Jeremy Corbyn edges closer to backing second Brexit referendum with call for Commons vote

Posted On: 
22nd January 2019

Jeremy Corbyn has inched closer to backing a second Brexit referendum after Labour demanded a Commons vote that could pave the way for a new poll.

The Labour leader has faced pressure from his MPs to support a so-called 'People's Vote'.
Credit: 
PA

The Labour leader, who has been under pressure from scores of his own MPs to swing behind a so-called "People's Vote", tabled an amendment to the Government's Brexit plans urging a series of votes on plans to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

The amendment includes the option "to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons".

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Although the move has been hailed as a "big step forward" by campaigners for a second referendum, it does not explicitly commit the party to backing such an option.

However, it is the furthest Mr Corbyn - who is known to be personally sceptical about a second referendum - has gone towards throwing Labour's weight behind it.

Mr Corbyn said: "Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no-deal.

"It is time for Labour's alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote."

The Labour leader's choice of wording closely mirrors a position hammered out at the party's conference last year, which commits Labour to first pushing for a general election before leaving "all options on the table, including campaigning for a public vote".

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham who is backing the campaign for a People's Vote, welcomed the move.

He said: “It is a big step forward that for the first time my party is acknowledging in a parliamentary amendment that a People’s Vote may be the only way forward.

But he added: "At the same time, the leadership is saying that Labour’s own Brexit plan should now take 'centre stage' as this crisis unfolds.

"It is right that any proposal for Brexit deserves to be properly scrutinised.

"It is only when MPs have had the chance to look properly at these proposals, along with Norway Plus and a catastrophic 'no deal' departure from the EU that they will really be able to decide whether they meet the promises made for Brexit in 2016 and are at least as good as the deal we already have inside Europe."

Mr Corbyn has faced a series of calls from MPs - and some shadow ministers - to support the People's Vote push.

But some in his top team remain deeply sceptical about throwing the party's weight behind a fresh referendum, fearing it could alienate swathes of Labour voters in Leave-supporting seats.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner has warned that a second Brexit referendum could undermine "democracy in itself", while fellow frontbencher Emily Thornberry has accused the People's Vote campaign of using the push to "slap the Labour Party around".

And last night, shadow minister Melanie Onn said she would quit the Labour frontbench if the party supported another referendum.

'DAMAGE SOCIAL COHESION'

The move by Labour - which also puts forward the party's plan for a permanent customs union with the EU as well as a "strong" link with its single market - came as Theresa May said a second referendum could "undermine faith in our democracy" among voters and "damage social cohesion".

The Prime Minister made the claim as MPs tabled a string of amendments to a Commons motion laid by Mrs May as she vowed to push the EU for fresh concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop to save her battered Brexit deal.

Conservative MP Nick Boles and Labour's Yvette Cooper are pushing to suspend Article 50 - which fixes the UK's exit day as March 29 - if no deal can be struck by the end of the month. A similar amendment has also been drawn up by Labour MP Rachel Reeves.

An amendment drawn up by former attorney general Dominic Grieve meanwhile pushes for MPs to gain control of the parliamentary agenda to allow it to vote on alternative Brexit plans.

And Brexit Select Committee chair Hilary Benn is pushing for MPs to be given a non-binding vote on four options in a bid to break the Commons deadlock. They including reconsidering Mrs May's deal; leaving the EU without a deal; pressing for a renegotiation; or holding a second referendum.

Independent MP Frank Field meanwhile proposes Commons votes on seven different options, including a Canada-style or Norway-style future relationship with the bloc.