EXCL Tom Watson: Second EU referendum now 'more likely' than ever before

Posted On: 
16th November 2018

Tom Watson has said another EU referendum is now "more likely" than it has ever been before.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
Credit: 
PA Images

In comments which will delight pro-EU campaigners, Labour's deputy leader said the chances of a so-called "people's vote" have risen as a result of the chaos which has hit Theresa May's attempts to get Brexit through Parliament.

His remarks, in an interview with The House magazine, come just days after Jeremy Corbyn angered many Labour MPs by declaring that Brexit "can't be stopped".

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Labour's official policy, as agreed at the party's conference in September, is to push for a general election in the first instance if the Prime Minister cannot win Commons backing for the deal she has struck with Brussels.

However, the option of supporting another referendum - with Remain a possible option on the ballot paper - remains on the table if no election takes place.

Mr Watson said: "To re-state the Labour conference position, we think for a complex deal like this the best way to assess its merits are in a meaningful vote. We need to really press very hard to make sure that whatever motion comes to the House can be amended.

"If you get to the point, and it’s looking more likely, where Parliament cannot decide what the best option is, we think that’s the point where you go to the people in a general election. They voted to leave the European Union, they didn’t vote for food shortages or problems with medical supplies or not to be able to sell goods to the European markets. They voted to bring sovereignty back to the UK.

"If that plan isn’t going to work the way to do it is to put your option to the people in a general election. If we don’t get that, then obviously a people’s vote is still on the table and our position has not changed."

He added: “We’ve been saying that is on the table for a year-and-a-half. At that time, it seemed very unlikely that there would be a people’s vote, that was the insurance option at the end of a series of unlikely events.

"It seems to me that it is more likely given the weakness of Theresa May’s position. She leads a government without a majority, it now looks like she leads a Cabinet without a majority as well. Given the weakness of her own government, I think it is more likely that we could get there."

Jeremy Corbyn sparked a row within Labour by claiming Brexit was inevitable in an interview last week with German magazine Der Spiegel.

He said: "We can’t stop it. The referendum took place. Article 50 has been triggered. What we can do is recognise the reasons why people voted Leave."

But he was later contradicted by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, who said: "Well, Brexit can be stopped. But the real question is what are the decisions we are going to face over the next few weeks and months."