John McDonnell has suggested he could support a second Brexit referendum taking place before a general election as a Remainer bid to force another national ballot on the UK’s departure from the EU gathered steam.
The shadow chancellor said his preference remained the same as Jeremy Corbyn’s in that he wanted there to be an election and then a referendum.
But he said ultimately ‘it doesn’t matter’ which comes first in comments which represent a major boost to Remain-backing MPs who have prioritised a second referendum.
Opposition MPs and Brexit rebels are planning to ambush Boris Johnson when the House of Commons sits for an extraordinary session on Saturday October 19.
MPs are expected to try to force a vote on ‘Super Saturday’ to make the Prime Minister hold a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Labour’s Hilary Benn has said he was looking at ways to get MPs to support a ‘People’s Vote’ in the hope that there would be a lengthy Brexit extension and a new referendum by the end of March next year.
A general election would only follow after that vote had been held.
Mr Corbyn is under intense pressure from his Remain-backing allies to support the strategy as they fear that holding a general election first could result in a Tory victory and then a hard Brexit.
Mr McDonnell today suggested that he was not opposed to a change in stance.
John McDonnell, pictured in Colchester earlier this month, has suggested he would be open to backing a second referendum before a general election
Labour’s Hilary Benn (pictured) is looking at ways to get MPs to support a ‘People’s Vote’ when the Commons returns for a special Saturday sitting on October 19
He was asked during an interview with GQ magazine if he believed Brexit could be resolved by a general election.
He replied: ‘I think there is the potential for that but we’ll see over the coming couple of weeks. It’s a limited timescale.
‘I’m not sure there is a majority on the floor of the House Of Commons for a referendum before a general election but I’m a bit more nuanced about that.
‘I just really want to say whatever we do we’ve got to block No Deal, whichever is the best route.’
He added: ‘I don’t think there is any doubt about a referendum. If it was a general election first or a referendum first, it doesn’t matter.’
In a keynote speech yesterday, Mr Corbyn stuck to his guns, saying that he still planned to demand an election within days of the Prime Minister requesting an extension from Brussels.
He promised a second referendum on Brexit, but only after Labour had won power at the polls.
However he did not, as expected, say that Labour was ‘champing at the bit’ for an election, instead repeating that the party was ‘ready’.
The debate on tactics is likely to dominate the next week if Mr Johnson fails to agree a Brexit deal with the EU.
Under the terms of the so-called Benn Act, the Prime Minister has to ask for an extension if there is no deal by October 19. As a result, Parliament will now sit on that day, the first time it has sat on a Saturday since the Falklands War.
But David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, has indicated that Britain would only be granted an extension if there is a general election or a second referendum.
And Mr Benn, the former shadow foreign secretary, has suggested that if there is no agreement, he would try to get a second referendum through the Commons on October 19.
He told BBC2’s Newsnight on Wednesday: ‘We have shown our capacity to take control of the order paper, so we won’t be waiting just to see what the Prime Minister has in store for us.
Allies of Jeremy Corbyn (pictured yesterday) are putting pressure on him to support the strategy as they fear that holding a general election first could result in a Tory victory
‘This is a big opportunity for Parliament to say we can find a way forward and a confirmatory referendum is the way to do it.’
Margot James, a former Tory MP who was expelled for opposing No Deal, indicated she would back a second vote.
‘It is vital that this time we actually do something concrete,’ she said. ‘I could support the Theresa May deal with a confirmatory referendum.’
Shadow Treasury minister Anneliese Dodds said: ‘If we have that extension we would need to show it was for a reason – to have democratic input. Whether that is a general election or a confirmatory referendum is something we have been discussing.’
Yesterday, former chancellor Philip Hammond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he did not support the idea of an election before Brexit had been resolved and said it was ‘ironic’ that MPs were being asked to ‘turn the Government out’.
He said: ‘I don’t think an election solves our problem here. I would not support an election at the moment.’
The ex-Chancellor said a confirmatory referendum ‘is not my preferred option’, but did not rule one out.