Tom Watson urges Jeremy Corbyn not to 'sit on the fence' over second Brexit referendum

Posted On: 
21st April 2019

Labour must not "sit on the fence" over its support for a second Brexit referendum, the party's deputy leader Tom Watson has said.

Mr Watson said Labour voters "deserve better than Nigel Farage’s promise of a far-right Brexit that would solve nothing".

In the latest pro-referendum intervention from Jeremy Corbyn's second-in-command, Mr Watson said the party was at risk of ceding ground to Nigel Farage's "far right" Brexit Party if it failed to set out a distinct platform in May's planned European elections.

Writing in The Observer, Mr Watson - who last month spoke at a major London rally for a so-called 'People's Vote' - warned that the former Ukip chief's new political outfit could pose a major challenge to Labour.

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And he warned: "We cannot just sit back, watch this fight on the far right, and allow Farage to prosper with a backward-looking brand of politics that offers no solutions.

"Instead we must offer a radical alternative based on our values that speaks directly to the people we represent and demonstrate Labour has a way forward out of the crisis."

The Labour deputy leader has been one of the party's most prominent backers of a second referendum, despite major disquiet from some Labour MPs in Leave-supporting seats who fear that supporting a fresh vote could alienate supporters.

But Mr Watson said the party could not hope to beat the newly-formed Brexit Party - which polls have suggested could top the planned European elections - if it offered a a "mealy-mouthed" pro-Brexit platform.

He warned: "We won’t win if we sit on the fence about the most crucial issue facing our country for a generation."

Mr Watson's intervention comes after a YouGov poll handed Mr Farage's new Brexit Party a commanding lead in next month's European Parliament elections, which are set to take place if Theresa May cannot convince MPs to get behind a Brexit agreement by 22 May.

The YouGov study puts the Brexit Party on 27% - compared to just 15% for the Conservatives and 22% for Labour.

Mr Corbyn's party has been divided on a second referendum since it agreed at its annual conference last year to leave "all options" on the table, including a fresh public vote on Brexit.

Labour is currently holding talks with Theresa May - whose own Brexit deal has been voted down three times in Parliament - in a bid to reach a compromise deal that can command a majority in the House of Commons.

But Mr Watson warned: "Now that we know a bit more about what Brexit means, the very least that Leavers and Remainers deserve is a final say - a confirmatory referendum - on any deal.

“They deserve a Labour Party that offers clarity on this issue, as well as the radical vision for a new political economy achieved by working with our socialist allies inside the EU.

“And, above all, they deserve better than Nigel Farage’s promise of a far-right Brexit that would solve nothing.”

But, hitting back, Mr Farage said: "Tom Watson has broken his promises to the people.

"The second referendum that he backs is a total insult to 5 million Brexit Labour voters."

And the Brexit Party leader said: "I now intend to wholeheartedly target Labour lies and dishonesty in the weeks ahead."