EXCL Labour MPs demand party members get say on Brexit in challenge to Jeremy Corbyn
Labour MPs have demanded that the party's members be given a direct say on its Brexit policy in a major challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.
They have called for Labour's National Policy Forum to set up a commission to decide upon what the party's official stance on leaving the European Union should be.
The demand is set out in a letter to Andy Kerr, chair of Labour's national executive committee, which has been leaked to PoliticsHome.
In it, the MPs - who are believed to include former Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander - say they are "deeply disappointed" that of the eight policy commissions set up by Labour since the general election, none are on Brexit.
"As a democratic institution, which prides itself on informed debate and comradely discussion, we believe it is imperative that this omission is corrected before the National Policy Forum meets in Leeds next weekend," the letter says.
"Brexit is the single biggest issue facing our country and our members deserve a say. This should be a deliberative process, such as that which has historically been enabled by our policy commissions, and should culminate in a full debate at party conference later this year. This is not a fringe issue and should not be treated as such."
The letter says Labour should commit to staying in a customs union with the EU, as well as the single market, after Brexit.
It adds: "Whilst the easiest way to stay in the single market and customs union would be to remain in the EU, we acknowledge the result of the referendum and believe that at the very least we have a responsibility to limit the damage associated with a reckless and cavalier Tory Brexit.
"We also have a responsibility to future generations to ensure that the next Labour Prime Minister can deliver an anti-austerity programme which will lead to the fairer, less divided, more equal and more sustainable country to which we all aspire.
Mr Corbyn has already suffered a handful of rebellions from around 60 MPs over Labour's official stance on Brexit.
But one Labour MP told PoliticsHome the leader could see an even bigger backlash unless he agrees to giving party members - who opinion polls suggest overwhelmingly support customs union and single market membership - a say on the issue.
The MP said: "Frustration is growing and goes beyond the ‘usual suspects’ who’ve argued for a pro-single market outcome from the start. There are a group of about 30 MPs - people like Conor McGinn and Phil Wilson - who, while staunchly pro-Europe, represent northern working class seats and have been supportive of Keir Starmer and a gradual shift to a firm position on the customs union.
"But to not even be discussing Brexit at the party’s policy making forum is making them question whether or not to join the 50 MPs who’ve been consistently voting against the whip on Europe for the last number of months."
One Labour NEC veteran added: "This is about ensuring the voice of the grassroots is heard. Socialist societies, affiliated organisations and trade unions all want Labour’s policy to be clear about staying in the customs union.
"It’s anti-democratic to keep it off the agenda at the NPF, and it makes the party look ridiculous if we aren’t even discussing the biggest issue facing the country."
A Labour spokesman told PoliticsHome: "The NPF considers policy issues through eight policy commissions; that includes Britain's exit from the EU, which is the responsibility of the International commission. The Commission and wider NPF are looking at the issue this year in meetings, evidence sessions and by considering all submissions received."