John McDonnell: Second referendum 'inevitable' if there is no general election
A second EU referendum is "inevitable" if Labour cannot force a general election over Theresa May's Brexit crisis, John McDonnell has said.
In an apparent break with his party's official position, the Shadow Chancellor said a so-called "People's Vote" was the only other option if their bid to have an election fails.
The Labour policy, agreed at the party's annual conference in September, is that it backs "all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote” if the Prime Minister's Brexit deal falls in the House of Commons and a general election does not follow.
But the Shadow Chancellor today went further in comments that appeared to put him at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
In an interview with the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, Mr McDonnell said his party’s first preference was for “a deal that protects jobs and the economy”.
He added: "If we can’t achieve that, if the Government can’t achieve that, we think we can, if the Government can’t achieve that, we should have a general election...
"You know as well as I do is very difficult to do because of the nature of the legislation that David Cameron brought forward.
"If that's not possible we’ll be calling upon the Government then to join us in a public vote. And again, it's difficult to judge this at each stage of this. But that’s the sequence I think that will inevitably go through over this period.”
Asked again whether he believed a second vote was “inevitable” if no election could be secured, he replied: “That’s right. So we've said our policy is if we can't get a general election, well then the other option which we've kept on the table is the people's vote, a public vote.”
He added: “At some stage if Parliament can’t decide, the government can’t deliver; you’ll have to go back to the people at some stage."
Earlier a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said a second referendum was one of several potential outcomes in the current Brexit turmoil, but stopped short of saying it would be "nevitable if there was no election.
He said: "We will be opposing that deal in Parliament. If that deal falls, our position is that a general election would be the best outcome and if we unable to get a general election, all options would be on the table, including the option of support for a public vote."
The spokesperson said other options which must be considered include Labour's own "jobs first" Brexit plan.
Mr McDonnell's remarks were quickly welcomed by campaigners for a second Brexit referendum.
Labour MP Owen Smith told PoliticsHome: "I think that is a hugely significant acknowledgement by John McDonnell - who is nobody's fool - who is clearly acknowledging that securing a general election, whilst we in Labour of course might want one, is extremely difficult and ultimately not in our gift.
"And if we cannot achieve that what we will inevitably have to do is put the Brexit deal back to the people."
He added: "The reason I think he's right to conclude that is if you want a radical government that is going to spend more money on public services and undo some of the damage done by the Tories you've got to not do Brexit.
"Because Brexit is going, we now know, to inevitably mean less money for public services and less headroom for an incoming Labour government to do the things it wants to do."
MCDONNELL: WE'LL HAVE DEBATE ON WHICH OPTION WE BACK
Elsewhere in his BBC interview, Mr McDonnell left the door open to Labour campaigning to Remain inside the EU in any second vote, saying he had “always believed that Remain is the best option”.
Asked if his party could go into a second vote campaigning to stay in the EU, he said: “Well, we'll take the position in terms of what the overall Labour party position is and we'll have that debate.
“If there was a vote on the whether we remained or whether we accepted another deal - [if] it is a Labour Party deal we were confident in, I'd argue for that.
“If it was a deal that we've got no confidence from the government [in], something like that, I couldn't support it.”