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Tom Watson: Labour must back a second EU referendum before a general election

3 min read

Labour should throw its weight behind holding a second EU referendum before campaigning for a general election, according to Tom Watson.

In a direct challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's deputy leader will say that is "the only way to break the Brexit deadlock once and for all".

He will say that holding an election before Brexit is settled risked issues such as homelessness, crime, poverty and the NHS being drowned out by "the braying bullies of the Tory leadership" demanding the UK leaves the EU as soon as possible. 

And in another break with his leader, Mr Watson will say that if an election does come first, Labour must campaign unequivocally for Remain.

Mr Corbyn has insisted that Labour will back a general election as soon as a no-deal Brexit is completely off the table, meaning it could take place as soon as November.

If it wins that election, Labour  has pledged negotiate its own Brexit deal before holding a referendum in which Remain would be one of the options.

However, the party has been ridiculed for refusing to say which side it would support.

Addressing the Creative Industries Federation in central London, Mr Watson will make clear his opposition to Labour's existing policy.

He will say that a Brexit election "might at this moment seem inevitable, but that doesn’t make it desirable - elections should never be single issue campaigns".

"Boris Johnson has already conceded that the Brexit crisis can only be solved by the British people," Mr Watson will say. "But the only way to break the Brexit deadlock once and for all is a public vote in a referendum. A general election might well fail to solve this Brexit chaos."

If a general election comes first, Mr Watson will say: "Labour will decide it’s position at the Clause V manifesto meeting, but I will be arguing that our position going into that election should be totally clear – we must unambiguously and unequivocally back Remain."

He will add: "There is no such thing as a good Brexit deal, which is why I believe we should advocate for Remain. That is what the overwhelming majority of Labour party members, MPs and trade unions believe.

"My experience on the doorstep tells me most of those who’ve deserted us over our Brexit policy did so with deep regret and would greatly prefer to come back; they just want us to take an unequivocal position that whatever happens we’ll fight to remain, and to sound like we mean it.

"It would be easy to be 400,000 voices sounding like we mean it, because we do. And if we did it we could win, whereas if we don’t I fear we won’t."

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