Sat, 18 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Jeremy Corbyn says Labour will agree Brexit policy in September as MPs demand clarity

5 min read

Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to listen to the views of Labour members and supporters and agree the party's Brexit policy in the autumn.

Speaking after disappointing European election results, the Labour leader said the party's conference in September would get the final say on its position, despite calls from senior figures for it to make its views clear now.

Mr Corbyn insisted that the party believed any final Brexit deal should be put to a "public vote" - but did not make clear whether that would be a general election or a referendum.

Labour frontbenchers have piled pressure on Mr Corbyn to make the party's stance on a second referendum clearer after it lost eight MEPs as voters flocked to the Brexit Party and Lib Dems.

Speaking to the BBC, the leader said: "We're consulting all our affiliates and our members and listening to the views of MPs and members of the Shadow Cabinet after last night's election result. The country is very divided and the country has to come together.

"Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party are only offering a no-deal exit from the European Union, and all the chaos that would cause for jobs. There has to be an agreement with the European Union and there then has to be a public vote."

He added: "We had a very clear policy all along that we will call for a general election and a referendum to decide on the future.

"What we will do is consult members through the constituency parties and affiliated trade unions and bring the issue back to conference in September."

Mr Corbyn went on: "What you have from me today is a commitment that our party is listening to our members and its supporters and reaching out to other parties across the House of Commons to prevent a crashing out of the European Union with no deal, a commitment that the future will of course be put to a public vote 

"The priority I think at the moment is for this government to call for a general election so we can decide the future. I think that is a demand that should be made as strongly as possible."


Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell sparked confusion on Monday morning when he tweeted: "We must unite our party & country by taking issue back to people in a public vote".

Sources close to Mr Corbyn insisted that could mean an election or a referendum, after which Mr McDonnell tweeted a clarification.

Diane Abbott, another key frontbench ally of Mr Corbyn, said the party needed to "listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote".

The comments came amid mounting criticism of Labour's European elections strategy from MPs, and just hours after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said candidates had been badly let down by the party hierarchy's refusal to explicitly support a second EU referendum.

Labour's 2018 conference saw members overwhelmingly back a motion saying Labour "must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote" if it cannot oust the Government in a general election.


But Labour MP Wes Streeting told PoliticsHome the party needed to back a fresh public vote a  "without equivocation" - and blasted Labour HQ's strategy in the run-up to the EU poll.

"We’ve been wiped out in Scotland, the South West and East of England and fallen back everywhere else," the Ilford North MP warned.

"Our voters have sent us a message and it’s time for our leadership to respond.

"Jeremy Corbyn must stop listening to those around him who urge him to triangulate without principle or conviction.

"Our Party is a pro-European Party. It’s time to listen to our members and back a public vote without equivocation."

Taking aim at the party's approach to the last-minute EU-wide vote, he added: "This is the worst organised election campaign I can recall in 21 years as a member of the Labour Party. We received barely any materials and what we did receive must have been produced in amateur hour.

"MPs had to plead with the Party to sign off letters to our own voters asking them to vote Labour. I managed to turn mine around just in time to reach voters before they went to vote, for others it was too late."

That view was echoed by Tottenham MP David Lammy - a longstanding backer of a so-called People's Vote on Brexit - who said the country was "crying out" for leadership.

"And we’re hiding, we’re hiding on the biggest issue of the day," he told The BBC.

"And let me just say in this election we put out poor literature, this election was badly financed on the Labour side, we were cutting off the knees of some of our candidates.

“Our activists did not want to come out for us, we had labour members who did not feel able to vote Labour.

“It was shocking, it was the worst that I’ve seen in my 20 years in politics. We have to get a grip."

In a further blow for Labour, the party lost both of its Scottish MEPs and secured less than 10% of the vote to come in fifth behind the SNP, Brexit Party, Lib Dems and Tories.

The party was meanwhile beaten into third place in Wales by the Brexit Party and Plaid Cymru.

Former Shadow Cabinet member Owen Smith told PolHome: "Labour’s leadership must now recognise that the only way we beat the Tory/Faragist coalition is to embrace our internationalist and democratic values and come out with a full-throated demand for a public vote on Brexit and a powerful campaign to save jobs and opportunities for our children by staying in and shaping the future of our our family of European nations."

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