Jeremy Corbyn could be ordered to back Remain as senior Labour figures demand he make up his mind over Brexit
Jeremy Corbyn was under siege over Brexit last night as senior Labour figures demanded he make up his mind and back Remain.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry warned that the party risked losing a third of its voters unless it ditched its ambiguous stance.
She told the Labour leader that the party must decide ‘now’ whether to back Leave or Remain.
Mr Corbyn will today urge members at its annual conference in Brighton to back a plan that would see him go into a general election promising a second referendum, but without saying which side he would campaign for.
A government led by Mr Corbyn would attempt to negotiate a new deal with Brussels before calling a referendum.
Jeremy Corbyn was under siege over Brexit last night as senior Labour figures demanded he make up his mind and back Remain
The party would stay neutral about whether to back Remain or the Labour-negotiated deal until members make the decision for him at a special conference.
But Miss Thornberry said yesterday that members should ‘thrash it out’ this week, adding ‘We’re all here. I don’t see why we can’t make the decision now.’
She warned that Labour risked haemorrhaging support if it goes into a general election without being ‘truthful’ about being a Remain party.
‘The polling does show that we could lose 30 per cent of the Labour vote to the Greens and the Lib Dems unless we are clear about where we stand on Europe,’ she told a fringe meeting at the conference.
‘I want Jeremy to be in No 10 and my view personally is that the best chance of doing that is to speak truthfully, which is we as a party are a Remain party.’
She was joined by other senior Labour figures, including London mayor Sadiq Khan, who urged Labour delegates to refuse to support ‘any compromise on Brexit’. In a Facebook post appealing to members, he wrote: ‘Do not accept a fudge, do not delay us setting out what our stance would be in any future referendum.
‘Labour has come to a crossroads. Labour is a Remain party and we need to make this official by making it our policy to campaign to stay in the European Union under all circumstances – and to whip our MPs to back that position.
‘It’s time for Labour to commit to stopping Brexit, not only by promising to give the British public the final say, but by pledging to throw all our energy behind the campaign to stay in the European Union.’
Deputy leader Tom Watson said the party must lead the campaign to remain in the EU in a second referendum. At a fringe rally he said: ‘We are a Remain party. We are a European party. We are an internationalist party. That is who we are. Not perfect, not pure. But overwhelmingly committed to Britain remaining in Europe.’
Meanwhile, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said that she would campaign for Remain at a second EU referendum, while Nia Griffiths, Labour’s defence spokesman, said that Brexit would leave Britain worse off.
However, union baron Len McCluskey yesterday poured fuel on the flames of the row by demanding a Shadow Cabinet clear out of those who do not support Mr Corbyn’s stance.
Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, the Unite general secretary said: ‘We must go into an election united and when we have a policy on Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn makes it clear that that is the policy then that is what leading members of the Shadow Cabinet should argue for.
‘If they find that they can’t argue for it because they feel strongly, well of course they have that right but they should step aside.’
Mr Corbyn yesterday defended his plan. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘What we have said is that we would want to hold a consultation, a special conference of our party at the point that we have got this offer from the EU, we’ve got this as a Remain – and hopefully reform – option. Because I do think even those that are strongly in favour of Remain would recognise the EU needs to have some reforms.’
In response to MPs and activists calling for the party to come out in support of Remain now, Mr Corbyn said: ‘I will go along with whatever decision the party comes to.’
Conference delegates will today vote on whether to accept Mr Corbyn’s plan, which was yesterday approved by the party’s National Executive Committee.
Around 100 constituency Labour parties have put forward separate motions calling for an unequivocally pro-Remain stance.