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Senior Labour frontbenchers call for confirmatory referendum on Brexit deal

Cross-party Brexit talks are set to resume on Monday afternoon.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Two senior Labour frontbenchers have thrown their weight behind calls for a second referendum on a cross-party Brexit deal to gain the backing of their MPs.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer warned it was “impossible” to see how an agreement between the Conservatives and his party could clear the Commons unless it guaranteed the deal would be put back to the public for a “confirmatory vote”.

And Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said he thought the way out of the impasse was a “confirmatory ballot” on Theresa May’s agreement, saying it would be “difficult” for his party to assist in the UK’s exit from the EU without another referendum.

Ahead of the continuation of cross-party talks on Monday afternoon, Sir Keir told the Guardian that “probably 120 if not 150” of the party’s 229 MPs could vote against the deal unless it was linked to a second referendum.

And he said: “I’ve made it clear that at this stage, at this 11th hour, any deal that comes through from this Government ought to be subject to the lock of a confirmatory vote.”

Mr Watson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If a deal could be found that inspires enough votes in Westminster then fine, but it seemed to me that that’s very, very difficult.

Sir Keir Starmer said any deal ‘ought to be subject to the lock of a confirmatory vote’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“And so my idea of a confirmatory ballot is not a religious point or a point of ideology, it’s just how do you get an outcome, how do you sort this out?

“And one way to do it are these two minority positions – the Prime Minister’s deal and those that think the people should have a say on the deal – plug them together and you build a majority.”

Mr Watson also described Labour’s position in relation to the European elections as a “remain and reform” party.

Don’t stay at home, don’t put that cross elsewhere, don’t let them win Tom Watson

He is expected to plead in a speech to the Fabian Society on Monday for supporters to back Labour in the polls next week.

“There are only two forces that can win this election – that nasty nationalism of the Farage Brexit Party, or the tolerant, compassionate outward looking patriotism of the Labour Party,” Mr Watson will say.

“I can only plead with Labour supporters- don’t stay at home, don’t put that cross elsewhere, don’t let them win.”

Last month Jeremy Corbyn saw off an attempt to commit the party to a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, and Labour will instead only back a fresh vote only if it cannot either win the changes it wants to Mrs May’s deal or secure a general election.

Nigel Farage later said the idea of a confirmatory referendum was the “most outrageous proposal” he had ever seen and would lead to a party like the Brexit Party winning a majority in Parliament at the next general election.

Speaking during a walkabout in Pontefract, part of Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s constituency, Mr Farage said: “A confirmatory vote, it sounds all nice and fluffy, what does it mean?

“It means we stay in the European Union as we are, or we nominally leave and stay permanently part of a customs union and with single market rules. They wouldn’t even give the public the option of actually leaving. It’s the most outrageous proposal I’ve ever seen.

“It wouldn’t break the deadlock, it would just mean we’re not leaving the European Union. It would just mean, basically, the second referendum would be there, giving two choices to reverse the result of the first one. It’s an outrage, it cannot happen.

“I promise you this, if we get forced as a country into that choice of a referendum, there’ll be bigger change in British politics than anybody can even imagine.”

(PA Graphics)

He added: “If the Labour party and sections of the Tory party were to completely sell-out on any idea of a clean break then the Brexit Party, or something like it, would win a huge number of seats at the next general election and undoubtedly hold the balance of power in Westminster.”

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said a confirmatory referendum would be “taking us in a different direction – that’s actually saying ‘well, we’re looking at this issue all over again and not giving effect to the original vote”‘.

He described the cross party talks as “very serious”, adding: “We wouldn’t have committed all of the time and effort on all sides in relation to this.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week would be “crunch week” for cross-party Brexit negotiations, but rejected the possibility of a second referendum.

Speaking outside the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, Mr Hunt said: “From a Conservative point of view, we’ve always said that we think that would be a betrayal of what people voted for, and we want to implement the first referendum.

“But lets see where these talks go to.”

Downing Street said the talks so far had been “serious” but “difficult”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mrs May has made clear her views about a second public vote, insisting she was “focused on delivering the result of the first referendum”.

The Cabinet is expected to consider the progress of the talks in a meeting on Tuesday as frustration mounts in Westminster about the failure to secure a breakthrough.

If the cross-party approach is abandoned, Mrs May has signalled that a series of votes would be held in the Commons with the aim of finding a Brexit plan that could command a majority.

A Government source said that ministers had “tried everything else”.

Elsewhere, the Chancellor’s parliamentary aide, Huw Merriman, said the Tories will suffer “an absolute mauling” in next week’s European Parliament elections.

“The public will blame the Conservative government because we were the party that brought forward the referendum,” Mr Merriman told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday night.



From Belfast Telegraph