Labour Brexit splits erupt as Len McCluskey urges MPs to stop pressuring Jeremy Corbyn over second referendum
Labour splits over a second EU referendum have resurfaced after Len McCluskey urged senior frontbench figures to allow Jeremy Corbyn the time to firm up the party’s policy.
The Unite union leader said Shadow Cabinet ministers should not “panic” over the leader’s failure to commit to a public vote on leaving the bloc ahead of the 31 October deadline.
The intervention came shortly after John McDonnell said the party “need to move now”, and that he was frustrated the stance had not yet been ironed out.
The Shadow Chancellor refused to confirm reports that he had described Labour’s policy as a “slow moving car crash” but told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “What I’ve been trying to say is we need to move now and Jeremy said a month ago ‘yes were going to put this issue back to the people’, fully agree.”
He added that he was “a little bit” frustrated over the situation, following his claim that he expected “white smoke” to emerge from a crunch Shadow Cabinet meeting last week.
Mr McDonnell continued: “At the Shadow Cabinet two weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn said we were moving towards a decision on this, we’ve all agreed that we have to go back to the people.
“Of course we want a general election but we have to go back to the people on a deal or no-deal in almost certainly a referendum."
Mr McCluskey later said that it was “legitimate” for key frontbench figures to push for a second vote but that the party had to wait for Mr Corbyn’s decision.
“We’ll wait to see what Jeremy Corbyn is doing and that’s why Jeremy Corbyn is such a strong leader,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“He’s not being bullied into a position by anybody. What he’s doing is he’s consulting with the trade unions, he’s consulting with members, he’s consulting with the National Executive Committee and then we’ll have a proper debate, there’s no panic.”
In a sign that his opposition to a second referendum was softening however, the union boss said he backed it on the condition that Labour wins an election first and then negotiates its own deal to put to voters.
“The right thing to do is actually to go back to the people in a general election. The second public vote I’d like is if Labour win that election and are able to negotiate a deal to take us out of Europe, which I believe will satisfy both the 48% and the 52%, I'd like that to go back to a confirmatory vote of the public, so I’m in favour of two.
“The reality at the moment is that there’s a lot of debate taking place after the European elections, I appeal to people to calm down.
“There seems to be a panic to rush in order to establish a different position from what the Labour party has had for a couple of years now, which is respecting the 2016 referendum and trying to negotiate a deal that would unite the nation.”