Tom Watson warns Jeremy Corbyn that September will be 'too late' to change Labour's 'catastrophic' Brexit policy

Posted On: 
28th May 2019

Tom Watson has warned Jeremy Corbyn that September will be "too late" to clarify Labour's stance on a second Brexit referendum.

The Labour deputy said the party's EU elections platform was "quite clearly an electoral catastrophe".
Credit: 
PA

Mr  Corbyn reacted to the party's bruising EU elections result by promising to "consult members through the constituency parties and affiliated trade unions and bring the issue back to conference" that month - just weeks before the 31 October deadline for quitting the EU.

But deputy leader Mr Watson - who said the party suffered a "catastrophe" at the European elections - demanded a special conference take place to allow Labour members a fresh say on its position.

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Mr Watson told the BBC: "I'm really pleased that Jeremy has now signalled that change is happening.

"My concern is the speed in which that happens. It's too late to consult our members and change the policy at conference. We need to do it sooner.

"And that's why we either need a special conference or a ballot of our members to change the policy.

"Because a very small number of people on our NEC decided that European manifesto and it was quite clearly an electoral catastrophe for Labour. And we can't allow that to happen again."

The EU-wide vote saw the party slump to just 14% of the vote, shedding ten MEPs and coming in behind the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats. The party was also wiped out in Scotland, and placed behind Plaid Cymru in Wales.

Mr Corbyn's vow to consult members on the party's Brexit policy came amid mounting criticism of Labour's European elections strategy from MPs, and just hours after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said candidates had been let down by the party hierarchy's refusal to explicitly support a second EU referendum.

"We should have said quite simply that any deal that comes out of this government should be put to a confirmatory referendum and that Remain should be on the ballot paper and that Labour would campaign to Remain," she said.

Diane Abbott, another key frontbench ally of Mr Corbyn, said the party needed to "listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote".

In a letter to MPs on Monday, Mr Corbyn said it was now "clear that the deadlock in Parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a general election or a public vote".

He added: "We are ready to support a public vote on any deal."