Tom Watson tells Jeremy Corbyn to commit to a second referendum or risk backbench fury

Posted On: 
5th April 2019

Tom Watson has urged Jeremy Corbyn to commit to a second referendum, or risk infuriating backbench Labour MPs.


The deputy leader said the party was "bound by conference policy" to pursue another public vote on whatever deal is eventually passed by the Commons.

Splits within Labour over another referendum have erupted in recent days, with Mr Corbyn insisting that it should only take place to prevent a no-deal or "damaging Tory Brexit".

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The Labour leader is under pressure to demand a referendum as part of any deal agreed in Brexit talks currently going on between his party and the Government.

Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Mr Watson insisted that signing up to a deal without the promise of it being put to a referendum would cause "difficulty" among Labour MPs.

"I am a reluctant convert to the idea of a confirmatory ballot. I genuinely believe it was Parliament's job to sort this out and there should have been a meaningful vote, but in two years we have just hit cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac, so clearly we went into the discussions with the idea that there would be a confirmatory ballot," he said.

"We need to see whether Keir Starmer and David Lidington can reach a creative accomodation that builds a consensus, and we are gueinely going in with an open mind, but if it comes out of that process without a confirmatory ballot then we would have a bit of difficulty with our parliamentary party, but you know, let's see."

He added: "We have got a strong policy on it, and I think people would say they don't like Theresa May's deal, that it harms families and communities  and people who work in industries that would be deeply affected by this particular deal."

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer confirmed earlier this week that a confirmatory vote would form part of discussions with the government, but Mr Watson insisted his party stand behind the commitment, saying they were "bound by our conference policy".

"It is pretty clear," he said. "There needs to be the people being part of the process, and that is really an indication of parliamentary failure. The argument has not been resolved in the chamber of the House of Commons, quite patently, and so we are reluctantly saying, can the people take a look at the deal and they can make a call on it."

Labour have remained split over Brexit, with 25 backbench MPs writing to Mr Corbyn earlier this week urging him to refuse to sign-up to another public vote

The MPs, from predominantly leave backing constituencies, warned that any commitment to holding a second referendum could be electorally damaging for the party.

"Delaying for many months in the hope of a second referendum will simply divide the country further and add further for business," they wrote.

"A second referendum would be exploited by the far-right, damage the trust of many core Labour voters and reduce our chances of winning a general election."

But Mr Watson, who recognised the concerns raised by his colleagues, added: "I do acknowledge there are very strong views within parties and across parties on this issue and the idea we are going to take 100% of our colleages with us on an issue so complex and so monumental to our countries future is just not realistic.

"But more or less the Labour party is holding it together. 80% of our MPs supported a confirmatory ballot.

"I genuniely believe this is one way of solving what is a national crisis, it is not a ruse. I genuinely believe most MPs are motivated by good faith in this."