Labour deputy leader Tom Watson refuses to rule out new Brexit referendum

While Mr Watson said is is 'highly, highly, highly unlikely" Labour would back another public vote he said 'you should always keep your options open in a negotiation'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 25 March 2018 11:31
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Labour deputy leader Tom Watson refuses to rule out new Brexit referendum

Tom Watson has refused to rule out Labour calling for another EU referendum on the final Brexit deal but added it is “highly, highly, highly unlikely”.

The comments from Labour’s deputy leader come after Jeremy Corbyn sacked frontbencher Owen Smith for breaking collective Shadow Cabinet responsibility and urging his party to listen to its members and throw its weight behind a second public vote.

Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether a fresh referendum was off the agenda for the Labour Party, Mr Watson replied: “We’ve never called for a second referendum. What we want is we want a meaningful vote. Now, how the course of this — you should always keep your options open in a negotiation.”

“ I think it is highly, highly, highly unlikely we will be calling for a second referendum. What we want is a meaningful vote and to apply pressure to get the Government to change its position.”

He added that he was “disappointed” to see Mr Smith leave his post as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, but added his colleague is aware of how collective responsibility works.

“When you join a shadow cabinet you may have your own personal views, but you're there representing the collective view of the Labour Party, and if I'm being honest I don't think Jeremy really did have a choice but to ask him to stand down, and I think he was probably right on that.“

But Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Party chairman, said: “Only days ago Jeremy Corbyn fired Owen Smith for calling for a second referendum, which many senior members in Labour support - will there be any of Labour's frontbench left by the end of the week?"

Mr Watson, who is also the Shadow Culture Secretary, added he is “very, very sorry that people feel hurt” following the handling of a row over an anti-semitic mural.

Mr Watson branded the image a “horrible anti-semitic mural that was rightly taken down”. Mr Corbyn drew criticism for his response to a Facebook post by street artist Mear One about a plan to paint over the controversial east London mural.

“That is why Jeremy has expressed deep regret and apologised for that and has actually said that it's right that the mural was taken down,” Mr Watson said.

He added: “I'm very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that's why I think it's right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.

“He said that he didn't see the mural, he was talking about free expression and I think now that he has seen the mural, he's right to say that it was right not just to be removed but that he expresses deep regret for the offence caused by the mural.”

Labour and Co-operative MP Luciana Berger, head of Jewish Labour, said the response by the leader's office was “wholly inadequate” and failed to understand “on any level the hurt and anguish felt about anti-semitism”.

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