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Union chief calls on Jeremy Corbyn to back second referendum before new PM is in place

Union chief calls on Jeremy Corbyn to back second referendum before new PM is in place
3 min read

The left-wing boss of a top trade union has urged Jeremy Corbyn to "move quickly" and back another EU referendum before the next Conservative leader is elected.

Manuel Cortes - general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) and a long-standing supporter of the Labour leader - said the party could no longer "ride two horses at once" in the wake of last week's "catastrophic" European election results.

He said there must be a special Labour conference within weeks so that party members can decide its Brexit policy.

Mr Corbyn has been under increasing pressure from some of his own frontbenchers and MPs to fully endorse a second referendum on Brexit after the party came third behind the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats.

In the wake of that result, the Labour leader said the party would revisit its Brexit policy at its annual conference in September - but Mr Cortes called on him to act "well before" the Tory leadership race wraps up in the next few weeks.

The TSSA chief said: "It's clear our country is deeply divided and polarised over Brexit. Sadly, our party's policy based on appealing to both Remain and Leave voters on this issue has run its course.

"This isn’t just about our catastrophic results in the Euro elections but also a bad set of results in the recent local elections. There’s also no sign of recovery in Scotland where sadly we are going backwards.

"Be in no doubt, there simply won't be a Labour government without Labour winning a significant number of seats in Scotland."

He added:  "It’s also an inescapable fact that our ambiguous Brexit position has created a backlash across the rest of Britain.

“Our party's National Executive Committee and our leadership now need to move very quickly to gauge the opinion of our wonderful members and put in place a Brexit policy which no longer tries to ride two horses at once.

“This must be put in place well before the Conservatives have a new leader.

“Letting our members decide our Brexit policy in a special conference is the honourable and democratic way forward on an era-defining issue; something which also allows our affiliated trade unions and our socialist societies to have their say.”

The call for Mr Corbyn to give members a fresh say on Brexit sooner comes after Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, said he would support those pushing for an all-member ballot to decide the party's EU stance before the autumn conference.

Mr Corbyn came under fire from the People's Vote campaign for a fresh Brexit vote this week when he appeared to give only lukewarm backing to a second referendum.

He told ITV News the party could not back a "re-run" of the first referendum, where voters were asked if they wanted to Remain or Leave the European Union.

"We don’t back a re-run of 2016. That happened, that’s gone," he said.

"What I do say is that if Parliament comes to an agreement then it’s reasonable, if Parliament wishes it, there should be a public vote on it. But that is some way off."

Some MPs and frontbenchers in Leave-supporting seats believe that second referendum will alienate those who voted for Brexit in 2016.

But Labour MP Wes Streeting, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said Mr Corbyn should “stop wriggling and start leading".

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