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Labour Brexit splits erupt as party chair attacks ‘sneering’ second EU referendum supporters

Labour Brexit splits erupt as party chair attacks ‘sneering’ second EU referendum supporters
3 min read

Labour’s Brexit splits have burst into the open after party chairman Ian Lavery accused campaigners for a second referendum of "sneering" at Brexit supporters.

In a thinly-veiled warning to Jeremy Corbyn, he said Labour should forget about a so-called 'People's Vote', which he claimed was backed by "leftwing intellectuals" who know nothing about the working class.

Mr Lavery said any such vote would alienate supporters in traditional Labour heartlands and would be won by Leave again.

His comments came amid reports that Mr Corbyn is planning to throw his weight behind calls for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, as demanded by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.

Following Labour's dismal performance in the European elections, Mr McDonnell said: "So we're saying quite clearly if there can be a deal, great, but it needs to go back to the people, if it's a no-deal then we've got to block it.

“And the way we're doing that, I think, is by going back to the people and arguing the case against it because it would be catastrophic for our economy."

Asked if that meant he backed a referendum in all circumstances, Mr McDonnell replied: "I think it is, yeah."

Labour's conference last year voted to keep the option of another vote "on the table" if it were unable to trigger a general election or if it were needed to halt a "damaging" Tory Brexit.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Lavery insisted the party’s position had been “fairly straightforward” but said it had been “difficult to hold the line” as pro and anti-second referendum Labour MPs made public their own views.

“Labour lost voters in all directions and polling appears to show middle-class voters moving to the Lib Dems and Greens, with working-class people moving to the Brexit party,” he said.

“As someone who has opposed a so-called public vote, not least because Parliament has no majority for it in principle and nobody has the faintest idea what we would actually put on the ballot, I have been doggedly attacked by certain sections of the party, as well as those on the outside.

“It does feel that a certain portion of “leftwing intellectuals” are sneering at ordinary people and piling on those trying to convey the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Labour voters.

“Perhaps, in reflecting on the results, we should consider the effect all of this has had.”


Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry have also called for another referendum.

But Mr Lavery added: “We cannot win a general election by simply fighting for the biggest share of 48% and, while some polling data suggests more people left Labour for the Greens and the Lib Dems, it is equally concerning to see leakage to the Brexit party.

“Remember, we not only need to hold on to what we got in 2017, but we need to win over even more people.”

In a swipe at the official operation pushing a second referendum, he added: “Given that it is associated almost entirely with the Remain campaign, it does raise the question as to why its proponents don’t simply issue a call to remain, rather than agitating for another referendum that could easily be won by Leave?”

But a former Labour frontbencher told PoliticsHome: "The man tasked with co-ordinating our general election campaign believes we should ignore millions of Labour-inclined Remain voters and instead get in to a three-way fight with the Brexit Party and the Tories for Leave voters who are mostly hostile to us. Genius."

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