‘Happy Jeremy?’ Labour members slice up their cards over Corbyn’s second referendum ‘fudge’ as senior MP warns: ‘I don’t think people who voted Remain will vote for us again’
Labour members have been cutting up their party cards today after Jeremy Corbyn was accused of ‘fudging’ the party’s manifesto commitment to a second referendum on Brexit.
Irate voters posted social media images and videos of themselves shredding their memberships and accused Mr Corbyn of betraying them.
As Mr Corbyn made a second referendum the last resort for Labour, backbench MP Jess Phillips admitted last night: ‘I think people who voted Remain and voted Labour will not vote Labour again.’
At a marathon meeting of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) yesterday, Mr Corbyn saw off a bid by Remainers to commit the party to a ‘confirmatory’ referendum on any Brexit deal.
Instead, the party’s manifesto for this month’s European parliament elections will simply keep the referendum idea on the table as ‘an option’.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured yesterday) won the battle to prevent adopting a second referendum as party policy but it has upset many members
Party members were cutting up their party cards after yesterday’s NEC meeting
The decision represented a major defeat for Mr Corbyn’s deputy Tom Watson and the shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who have both been pushing for Labour to commit fully to a second referendum in order to stitch up the Remain vote.
Arriving at yesterday’s six-hour meeting, Mr Watson said: ‘In the last few days, like most of my colleagues on the NEC, I have been inundated with thousands of emails from Labour members who are saying Labour Party voters recognise the parliamentary failure and think the only way to break the impasse is for a people’s vote on any deal parliament can agree.
‘We have got to listen to our members and our MEP candidates who support this.’
Earlier he had walked out of a meeting of the shadow cabinet after the leader’s team refused to produce the proposed manifesto wording.
Labour sources said Mr Corbyn believed a referendum was only needed to prevent a ‘damaging Tory Brexit’ or a No Deal. The Labour leader is reluctant to commit to a referendum on Labour’s proposals or on any deal that emerges from cross-party talks with the Government.
Labour Remainers criticised the decision last night.
Labour MP Bridget Phillipson said: ‘The manifesto’s mealy-mouthed wording still maintains the fiction that there is a deal out there that can satisfy all the promises made three years ago.’
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, who was pushing for a second referendum, said: ‘Sadly, it doesn’t appear that there is anything straight talking about Labour’s latest Brexit fudge.’
But Unite boss Len McCluskey, who opposes another vote, backed the decision. Mr McCluskey, who held talks with Labour MPs from Leave-supporting areas, said: ‘Labour MPs from Leave seats want result respected but jobs and standards defended. Normally I hear from Remain MPs so (it was) good to get the full picture. It confirmed Jeremy Corbyn’s approach is the one to unite the country.’
Tom Watson walked out of a shadow cabinet meeting after being told Mr Corbyn’s top MPs were not being being given a draft of the party’s manifesto
Last night MPs on both sides of Labour’s divide were all trying to suggest the party was backing their position.
Remainer Wes Streeting said: ‘I’m glad the NEC has made the right call and confirmed that a public vote will be in our manifesto for the European elections. We’re a party for Remain and it’s right that everyone – Leavers and Remainers – should be given the final say on our Brexit future.’
But Gloria de Piero, who opposes a referendum, said: ‘Like so many others I voted to Remain but I respect democracy and will continue to fight for a Labour Brexit.
‘Labour’s manifesto for the European Parliament will not contain a pledge to hold a second Brexit referendum. The NEC agreed that another nationwide poll should only be ‘an option’ if it cannot force a general election.’
Some 115 MPs and MEPs signed a letter to NEC members organised by the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit group urging them to explicitly back a referendum in the manifesto.
The change was backed by a number of major unions, including the GMB, Unison and Usdaw.
And 34 of Labour’s 70 candidates in the May 23 European elections have pledged to campaign for a referendum and then back Remain if a vote is called.
A Labour source said: ‘The NEC agreed the manifesto which will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy – to support Labour’s alternative plan, and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the Government’s deal, or a general election, to back the option of a public vote.’