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Emily Thornberry says Labour could still back second referendum after Jeremy Corbyn claims Brexit 'can't be stopped'

4 min read

Labour could still throw its weight behind a second referendum on leaving the EU, a top frontbencher has insisted, after Jeremy Corbyn angered MPs by saying Brexit could not be stopped.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called for an "injection of democracy" into the process of quitting the bloc as she defended Jeremy Corbyn's interview with a German magazine in which he said it was more important to "recognise the reasons why people voted Leave" in the first place.

Asked in the Der Spiegel interview whether he would stop Brexit if he could, Mr Corbyn had said: "We can't stop it. The referendum took place. Article 50 has been triggered."

The claim prompted fury from some pro-EU Labour MPs, with Remainer Chris Bryant tweeting: "Yes we can."

Colleague Stella Creasy said she would "refuse to give up fighting for the best interests of my community and my country".

But Ms Thornberry told the BBC's Andrew Marr that the comments had not been intended to shut down Labour's fallback option of campaigning for a second Brexit referendum if Theresa May refuses to hold a general election.

While the frontbencher said the result of the 2016 vote to Leave "ought to be abided by", she added: "If we don't have a general election, which we think we should have, then yes of course all the options remain on the table and we would campaign for there to be a People's Vote. But you know, there are several stages before we get there."

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said it was important to look at the "context" of Mr Corbyn's interview, and stressed that the Labour leader had been trying to emphasise how the party were "democrats over and above everything else".

"It's really not fair to say that we're lazy about this," she said.

"The fact is we're not in power. And we have been trying to keep this Government honest throughout."

But she warned: "There are some deeply anti-democratic forces out there and we're not going to be part of it.

"If we've had a referendum and that is the result then we ought to proceed on a basis of good faith. And we will do our best to try to deliver a Brexit that's good for the country."


The intervention from the Shadow Foreign Secretary came as Theresa May faced mounting pressure to scrap her latest plans to break the deadlock in talks with the EU.

Senior Conservative Eurosceptic Steve Baker joined forces with the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson to threaten to vote against any deal Mrs May secures amid fears that plans for a “backstop” on Northern Ireland will leave the UK tied to EU rules indefinitely.

The pair wrote: "If the Government makes the historic mistake of prioritising placating the EU over establishing an independent and whole UK, then regrettably we must vote against the deal.”

The move comes after pro-Remain minister Jo Johnson quit the Government with his own vow to vote against the deal and a warning that it would be a “travesty” not to hand voters a fresh referendum on Mrs May’s agreement.

But Education Secretary Damian Hinds on Sunday warned Cabinet colleagues to ‘think about what the alternatives are” as he insisted the embattled Prime Minister could still get a deal through Parliament.

“We're in the latter stages of this negotiation, about 95% of the way through,” he told the Andrew Marr show.

“The last 5% is always the hardest. The last 15 minutes of a negotiation is always the hardest bit of the negotiation."

The Cabinet minister added: “We have to see what comes back and of course everybody is Parliament will be looking at that very closely and they need to think about, you know, what's right for the future of our country.

"They also need to think about what the alternatives are. And actually I'm very confident the deal that comes back will be a good one and it'll be one that members of Parliament will want to support."

But Ms Thornberry accused “incompetent” ministers of failing to “deliver anything” during two-and-a-half years of talks.

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