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Labour leadership under pressure over second Brexit referendum

Scores of MPs and MEPs – including frontbenchers – have demanded a commitment to a second referendum in the party’s European election manifesto.

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday February 13 File photo dated 28/01/19 of Union and European Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament, London.The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned that firms are being “hung out to dry” because of the continued uncertainty over a no-deal Brexit.
Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday February 13 File photo dated 28/01/19 of Union and European Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament, London.The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned that firms are being “hung out to dry” because of the continued uncertainty over a no-deal Brexit.

Shadow ministers and senior Labour MEPs have demanded that the party backs a referendum on a Brexit deal in its manifesto for the European elections.

Nearly 90 MPs and MEPs put their names to a letter calling on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to commit to a public vote at a meeting on Tuesday to decide on the manifesto.

Shadow Treasury ministers Clive Lewis and Anneliese Dodds and shadow minister for the disabled Marsha de Cordova are among the frontbenchers backing the call.

The issue is incredibly divisive within the Labour hierarchy, with splits in the shadow cabinet over whether to campaign for another referendum amid fears it could torpedo the party’s election chances in Brexit-voting former industrial heartlands.

Richard Corbett, leader of Labour’s MEPs and a member of the NEC, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “The problem we face now is that Brexit is turning out to be so different from what was promised three years ago.

“Remember they said it would be easy – it’s turning out to be rather complex. They said it would save loads of money that would all go to the NHS – it’s turning out to be costly.

“They said it would not damage the economy – we are seeing firms move abroad, jobs lost, especially in manufacturing.

“Because it’s so different, it’s right that it should go back to the people for a final sign-off.”

He dismissed the idea that Labour should “keep silent about our policy” of supporting a referendum to prevent a no-deal Brexit or the kind of agreement negotiated by Theresa May.

He said: “We have got to the point now where not holding another referendum is tantamount to saying to the general public ‘you had your say three years ago, now you have to shut up and let the politicians serve up whatever they want to and you can’t have a say on it’.”

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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (PA/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

Pro-EU Labour MPs were angered by an election leaflet which contained no mention of a referendum, but Mr Corbett dismissed it as a “placeholder” pending a decision on the manifesto by the NEC.

“I expect the NEC to continue with what is Labour Party policy, which is to say that there should be a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal that this Government comes up with.”

The letter from 75 MPs and 14 MEPs organised by the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit group sets out plans to beat Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party with “a message of hope and solidarity”, ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Labour has already, rightly, backed a confirmatory public vote,” the letter states.

“The overwhelming majority of our members and voters support this, and it is the democratically established policy of the party.

“We need a message of hope and solidarity, and we need to campaign for it without caveats.”

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Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage with former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, who has defected from the Conservatives to join the Brexit Party (PA/Stefan Rousseau)

The group insisted the polls are clear that the May 23 Euro-election is a two-horse race between Labour and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Polls also show the overwhelming majority of Labour’s members, supporters and potential voters want a public vote on any Brexit deal with an option to Remain, the group said, and failing to offer this risked the future of the Labour movement.

“To motivate our supporters, and to do the right thing by our members and our policy, a clear commitment to a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal must be part of our European election manifesto,” the letter states.

“We understand the many different pressures and views within our movement, but without this clear commitment, we fear that our electoral coalition could fall apart.”

Seamus Mallon, former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and ex-Social Democratic and Labour Party MP, said Labour should “stop vacillating on the Brexit issue” and “give leadership”

It was “absolutely essential that another referendum is now held”, he said in an interview with the Labour Party Irish Society.

“The issue of Brexit was put to the people, and the people spoke. But that, what they voted for then, bears no relation to what Brexit now is. And the whole circumstances of where Brexit now stands have changed very fundamentally since the initial question was put.”

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