Brexit: Labour ‘would back members’ on new vote, says leadership


Pro-EU campaigner outside the Labour Party Conference venue in Liverpool.

Labour’s leader and deputy leader say they would be ready to back another EU referendum if party members want one.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror he was not calling for a new vote but would “adhere to” any decision made at this week’s party conference.

And deputy leader Tom Watson, speaking to the Observer, said the view of party members must be respected.

It comes as a poll for the newspaper suggests 86% of members want a vote on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

The party has never formally rejected the option of a further vote but both Mr Corbyn and Mr Watson have indicated they would prefer the issue to be resolved by a general election.

The party has made several policy announcements ahead of its annual party conference – which begins in Liverpool later – including:

  • Plans to require businesses employing more than 250 people to reserve one-third of seats on boards for representatives of their workforce to help rein in a “reckless corporate culture”
  • A proposed new tax for the owners of second homes in England, based on the value of the property, with the money raised being used to tackle homelessness
  • Plans to make employers provide up to 10 days paid leave for victims of domestic violence

However, campaigners are expected to use the conference to pile pressure on the Labour leadership to support a further referendum, with MPs and union leaders set to join a march calling for the leadership to back the so-called People’s Vote.

And more than 100 constituency parties have already submitted motions calling for the Labour policy on Brexit to be put to a vote.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said the final wording of any motion would be crucial and that Mr Corbyn would be hoping it did not tie his hands – but that some members would be pushing for a clear commitment to a new referendum.

In his interview with the Sunday Mirror, Mr Corbyn said: “What comes out of conference I will adhere to.

“I’m not calling for a second referendum. I hope we will agree that the best way of resolving this is a general election.

“But I was elected to empower the members of the party. So if conference makes a decision I will not walk away from it and I will act accordingly.”



Labour deputy leader Tom Watson with leader Jeremy Corbyn have been heading the party together since 2015

Meanwhile, Mr Watson told the Observer there was “going to be pressure” for Labour to commit to another Brexit vote in its next election manifesto.

He said: “Jeremy and I were elected in 2015 to give the Labour party back to its members.

“So if the people’s party decide they want the people to have a final say on the deal, we have to respect the view of our members and we will go out and argue for it.”

According to the YouGov survey of 1,054 Labour members, commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign, 86% wanted a final, public say on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, against 8% who opposed it.

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Media captionLabour Conference: Can Jeremy Corbyn keep the party united?

But the Brexit supporting Labour MP Kate Hoey described calls for another vote as the “last gasp” of people who had never wanted to accept the result of the 2016 referendum.

“If we have another referendum and it’s even bigger, as I think it would be actually, after the way we’ve seen the EU treat, not just our prime minister but actually insult our whole country in the past few days, if it was a bigger majority to leave, we’re still in the same position,” she said.

And on Saturday shadow chancellor John McDonnell said people calling for a second referendum should take into account the “real risk” it could stoke racial tensions and far-right populism.

Ahead of the conference Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee agreed changes to the party’s rules to give grassroots activists and trade unions more say in who can stand in future leadership elections.

The NEC, meeting in Liverpool, also agreed reforms to make it easier to deselect sitting MPs and backed the creation of a second deputy leadership post.


By Iain Watson, BBC political correspondent

Two significant shifts have happened on the eve of Labour conference and they both involve Tom Watson.

While not technically departing from the party’s official line that a new Brexit referendum shouldn’t be “off the table” but an election is preferable, the deputy leader is sounding far warmer to the referendum idea after a poll of Labour members suggested 86% would back one.

He has suggested that if there were an early election then there would be pressure to make a referendum a manifesto commitment.

His views are important because – like Jeremy Corbyn – he has a mandate from the membership.

But another development should not be understated.

Labour’s National Executive has decided to recommend the creation of an additional deputy leadership post.

That raises the prospect of a candidate standing on a platform of new EU referendum. If they get that mandate, the pressure on the existing leadership to change position could reach boiling point.

Iain Watson: Pressure builds on Labour for new EU vote

The UK electorate voted to leave the EU by a margin of 51.89% to 48.11% in a referendum in June 2016.

It is due to leave on 29 March 2019, under the terms of the two-year Article 50 process, and has been negotiating with the 27 remaining EU nations on the terms of its withdrawal and its future relationship with the bloc.

However, Theresa May’s plan for Brexit – known as the Chequers agreement – was rejected by EU leaders as unworkable at a summit in Salzburg on Thursday.

The prime minister later said the EU’s rejection of her plan without offering an alternative was “unacceptable” and made it clear she was ready to walk away from the negotiations rather than accept a “bad deal”.