Corbyn faces backlash over second Brexit referendum plan
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been warned the party risks “catastrophic” damage to support in leave-supporting seats after backing a second referendum on Brexit.
Mr Corbyn said if Theresa May’s Brexit deal gets through Parliament “there must be a confirmatory public vote”.
The shift in policy, which would see voters asked to decide between a deal and remaining in the EU, won plaudits from Remain-supporting MPs but led to warnings of electoral disaster in some of Labour’s heartlands.
The move also led to a spat between shadow cabinet ministers and anonymous party sources over the details of the pledge.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Corbyn said: “The Prime Minister’s botched deal provides no certainty or guarantees for the future and was comprehensively rejected by this House.
“We cannot risk our country’s industry and people’s livelihoods and so if it somehow does pass in some form at a later stage, we believe there must be a confirmatory public vote to see if people feel it is what they voted for.”
Labour has said it will either support a motion calling for a referendum or table one itself.
Labour MP John Mann said the move would be “catastrophic to Labour in the Midlands and the north”.
The Bassetlaw MP, who voted to leave the EU, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Voters won’t have it. The last person to renege on their manifesto was Nick Clegg, it didn’t end very well for him on tuition fees.
“Our manifesto was unambiguous, we would accept the result of the referendum. A second referendum doesn’t do that and the voters – in very, very large numbers – will not accept that.”
Stoke Central MP Gareth Snell suggested that shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer had engineered the shift in Labour’s stance.
“If I was being a bit unkind, part of me thinks this has been what Keir wanted all along, to move the Labour Party to a point of so much confusion this seems to be the only way forward,” he told the BBC.
“Which is disappointing, because in the early days I thought he really wants to speak to those of us in leave areas who have real concerns, not just for what this means for our party but what this means for the connection our party has with those communities.”
Meanwhile, senior shadow Cabinet ministers defended the policy amid suggestions senior party sources were briefing against them.
Sir Keir told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “elected politicians” – rather than aides – were setting out the Labour position.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: “I’ve seen some nonsense that I ‘misspoke’ earlier on a public vote.
“Pretty hard to misspeak identically in 10 interviews, but for clarity: if Theresa May won’t accept our deal, then the public must decide: do we accept whatever deal she gets through, or do we Remain? Got it?”
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said: “Whoever briefed that my colleague ‘misspoke’ undermines the sovereignty of the current shadow cabinet.”
The Prime Minister claimed the policy shift meant Mr Corbyn “has gone back on his promise to respect the referendum result and now wants to hold a divisive second referendum that would take our country right back to square one”.
“Anyone who voted Labour at the last election because they thought he would deliver Brexit will rightly be appalled,” she said.