Corbyn hints Labour may shift towards supporting second referendum

Jeremy Corbyn has hinted the Labour Party may move towards backing a second referendum after the party received a drubbing in the European Parliament elections.

In a statement, the Labour leader said the EU elections had become “a proxy second referendum”.

He added: “With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and Parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote.

“Labour will bring our divided country together so we can end austerity and tackle inequality.

“Over the coming days, we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide.

“We will not let the continuing chaos in the Conservative Party push our country into a No Deal exit from the EU. Parliament can and will prevent such a damaging outcome for jobs and industry in the UK.”

With results declared from all nine regions of England and in Wales, Labour came in third place behind the Liberal Democrats in second.

EU election results: state of the parties after 64 of 73 seats declared
EU election results: state of the parties after 64 of 73 seats declared

Labour received 2,346,441 votes, with 14.1% of the vote, down 11.3% on the EU parliamentary election results in 2014. The Lib Dems picked up 3,366,673 votes with a 20.3% share of the vote, up 13.4% on last time.

The party finished first in London and ahead of Labour in four other English regions.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said the party cannot go into a general election without a clear position on a second referendum and a special conference may be needed to decide a Brexit policy.

He tweeted a link to a survey on his website, asking members how the party should agree a new Brexit policy.

In a statement, Mr Watson added: “The Tory leadership race is underway with a hardline Brexiteer likely to win.

“It is now a serious concern that the next Tory Prime Minister runs down the clock until 31 October and crashes out of the EU with no deal. We cannot let that happen.

“Labour is rightly calling for a general election. But we cannot go into an election with our current Brexit position. We need a change of direction urgently.

“The next policy-making moment for Labour is the annual conference at the end of September.

EU elections: shares of the vote after all of England and Wales have declared
EU elections: shares of the vote after all of England and Wales have declared

“But many members are telling me that’s too late. The UK will be a month away from crashing out of the EU with no deal and there will be no time left to hold a public vote.

“Those members are right. We need a process to give members a say sooner.

“A special conference or all-member ballot have been raised. Both are good options. I want to know what you think.”

Earlier, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry called for Labour to change its position on a second referendum.

She told BBC News: “I feel really sorry for all our MEPs who are going to lose their seats, all the candidates who work so hard and all our activists who, frankly, have not done well and it’s not their fault.

“I think that the point is that we went into an election where the most important issue was ‘what was our view on leaving the European Union’ and we were not clear about it.

“We were not clear on the one single thing that people wanted to hear and that wasn’t their fault.

“We sent people out to campaign on that and, unfortunately, we just weren’t clear enough.”

Ms Thornberry said: “I fear we will have no deal and we must be clear it will be a disaster for the country so we must have a second referendum.”

Several Labour MPs tweeted messages of support after the shadow foreign secretary called on the party to explicitly support a second Brexit referendum and campaign to remain.

Former leadership candidate Owen Smith tweeted: “@EmilyThornberry entirely right that @UKLabour should have been clear in these elections that we want a public vote on any deal – and that we would campaign to Remain. Of course, that should have been our policy for the last three years, as many of us have long argued.”

However, Caroline Flint offered a different view, tweeting: “Early warning. Doncaster turnout similar to 2014. Labour vote in Doncaster halved. Pro Brexit Parties not inc Tories up 10%. Brexit Party 45% of the vote. It would be a mistake for Labour to only become a Party for Remain/2ndRef voters.”