Mr Watson – to commit to a second referendum in all circumstances.

The leader is determined to avoid alienating Labour Leave voters by sticking to a policy of a referendum to prevent a “Tory Brexit”, or a no-deal Brexit.

That would leave open the possibility of Labour helping to force through EU withdrawal if the Conservatives, in cross-party talks, concede a customs union and other Labour demands.

Mr Watson took to Twitter to deny a report that he had “stormed out” of the meeting, saying: “I politely asked if the shadow cabinet were going to see the draft words and was told “no”.

“So I left to walk to the NEC where the document will be available and the decision will be made.”

Mr Corbyn’s office is confident of resisting a shift to supporting a further referendum in all circumstances, enjoying the support of at least 22 of the 39 members of the NEC.

He can rely on the backing of the giant Unite union, despite other big unions – including the GMB, Unison and Usdaw – swinging behind another public vote.

A landmark agreement in February between Mr Corbyn and Keir Starmer, his shadow Brexit secretary, saw Labour agree that Ms May’s deal “should be subject to the lock of a public vote.

However, in evidence of the wedge being driven between the leader and his supporters, the director of Momentum called on him to “take a side”.

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“Labour’s members already know which side they are on. The party should commit to bringing whatever Brexit deal is done back to the people,” Laura Parker said.

More than 20 Labour MEP candidates have defied their leadership by pledging to back a referendum and then campaign to remain in the EU.

And a letter from MPs and MEPs calling for a public vote on any Brexit deal has reached 118 signatories, meaning the majority of non-shadow cabinet MPs back it.

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