Barry Gardiner breaks ranks with Jeremy Corbyn to demand referendum before election

Posted On: 
24th September 2019

Barry Gardiner has thrown his weight behind calls for a second EU referendum to take place before the next general election.

Barry Gardiner with Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.
Credit: 
PA Images

The Shadow International Trade Secretary said there was a "logic" to letting voters have their say on a Tory Brexit deal.

His remarks put him at odds with Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to win the next election, negotiate a new Brexit deal and then put that to voters in a referendum.

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Appearing on the BBC's Politics Live programme, Mr Gardiner said: "There may be half of the country who feel they haven't been listened to because they haven't had their final say on the Brexit deal."

Asked if that meant there should be a referendum before an election, Mr Gardiner replied: "Yes indeed. There is a logic to holding a referendum to get the issue of Brexit done and dusted."

His remarks echo those of deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, who earlier this month said there should be a referendum before an election.

Mr Watson said: "Boris Johnson has already conceded that the Brexit crisis can only be solved by the British people. 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."

But he was quickly slapped down by Mr Corbyn, who said: "Tom’s view - I don’t accept it and I don’t agree with it, our priority is to get a general election in order to give the people a chance to elect a government that cares for them, not themselves."

Mr Gardiner's comments were welcomed by former Tory MP Dominic Grieve, who was one of the 21 backbenchers kicked out of the party for backing moves to block a no-deal Brexit.

"I don’t think I have ever said this before, but I agree with Barry Gardiner," said Mr Grieve.

"It is entirely possible for MPs to decide now to have a confirmatory referendum on Theresa May’s deal - or some other version of it - which can take place before an election.

"This could take place within five or six months and be binding on all participants. It would give us the clarity we all need to move on from the Brexit crisis and then have an election where all the other issues facing our country could be properly debated."

Naomi Smith, from the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said Parliament's "priority" must be preventing a no-deal Brexit.

“It would be foolhardy to allow the government to abuse an election timetable," she said.

"After today's ruling, it's critical that the government commits to obeying the law. That begins with sending a representative to ask the EU for an extension to our current Article 50 deadline.

"Once that has been done we can discuss whether it would be more sensible to call first a general election or a referendum to end this Brexit crisis."