Tom Watson piles pressure on Jeremy Corbyn and says Labour must be a 'Remain party'
Tom Watson will make an impassioned plea for Labour to become a "Remain party" on Monday amid growing calls for Jeremy Corbyn to clarify his Brexit stance.
Labour's deputy leader risked triggering another row over Brexit by calling for a second Brexit referendum where the party would campaign “loud and proud” in favour of staying in the EU.
Mr Watson had also been set to make his case at a special meeting of the Shadow Cabinet on Monday afternoon, which had been called to debate the party's policy on Brexit.
But members of Labour's frontbench team were informed in an email on Sunday night that it had been cancelled because a number of them could not attend.
In a speech to the Centre for European Reform, Mr Watson will hit out at the party's leadership for “shying away” from making a positive case for the UK’s continued membership of the bloc.
He is expected to say: “Our members are Remain. Our values are Remain. Our hearts are Remain. We must bring the public back into this decision and we must argue strongly to remain in Europe.
“Our future doesn’t need to be Brexit. We can change our future. But only if Labour makes the case for it – and we must.”
Mr Watson, who will argue that EU membership is an “emotional issue” for many party members, will also call for Labour MPs opposed to a second Brexit referendum to recognise that staying in the bloc will make it easier for the UK to tackle global threats like climate change and tax evasion.
“In the Labour movement there is a range of views on how to best serve our mission, our purpose and our people when it comes to the Brexit dilemma,” he will add.
The Labour deputy will say: “It is right and reasonable that all voices are heard, that all position are given a hearing. But we cannot go on dismissing one another’s right to speak and questioning one another’s motives and intentions.
“Some people have begun to equate support for Europe with class identity, I don’t think that is right or helpful. The majority of Labour people are supportive of Europe – and that support is not dedicated by social class.”
Other senior Labour ministers, including Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry are also expected to urge Mr Corbyn to clarify the party’s Brexit stance at the meeting, which comes after the party placed behind the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats in May's European elections.
On Sunday, The Observer reported that more than 130 local Labour groups had agreed to a debate a motion at the party’s annual conference in September which would bind the leadership to “campaign energetically for a public vote and to remain.”
Pro-Remain left-winger Clive Lewis told the paper: “Labour’s members are right, and I have no doubt that if the Brexit debate reaches conference floor, their views will win out."
The MP added: "The result of a conference vote could only ever be an unequivocal shift towards a public vote and Remain.
“But we cannot allow things to get that far. It would be a disaster for the left if we spent an agonising, damaging summer waiting for September and only moved our position with a conference vote.”