Signs of division among Labour ranks ahead of crucial Brexit vote

On the eve of a crucial vote on Labour's approach to Brexit, there were signs of division at the top of the party over whether a second referendum could include the option of remaining in the EU.

Delegates at the party's Liverpool conference will vote on Tuesday on a motion to keep a new referendum "on the table" if Labour is unable to force a general election.

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested that any such poll would be on whether to accept a Brexit deal or conduct fresh negotiations with Brussels, rather than seek to reverse the 2016 decision to leave the EU.

The wording of the referendum question would be a matter for Parliament, said Mr McDonnell. But he told BBC Radio 4's Today: "If we are going to respect the referendum it will be about the deal."

His comments sparked concern among People's Vote supporters who staged a march and rally in Liverpool on the conference's opening day.

Labour Party annual conference 2018
Organisers estimated that 5,000 joined a march in Liverpool demanding a People's Vote (Peter Byrne/PA)

Labour MP David Lammy, a prominent campaigner for a second referendum, said it would be "farcical" to have a vote without the option of remaining in the EU.

But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer later told reporters that the option of ditching EU withdrawal had not been ruled out.

"The meeting last night was very clear that the question of a public vote should be open," he told reporters.

"We weren't ruling out options and nobody was ruling out remain. There were 300 people in the room and that was absolutely clear."

More than 100 constituency parties submitted motions demanding a second referendum, and leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would be "bound" by conference's decision on the issue.

But activists' hopes of the party throwing its weight behind a People's Vote were dashed at a marathon late-night meeting to hammer out the exact wording of the motion to be put to delegates on Tuesday.

Rather than committing the party to supporting a new referendum, the motion states that "if we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote".

On ITV1's Good Morning Britain, Mr McDonnell suggested that a general election would be "the real People's Vote" because it would give the public the chance to change the team carrying out the negotiations, replacing Theresa May with a Labour government.

But he acknowledged that debate on the conference floor on the issue "may be rumbustious".

The shadow chancellor told BBC Radio 5 Live: "We argued for Remain in the past, but we lost that vote so we have to respect that.

"All the polling that we have seen is that the country is still pretty split down the middle.

"My big worry is that if we go for a referendum which is seen as just a simple re-run we could divide the country again, we could get almost the same result or if it's slightly different that people demand another referendum."

A People's Vote campaign spokesman said the conference motion was "clear movement" towards adopting a referendum.

"The leadership knows where the members are and they know where their voters are," the spokesman said.

But Mr Lammy said: "A People's Vote is the only realistic option to save this country from the car crash of Brexit.

"No Tory or DUP MP is likely to vote for a general election. Turkeys do not tend to vote for Christmas."

He added: "We've now got to turn up the noise until we secure a public vote which gives us the option to remain in the UK."

Dozens of motions were submitted to #Lab18, thousands have marched on the streets, and millions more have called for a #PeoplesVote.

They did not do this to be offered a farcical referendum on No Deal or a Bad Deal. It absolutely must include the right to remain in the EU.

— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) September 24, 2018

He received support from fellow Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who called for an "unequivocal" commitment to a second referendum with remaining in the EU as an option.

At a Parliamentary Labour Party event on the fringe of the conference, opinions were split on a second referendum.

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Gareth Snell said: "I don't support a second referendum, I don't support a People's Vote.

"Not because I think we should take whatever is offered to us by the Prime Minister, but because I don't believe that spending more time arguing over a process will actually change the minds of the people who we need to come on board to vote to stay in the EU."

Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock warned: "One thing we know a referendum will not do, it will not reunite our country. It will entrench, it will polarise, it will consolidate those divisions and those differences."

He added: "We do have to take a long, hard look in the mirror before we commit to something that is going to sow the seeds of division. It will make the 2016 referendum look like a walk in the park."

But Mr Kinnock said that if another referendum were to be held, it would be "absurd" for it not to contain the option of remaining in the EU.

Read Full Story