Fresh Shadow Cabinet Brexit split as Tom Watson brands Labour a ‘Remain and reform’ party

Posted On: 
13th May 2019

Shadow Cabinet splits on Brexit have been laid bare once again after Tom Watson insisted that Labour was a “Remain and reform” party.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson addresses anti-Brexit campaigners in Parliament Square in March
Credit: 
PA Images

The deputy leader's comments contradict fellow frontbencher Barry Gardiner's claim in recent weeks that Labour was “not a Remain party now” and that the leadership was “committed” to leaving the bloc.

Mr Watson said he believed it “would be difficult” for the party to get a Brexit deal through the Commons without a second referendum, and backed Sir Keir Starmer's claim that up to 150 Labour MPs could oppose a deal without one.

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The Shadow Brexit Secretary had warned that a raft of Commons colleagues would reject any Brexit deal thrashed out between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn if it does not include plans for another public vote.

Talks between the Government and opposition on finding a deal to break the impasse are ongoing, but there has been little progress since they began in April.

When asked on the BBC’s Today programme, whether Labour was "a Brexit party or a non-Brexit party", Mr Watson responded: "We are a Remain and reform party, but obviously when it comes to a deal, people could form their own view."

The frontbencher accepted that the parliamentary arithmetic would make it "difficult" for a deal to be forced through without a confirmatory ballot since MPs had "hardened their positions within their parties".

He added: “I’ve wanted a deal. I reluctantly came to the view that there should be a confirmatory ballot, because I thought it was the only way we would break the impasse.

“If a deal could be found that inspires enough votes in Westminster, then fine. But it seemed to me that that’s very difficult.

“My idea of a confirmatory ballot is not a religious point, or a point of ideology, it’s just – how do you get an outcome, how do you sort this out.”

It comes after Sir Keir branded the chances of passing a deal without the promise of seeking the public's consent "impossible". 

He added: "If the point of the exercise is to get a sustainable majority, over several weeks or months of delivering on the implementation, you can’t leave a confirmatory vote out of the package."