Labour Brexit splits erupt as Keir Starmer insists Remain would be option in second EU referendum
Deep splits within the Labour party over Brexit have burst into the open after Keir Starmer said staying in the EU would be an option in any second referendum.
The Shadow Brexit Secretary received a standing ovation from delegates after he made the unscripted comment in his keynote speech to the Labour conference.
But he was immediately slapped down by a senior official at the powerful Unite union, who insisted Remain would not be on the ballot paper.
The row erupted as Sir Keir confirmed Labour is all-but certain to vote down any Brexit deal Theresa May brings back to the House of Commons.
And he said the party would campaign for a second referendum if it cannot force a general election.
“It is right for Parliament to have the first say but if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote,” he said.
In an extra line not included in his speech plan, and apparently not signed off by Jeremy Corbyn’s office, he added: “Nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.”
A source close to the Labour leader later insisted his remarks were in line with party policy.
Sir Keir’s comments came after confusion yesterday over Labour’s position on what the terms of any fresh EU poll would be
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell appeared to rule out putting Remain on the ballot paper, but was forced to U-turn later after Sir Keir stepped in.
But responding to the Shadow Brexit Secretary’s speech, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner told the conference: “We demand a Brexit that works for the many not the few. And when the Tories return from Brussels with no deal, or a deal that fails our tests. That is our moment.
“Our moment to demand they step aside – our moment to send a broken government back to the country in a general election.
“And if the Tory benches aren’t brave enough to do that, to stand up to the Johnsons and Moggs - if they fail us, we demand they go back to the people with a vote on the deal.
“That is not in a second referendum, despite what Keir Starmer may have said earlier, it will be a public vote, that’s a vote on the terms of our departure.”
The debate also highlighted the splits among the Labour rank-and-file over Brexit.
David Mallon from Blyth Valley urged against a second referendum to avoid alienating Leave voters in Labour heartlands, as he branded the EU a “capitalist club”.
He added: “In my constituency we voted overwhelmingly to leave and my worry is if we go against the people’s will we will lose those voters.”
But Raj Gill from Ealing Central told the conference hall: “We need to be part of the EU and we can’t rule it out.”