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Brexit confusion reigns as senior Labour MPs push for public say on PM’s deal

Leader Jeremy Corbyn had played down talk of supporting a second referendum while in Brussels on Thursday.

Jeremy Corbyn was coy on talk of backing a second referendum while in Brussels on Thursday (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)
Jeremy Corbyn was coy on talk of backing a second referendum while in Brussels on Thursday (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

Labour has ruled out supporting Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal – but there was confusion over whether the party could back a second referendum as soon as this weekend.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking in Brussels, said: “This sell-out deal won’t bring the country together and should be rejected.

“The best way to get Brexit sorted is to give the people the final say in a public vote.”

Mr Corbyn told reporters he did not “suspect” the option of holding a vote on whether to give the public a final say would arise on Saturday, when Parliament is due have a rare weekend sitting.

He described reports that Labour could back such a vote as “high-level speculation on a hypothetical question”.

But members of his shadow cabinet have since said they plan to make the “argument” for a second referendum to the Prime Minister, who is due to put his deal to a vote on Saturday.

I’ve been quite clear publicly since April I want to vote for a deal, it is my intention to vote for a deal unless Boris has completely undermined workers’ rights, environmental rights and consumer rights Ruth Smeeth, Labour MP

MPs on Thursday voted to change the timetable for Saturday’s sitting, meaning amendments – including one proposing a second referendum – could potentially be tabled and voted upon in the Commons.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the party would be making the case for a referendum on the PM’s deal on what is being dubbed “super Saturday”.

“If Boris Johnson has confidence in his deal, he should put it back to the people in a public vote against Remain – and that is an argument we will be making on Saturday,” the opposition frontbencher tweeted.

Sir Keir said the new deal “paves the way for a decade of deregulation” and argued it would give the Government “licence to slash” worker, environment and consumer protections.

The party’s Northern Ireland spokesman also said Labour MPs were “bound” to vote for holding a referendum, should Mr Johnson find a majority to support his exit terms.

Shadow minister Tony Lloyd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, while Labour would “prefer a general election”, it was “consistent” with party policy that MPs would back holding a confirmatory vote on the freshly-inked Brexit deal.

“If there is a majority for that deal and in turn there is an amendment moved to a confirmatory vote, a public vote, then consistent with what Labour has said – that any deal should be put back to the public – we are almost bound to vote for that amendment,” said Mr Lloyd.

Earlier this month, 19 Labour MPs in favour of leaving the EU with a deal wrote to the presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, asking the pair to “work night and day” to secure a Withdrawal Agreement they could back.

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Ruth Smeeth has said she wants to support a deal to leave the EU but protects workers’, environmental and consumer rights (Yui Mok/PA)

It remains to be seen whether those backbenchers will be prepared to support the Conservative Party leader’s divorce proposals during Saturday’s meaningful vote.

But Ruth Smeeth, one of the signatories of those letters, said it was her “intention to vote for a deal”, barring any major overhaul of British rights.

The MP for Stoke-on-Trent North & Kidsgrove represents a constituency that voted by more than 70% to leave the EU in 2016.

She told ITV: “Until I’ve seen exactly what’s in the deal and I’ve read what’s in it then I’m not making any clear judgment.

“But I’ve been quite clear publicly since April I want to vote for a deal, it is my intention to vote for a deal unless Boris has completely undermined workers’ rights, environmental rights and consumer rights.”

PA

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