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Corbyn’s Brexit stance backed at Labour conference

The Labour conference rejected a call for the party to come out in favour of staying in the European Union.

Jeremy Corbyn during a walk around the trade stalls at the Labour Party conference (Victoria Jones/PA)
Jeremy Corbyn during a walk around the trade stalls at the Labour Party conference (Victoria Jones/PA)

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

Jeremy Corbyn survived a Labour revolt over Brexit as the party’s conference backed his policy of remaining neutral until after a general election.

The Labour leader has promised that a government he leads will negotiate a new Brexit deal and put it to a referendum but he has resisted calls to say how the party should campaign in that public vote.

Delegates at the conference in Brighton backed a statement setting out his position and broke out into a chorus of “oh, Jeremy Corbyn” after the result of the vote was announced.

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Delegates and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey celebrate after voting on Labour’s Brexit policy (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In chaotic scenes, the conference then rejected a motion which would have called on Labour to come out in support of Remain now rather than waiting until after an election.

The result is a boost for Mr Corbyn, who has argued that Labour should go into the expected general election without making a decision on how it should campaign on the referendum his party has promised within six months of taking office.

A decision on how the party would campaign in the referendum would be taken at a subsequent special conference.

The vote came after shadow cabinet ministers Emily Thornberry and Sir Keir Starmer both used their keynote conference speeches to say they would back Remain.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir later said he was “disappointed” by the result, telling a conference fringe event: “I don’t think there is a deal that’s going to be as good as the deal we’ve got.”

He said he had “mixed feelings” about the prospect of the Labour leader having a neutral position until the policy is decided, but insisted Labour’s policy had already shifted a long way.

“Now we are in a place where, whether it’s in this Government or the next government, the Labour Party has pledged to have a referendum.

“In that referendum Remain is going to be an option and the only other option is going to be a deal.”

After delegates backed a statement from the ruling National Executive Committee in favour of Mr Corbyn’s position, a vote followed on composite 13 – which called for Labour to “campaign energetically” for a second referendum and to stay in the EU in such a public vote.

It was announced this motion was defeated following a show of hands among delegates allowed to vote.

Wendy Nichols, who was chairing the afternoon session of Labour conference, said there was disagreement in the group on stage looking at proceedings.

As delegates cast their votes, the chairwoman Ms Nichols could be seen having a discussion with Labour general secretary Jennie Formby.

Announcing the result, Ms Nichols said: “Sorry I thought it was one way… and Jennie said something else, so.

“Yes, that was lost.”

Further confusion followed, with Ms Nichols reiterating the motion was rejected despite appeals for a formal card vote by some members.

Andrew Lewin, of the Remain Labour campaign, said the party now faced going into a general election without a clear position.

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Some delegates were left disappointed by the outcome (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He told the PA news agency: “We are going to be unable to answer the question ‘are you for Remain or Leave’.

“Obviously, lots of good people and senior people like Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry etc. are going to say individually, but that’s not what the public will see.

“The public will see the leader – and therefore by definition a party – that can’t make its mind up and I think that will be really damaging.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan said Labour is a Remain party and that he did not believe the decision “reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of Labour members”.

But shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the result showed the party is “determined to unite behind its leader”.

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly accused Labour of having “dodged” making any decision on Brexit and claimed the party had proved that “all they offer is more of the same – more talk, more indecision and more pointless delay”.

“It is now official Labour policy to delay Brexit until at least 2020 and even longer if the EU demand it.

“Only Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will get Brexit done by 31 October, whatever the circumstances, and get on with delivering the change that people voted for.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, whose anti-Brexit party hopes to benefit from Labour’s neutral stance, said: “Jeremy Corbyn has again shown a total lack of leadership on Brexit and settled on yet another fudge on the biggest issue facing our country.

“Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly had the opportunity to put the full force of Labour behind a Remain position, but he has once again shown today that he is a Brexiteer at heart.

“He is determined to negotiate a Brexit deal if Labour win an election, despite all the evidence that there is no Brexit deal that is good for our economy, our NHS and our security.

“By refusing to say how the Labour Party would campaign in a second referendum, Jeremy Corbyn is letting down the millions of people who want to see the UK remain in the EU.”

PA

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