Labour will back a second referendum when Boris Johnson brings his Brexit legislation to Parliament this week, two party heavyweights said today.
Keir Starmer and John McDonnell said the Labour front bench would support an amendment demanding a ‘People’s Vote’ that could stop Brexit altogether.
However, Jeremy Corbyn may not table the amendment himself to avoid ‘alienating’ other pro-Remain parties, shadow chancellor Mr McDonnell said.
Boris Johnson must pass an Act of Parliament to get his deal through by October 31 but faces a battle to win a majority in what will be a series of knife-edge votes.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, shadow Brexit secretary Mr Starmer said a Labour-backed referendum would include an option to remain in the EU.
‘We need an amendment to say that whatever deal gets through, it should be subject to a referendum where that deal is put to the public and they’re asked do you want to leave on these terms or would you rather remain in the EU,’ Mr Starmer said.
‘It’s inevitable, it’s been down many times. When that bill goes down it is inevitable that that amendment will be put down.
‘A growing number of people now think the only way truly to settle this is to ask people do you want to leave on these terms or would you rather remain?’.
Asked if the Labour front bench would back the amendment, Mr Starmer said: ‘That is the clear policy.’
However, he refused to say how he would vote in such a referendum, echoing Jeremy Corbyn who has similarly dodged the question.
Mr McDonnell has previously said he would vote for Remain in a second referendum.
Front bench support: Keir Starmer (speaking at the dispatch box) and John McDonnell (left) both said today that Labour would back a second referendum
Labour’s Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer (pictured on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today) said the opposition front bench would back a People’s Vote
Up to a million people marched in favour of a second referendum while the Commons met for an unusual Saturday sitting yesterday.
Mr McDonnell was among those who addressed People’s Vote supporters at the Westminster rally.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Mr McDonnell said an amendment for a second vote would ‘almost inevitably come up’.
‘We’ve always said, if Boris Johnson is confident about this deal, go back to the people with it,’ the shadow chancellor said.
‘We voted for the Kyle-Wilson amendment before which called for a second referendum.
‘Tactically, these things are often better moved from the back benches where you can secure cross-party support and where you’re not alienating people purely and simply because it’s the leader of the opposition moving it.
‘What we’ve said is Boris Johnson should take this deal back to the people.’
Discussing Mr Johnson’s begrudging request for a Brexit delay, Mr Starmer said the PM was behaving in a ‘childlike’ way.
John McDonnell in Westminster yesterday where he addressed a ‘People’s Vote’ rally demanding a second referendum on Brexit
‘He’s being childlike, the law is very clear. he should have signed one letter in accordance with the law,’ Mr Starmer said.
‘If we crash out because of what he’s done with the letters in 11 days, he bears personal responsibility for that.
‘His deal is a very, very bad deal and it has within it a trapdoor to no deal at the end of next year.
‘It is essential that we expose this deal for what it is, because it’s a deal that fundamentally changes our economy and our approach.
‘There is a trapdoor to no deal at the end of 2020 that we need to close.
‘We will put down amendments to make sure that the future destination is a close economic relationship with the EU.’
After initially ruling one out, Jeremy Corbyn has inched towards supporting a second referendum under pressure from activists.
The Government hopes to bring another ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal on Monday but Speaker John Bercow (pictured in the chair yesterday) may rule it out of order
The party has long tried to steer a middle way between its flocks of Remain-supporting voters, especially in London, and its supporters in Leave-voting constituencies, especially in the North of England.
But Labour’s equivocation was widely blamed for its disastrous result at the European Parliament elections in May, where it came third behind the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems, who are full-throatedly anti-Brexit.
After Mr Johnson lost the crunch vote yesterday, the Speaker hinted he could block a Government attempt to bring another ‘meaningful vote’ on Monday.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, suggested the Government would bring the vote before introducing Withdrawal Agreement legislation this week.
But Mr Bercow has previously ruled that MPs cannot hold repeated votes on the same question.
Citing a precedent dating back to 1604, he ruled in March that then-PM Theresa May could not bring the same withdrawal deal back to Parliament without changes.
The ruling enraged Conservative MPs who accused him of sparking a ‘constitutional crisis’.