John McDonnell in row with Unite boss Len McCluskey over second Brexit referendum

Posted On: 
7th December 2018

John McDonnell has opened up a row with Unite boss Len McCluskey over whether Labour should back a second referendum on Brexit.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in Glasgow today
PA Images

The Shadow Chancellor outright rejected claims by the union leader that Labour members would see support for another vote as a betrayal, and said he would back Remain in a fresh run.

Mr McDonnell insisted putting the question back to the people was “inevitable” if MPs cannot agree on Brexit and a general election is out of the question.

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He made the comments just days after Mr McCluskey - who is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn and the biggest donor to the Labour party - issued his warning to MPs.

One of those present told The Guardian: “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.”

But asked during a visit to Glasgow today whether he agreed with the Unite boss, Mr McDonnell said: “No.”

He added: “I think if we get to a situation where we’d tried everything… we need a general election. Because we can then change the team that will then do the negotiations.

“If we can’t do that, well, I think people will recognise we have no other option but to consider another public vote and people will respect us for doing our best to implement the spirit of the referendum.”

It comes as a split emerged between Unite and fellow top union the GMB over the issue of a second vote.

In a briefing note to Labour MPs, the union - which pours millions of pounds a year into the party's coffers - said: "Should an early general election not be possible, GMB calls on all MPs to support giving the public the final say on the proposed Brexit deal. ​​

“If Theresa May is so confident about her deal then she should not be afraid to put it to the public.”

In further evidence of how the referendum issue has split the trade union movement, TSSA boss Manuel Cortes also reiterated his support for another vote.