Jeremy Corbyn could find himself with an open goal if he decides to back a second referendum

The democratic will of the Labour Party is clear and one of the few things members, MPs and unions agree on – they think May’s Brexit is a disaster and they want a final say 

Corbyn on Brexit: Labour would be happy with a longer transition period, and the party is 'not supporting a second referendum'

In a few weeks’ time, Brexit and thus the future prosperity of Britain for decades to come will be in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. This is because the government has no majority – and certainly not for a Brexit plan, which is barely alive anyway.

What will he do?

Corbyn is a man of consistency, let’s give him that. He has always said that he would respect the will of the British people as expressed in the 2016 EU referendum. He wants Brexit. He’s specified six tests for an acceptable deal, and his shadow ministers have created some wacky ideas about “a” customs union and a “jobs first” Brexit. He seems sincere about it. It’s his own version of the Chequers plan. It has even less chance of acceptance by the EU. Everyone knows it, though Labour can’t admit it.

But the Commons will not be asked to vote on Labour’s policy – they’ll vote on the government’s one. Labour will vote down the Chequers plan or any likely variant of it. Corbyn will demand an election so he can sweep in to Downing Street and then Brussels and clear everything up. Won’t happen.

Then what?

He has a democratic dilemma. He can stick with his mandate from the 2016 referendum, which looks increasingly dodgy. Soon though he may face a moral and political obligation to follow the mandate set for him by the Labour Party conference. In Corbyn’s vision the party’s members frame policy through conference. It is sovereign. Ignoring it is what Labour leaders and MPs did in the bad old days. That was betrayal. Corbyn will follow the democratic decisions reached by the Labour movement. Again he has been consistent on that principle.

What, then, if conference demands a Final Say referendum? Much depends on the wording, which will be a product of Labour’s arcane process of compositing different motions and accepting or referring back amendments. It may be quite fudgy. Yet the democratic will of the party is clear and one of the few things members, MPs and unions agree on – they think May’s Brexit is a disaster and they want a final say on Brexit. Most wish to dump Brexit.

So will Corbyn stick to following the 2016 referendum mandate or the 2018 Labour conference mandate?

They are reconcilable, luckily, because a Final Say puts the terms of Brexit back to the British people, and does not in itself mean staying in – that is up to the voters, who will now be free to vote for “no deal” or whatever the government gets back from Brussels.

There is some irony that the referendum on Europe as a device to give a sovereign say to the British people was devised by Corbyn’s long-time mentor, Tony Benn, who – like Corbyn – was a determined anti-European for much of his life.

It also in Benn’s day united a badly divided Labour movement. The change of mood from the 1970s to now is that the Labour Party – trots, social democrats, Blairites, Momentum, ex-Bennites, Chuka, Keir, Diane, Len, virtually everyone – actually want a Final Say.

Labour voters who voted Leave and now worry for their jobs want a Final Say. If Corbyn backed his own party he would win new support from surprising quarters. He’d end up with a bigger tent than Tony Blair. A policy on Brexit for the many, not the few.

It is not an exaggeration to think that even from opposition he can change the course of history, and for the good of the people Labour seeks to protect.

From a referendum triumph much else could follow. Having lost such a referendum a Tory government might well then fall, and an election and Labour government would follow. What an open goal! The ball is at his feet. It’s up to Jeremy now.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in