Labour split erupts as Jeremy Corbyn slaps down Tom Watson over second referendum call

Posted On: 
11th September 2019

Labour splits over Brexit have burst into the open once again after Jeremy Corbyn slapped down Tom Watson over his calls for a second referendum to take place before the next general election.

Tom Watson's comments put him at odds with Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer

Mr Watson, the party's deputy leader, put himself at odds with Mr Corbyn by insisting a "confirmatory vote" should take place before the country goes back to the polls so it is “not on Boris Johnson’s do or die terms”.

And he rejected the idea that ‘Brexit election’ was “desirable” - arguing that such votes “should never be single issue campaigns.”

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But his address to the Creative Industries Federation in London put him at odds with the Labour leader who is driving the party to back a general election as soon as a no-deal Brexit has been averted.

But Mr Corbyn hit back at the comments, stressing that a general election is Labour's "priority".

He told the BBC: "Tom’s view - I don’t accept it and I don’t agree with it, our priority is to get a general election in order to give the people a chance to elect a government that cares for them, not themselves."

Mr Corbyn also left open the question of how Labour would campaign during a second referendum if it was in power.

He added: "We will negotiate a credible Leave deal and then decide. The point of great importance is that the people themselves will be able to make that decision.

"But there will be no no-deal exit from the EU with all the problems that will cause."

Mr Watson had accused the Prime Minster of wanting an election "because he thinks it is the only escape route from the prison and solitude he has chosen for himself".

The Labour deputy said: "An election might well be in his interest, although I doubt he will win it when it comes but that doesn’t make a Brexit election desirable, far from it.

"A General Election should never be decided on a single issue. Brexit is the biggest issue of our age but it’s not the only one."

Earlier on Wednesday, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer also dismissed Mr Watson's election warning.

But he denied there was a row at the top of the party.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Starmer said: “Let me report that the Labour Party is in good health, we’ve had a very good week against the Prime Minister so we’re in good spirits."

He added that they all “agree that there should be a referendum on anything this Government brings back.”

Pressed on whether the deputy leader’s words were helpful, the frontbencher said: “What we don’t do in the Labour Party is close down debate, that’s the role of Cummings and Johnson in their own party.

“We encourage it, listen to what the trade unions say, what the members say, what members of Parliament say, we’ve got to come to a collective decision on it and that’s the spirit that I’ve always approached this.”