Fresh Labour split as Len McCluskey warns party against backing second EU referendum

Posted On: 
6th December 2018

Len McCluskey has warned Labour about throwing its weight behind the campaign for a second EU referendum.

Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite and a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn.
Credit: 
PA Images

The Guardian reported that the Unite boss told a private meeting of Labour MPs that the party's voters who backed Leave last time around would see it as a betrayal.

But his comments sparked a fresh Labour row over Brexit, with deputy Tom Watson hitting back at his remarks.

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One MP who was at the meeting said: "Len spoke about tackling people’s concerns about immigration and the exploitation of immigrant labour. He said there would be a sense of betrayal among the members if we went for a second referendum.

"He said the party has to take concerns about immigration into account, and that if politicians had done so sooner we might have avoided the current situation. I wouldn’t say that the majority of MPs agreed with him at all. But he gave clear examples where the exploitation of immigrant labour has undermined existing wage levels."

But Mr Watson, who last month said a second referendum was "more likely" now than it has ever been, told The Guardian: "To suggest it represents a ‘betrayal’ grossly distorts Labour’s position and is deeply unhelpful to those seeking a solution to an an issue that is reaching crisis proportions."

He added: "It can only happen if parliament judges that the current government has failed to negotiate a good deal for Britain. That’s why the people’s vote has always been an insurance policy for Labour."

Labour's official position is that the party should push for a general election if Theresa May's Brexit deal is defeated in the Commons next Tuesday. If no election takes place, then nothing, including support for another referendum, is off the table.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell laid bare the tensions at the heart of Labour over the issue last week when he said a second referendum was "inevitable" if there was no election, before rowing back within hours.

A Unite spokesperson said: “Len McCluskey repeated a number of times that a Conservative Brexit would be bad for working people. He urged MPs to hold their nerve as Labour’s alternative approach would deliver for the country.”

Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "Corbyn is still sitting on the fence while the rest of us dig in and try and get the UK out of this chaos.

"The Labour leadership need reminding of the policy their members passed at conference - to hold a People's Vote - but are too deep in the pockets of the union paymasters to disobey their diktat."