Monday 19 August 2019

Pressure on Corbyn to back second referendum

Strategy: Jeremy Corbyn said his priority would be fighting a general election. Photo: Reuters
Strategy: Jeremy Corbyn said his priority would be fighting a general election. Photo: Reuters

Andrew Woodcock

Jeremy Corbyn is coming under pressure to make a new referendum a condition of Labour support for any Brexit deal, after an exodus of Remain voters consigned the party to its worst national election result since 1910.

The British Labour leader is increasingly isolated at the top of the party on Brexit, with senior figures including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and deputy leader Tom Watson calling for a public vote.

Mr McDonnell appeared to accept that the strategy of attempting to straddle Labour's Remain and Leave-voting constituencies had reached the end of the road. "Now we face prospect of Brexiteer extremist as Tory leader and threat of no deal, we must unite our party and country by taking issue back to people in a public vote," he tweeted.

In a message to the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr Corbyn said: "We are ready to support a public vote on any deal."

But it is understood that the shift of tone does not amount to a change in policy to make support for any deal conditional on a second referendum.

Mr Corbyn said any policy change would be for Labour's annual conference in September to determine.

The move did not go far enough for Labour MPs reeling from the party's collapse to 14pc in the European elections, which saw them lose 10 MEPs as voters frustrated with Mr Corbyn's ambiguous stance on Brexit flooded to Liberal Democrats and Greens.

Backbencher Ian Murray, a supporter of the campaign for a second referendum, said: "The one thing the results have shown us is that if you stand in the middle of the road you get hit by both sides."

As the disastrous results rolled in on Sunday night, Mr Corbyn said that the Brexit issue "will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote".

But in a later TV appearance, he made clear his preferred outcome remained a general election.

"The priority at the moment, I think, is for this government to call for a general election," he said.

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