Wednesday 21 February 2018

Jeremy Corbyn refuses to rule out second EU referendum on final Brexit deal

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at an election campaign event in Church House, London Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at an election campaign event in Church House, London Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Arj Singh and Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Staff

BRITISH Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has refused to rule out backing a second referendum on the final Brexit deal achieved after withdrawal negotiations with the European Union.

Following his first keynote speech of the general election campaign, the Labour leader was asked whether he was considering or would rule out following the Liberal Democrats in backing a second vote on the exit deal.

But Mr Corbyn appeared to dodge the question, replying: "The European Union negotiations are going on and we set out our (red) lines on the negotiation.

"Primarily, it's about getting and retaining tariff-free access to the European market.

"We haven't threatened to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven on the shores of Europe, undermining the European economy."

Instead, Labour wants a "good process by which we continue to trade with Europe".

British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

He added: "Walking away and trading under World Trade Organisation conditions will mean the manufacturing industry in this country would be severely damaged."

It comes after shadow chancellor John McDonnell on Wednesday said the Government should "put the deal to Parliament and possibly to the country overall".

Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin seized on the suggestions that Labour may back a second vote, insisting it would disrupt the negotiations.

"This is yet more evidence of chaos from Jeremy Corbyn and Labour," he said.

"It shows they can't provide the strong and stable leadership Britain needs at this serious moment in our history.

"It's clear Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP are now lining up to disrupt our Brexit negotiations in a coalition of chaos.

"This can only mean more uncertainty for Britain, more risk and a future that is less secure.

"On June 8 every vote is going to count. Every Conservative vote will strengthen the UK's negotiating position in Europe - every vote for another party will weaken it."

A spokeswoman for Mr Corbyn insisted Labour's position, backing a "meaningful vote" in Parliament, had not changed.

"Our position hasn't changed and we have laid out our six tests for any Brexit deal," she said.

"We have consistently demanded a meaningful vote in Parliament and, as the government, will bring the deal we negotiate to Parliament before it is finalised to ensure democratic accountability.

"We will be laying out all our policies, including on Brexit, in further detail in the coming weeks and next month in our manifesto."

In his speech, Mr Corbyn promised to put wealth "in the hands of the people of Britain" as he turned his fire on big business and the rich.

The Labour leader cast the June 8 poll as a battle of "the Establishment versus the people", as he promised to overturn a "rigged system" which allowed the rich and powerful to extract wealth from the nation.

A "morally bankrupt" Conservative Party was intent on preserving the system while cutting public services and blaming migrants and the unemployed for the woes of the economy, he said.

Controversial business figures like Mike Ashley of Sports Direct, Sir Philip Green, Southern Rail and tax-avoiding multinationals should be "worried" about the prospect of a Labour government, said Mr Corbyn.

"Those are the people who are monopolising the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us in this country," he said.

"It is wealth that should belong to the majority and not a tiny minority."

He vowed: "We will no longer allow those at the top to leech off of those who bust their guts on zero-hours contracts or those forced to make sacrifices to pay their mortgage or their rent.

"Instead of the country's wealth being hidden in tax havens, we will put it in the hands of the people of Britain, as they are the ones who earned it."

Mr Corbyn's speech came amid speculation about Labour's taxation plans, after Mr McDonnell suggested the wealthy, who he defined as earning over £70,000 a year, should ''pay their way more''.

But shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry played down suggestions new taxes might be introduced at this level, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme she understood why "many people" on this salary might feel they are "not rich".

Labour is "prepared to make radical change" and stand up to the elites, but this did not mean "picking off people of particular incomes", she said.

Mr Corbyn promised he would not "play by the rules" if he won the election, but would take on the "cosy cartels that are hoarding this country's wealth for themselves".

Despite a new opinion poll putting Labour as many as 24 points behind the Tories, he insisted the election result was not a "foregone conclusion", declaring: "Things can, and they will, change."

Answering questions, Mr Corbyn said Labour's manifesto would be "fully costed and will be all accounted for and paid for".

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