Jeremy Corbyn is coming under pressure to shift Labour’s stance on a second Brexit referendum, as the party’s ruling body met to finalise its manifesto for next month’s European elections.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the National Executive Committee, large numbers of Labour MPs and candidates and leaders of major unions called for the party to back a referendum on any Brexit deal.
But senior figures within the party are resisting such a move, insisting Labour should stick to promising a public vote to avoid a “damaging Tory Brexit” or crashing out without a deal.
Arriving for the NEC meeting at the party’s HQ in London, figures on both sides of the argument played down expectations of fireworks.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said: “We always have lively discussions at the National Executive Committee, but I don’t think there will be a row.
“These are very serious matters.”
Mr Corbyn did not speak to waiting reporters as he arrived by a side entrance.
The meeting comes as cross-party talks aiming to break the impasse continue, with the de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington describing discussions on Monday as “positive” and “productive”.
However, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said questions remained as to whether Labour was “serious about delivering Brexit”.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday he hoped to see results this week from the talks and reiterated a call to “fix Brexit quickly”.
Ahead of the NEC meeting, Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson wrote to Mr Corbyn and all NEC members urging them to ensure that a confirmatory ballot is in the manifesto.
Mr Wilson told the Press Association that a referendum was backed by the majority of Labour MPs, MEPs, members and supporters and had featured in the policy approved by conference last autumn.
Labour MPs had twice been whipped in the Commons to support a motion tabled by the pair to require any Brexit deal to be subject to a public vote, he said.
“Three years on, we know more about what Brexit means and people should be allowed to compare what the deal is with what they were promised and decide whether they want to go ahead,” said Mr Wilson.
“If we don’t do it, the coming years will be divisive because people will be turning round and saying ‘Hang on, I didn’t vote for this’.”
Some 115 MPs and MEPs signed a letter to NEC members organised by the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit group urging them to explicitly back a referendum in the manifesto.
Mr Watson used his Twitter account to urge followers to lobby NEC members to back a public vote.
An additional 12 Labour candidates in the European elections added their names overnight to a pledge to campaign for a referendum and then back efforts to remain in the EU, bringing the total to 34 out of 70.
Meanwhile, some of Labour’s biggest union backers are also throwing their weight behind a referendum pledge.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Frankly it’s time for our party to act on the overwhelming wishes of its members and voters by pledging to support a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal.
“We will be pushing hard for this to be included in Labour’s European manifesto.”
GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “Any final Brexit deal must be put to the people for them to decide whether or not it’s acceptable.”
Corbyn-backing Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle warned that a failure to offer a referendum could scotch the party leader’s chances of getting to 10 Downing Street.
“Only way JC will be PM is to offer a confirmatory vote – we could be out of power for a generation and the left will be swept away in Labour,” warned the member for Brighton Kemptown. “This is the fight for the left project and many are committing self harm.”
Change UK – the Independent Group – was holding the first of its “People’s Vote Remain” rallies calling for a second referendum in London on Tuesday.