Tom Watson says late Labour leader John Smith would have backed a second Brexit referendum

Posted On: 
13th May 2019

Late Labour leader John Smith would have backed calls for a second referendum on Brexit, Tom Watson will declare.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson will deliver a speech in memory of John Smith
Credit: 
PA Images

In a heartfelt address on Monday, the deputy party leader will argue that Mr Smith, who died in 1994, would have seen a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ as a route out of “this destructive mess”.

Mr Watson will also urge Labour voters to stick with the party at the upcoming European Parliament elections and deny victory to the far right and the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage.

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His comments highlight the divisions in Labour, with Mr Watson calling for a second EU referendum but party leader Jeremy Corbyn still insisting a fresh vote should be a last resort.

Dame Margaret Beckett, who served as deputy leader under Mr Smith, has also come out for a confirmatory referendum on the final Brexit deal.

Speaking at a lecture in Westminster to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of the former Labour boss, Mr Watson will laud Mr Smith for his pro-European internationalism.

“If John was alive today, to witness the great damage this process is wreaking on country and our public debate, I have no doubt that he would have taken a stand very similar to that of his deputy, Margaret Beckett, and backed a People's Vote as a way out of this destructive mess,” he will say.

He will acknowledge that some Labour supporters are disillusioned with the party policy on Brexit, but will “plead” with them to vote Labour to drive out Mr Farage and far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

Labour is neck and neck with the Brexit Party, according to a poll released on Sunday, with 25% of support ahead of the EU votes, while Mr Farage has 27%.

“There are only two forces that can win this election – that nasty nationalism of the Farage Brexit Party, or the tolerant, compassionate outward looking patriotism of the Labour party,” Mr Watson will argue.

“I can only plead with Labour supporters - don’t stay at home, don’t put that cross elsewhere, don’t let them win.”

Mr Watson will brand Mr Farage and Mr Robinson “base nationalists of the nastiest kind, the ultimate cynics, playing on fears and lies”.

Mr Smith died of a heart attack while he was serving as Labour leader and was succeeded in the job by Tony Blair, who went on to take the party into government.

The European Elections will take place on 23 May - although it is unclear whether or not MEP candidates will take their seats, as the Brexit process has been left in limbo.