Labour braced for Brexit conference clash as members demand party backs Remain

Posted On: 
23rd September 2019

Labour members will be given the chance to shift the party to a pro-Remain Brexit position on Monday in a major challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.

Pro-Remain campaigners at the Labour conference.
Credit: 
PA

A meeting of senior party officials decided on Sunday night that two separate motions will be voted on by delegates at its annual conference in Brighton.

One urges the party to campaign against Brexit in a second referendum, while the other, which is supported by Mr Corbyn, would call on Labour to take a neutral position until a separate conference on Brexit takes place.

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That tees up a clash between Labour members on one side and the party leadership and trade unions on the other.

Mike Buckley, director of Labour for a Public Vote, said: "On Monday Labour conference will vote on a motion that, if passed, would commit the party to campaign for Remain in all circumstances. This reflects the opinion of the vast majority of our members and voters.

"Labour is already the only main party committed to a democratic vote on Brexit.

"If we add a commitment to Remain we will at last be providing the leadership the country needs, in contrast to the chaos offered by an increasingly extreme Conservative Party."

The motion tabled by Mr Corbyn - and backed by 16 votes to 10 on Labour's ruling National Executive Committee - wants Labour to back a second referendum but "only decide how to campaign in such a referendum - through a one-day special conference, following the election of a Labour government".

The pro-remain motion reads: “Labour must reflect the overwhelming view of its members and votes, who want to stay in the EU. Labour will therefore campaign energetically for a public vote and to stay in the EU in that referendum, while recognising the rights of those members who want to argue another view."

Monday's vote comes after senior Labour figures openly called for the party to shift to a pro-Remain position, and urged Mr Corbyn not to wait until after this week's conference to decide the party's Brexit position.

In a direct challenge to the Labour leader, London mayor Sadiq Khan said the party could not stay "neutral" and called on members not to support a  "fudge" Brexit position.

Tom Watson, Labour's deputy leader, meanwhile told a fringe event at the Brighton conference: “We are a Remain party. We are a European party. We are an internationalist party. That is who we are.

“Not perfect, not pure. But overwhelmingly committed to Britain remaining in Europe and reforming Europe.

“By backing a people’s vote, by backing Remain, I am sure we can deliver the Labour government the people of this country so badly need.”

And Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said: "We believe in internationalism. We believe in socialism. And if we believe in internationalism and socialism - why on earth would we back Brexit?"

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer also wants the party to unequivocally back Remain.

Mr Corbyn on Sunday confirmed that he would "go along with whatever decision the party comes to".

But he told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "Please remember why people voted Leave, why people voted Remain, but also remember there is more that unites all of those people - over austerity, over investment, over education, over housing, over health, over a green industrial revolution - than there is that divides them."