The Labour party has finally agreed a position on Brexit and challenged the new Prime Minister to hold a People’s Vote. Three years after the referendum, the official opposition say they have ‘agreed a settled Brexit position.’ They want the new Tory leader – either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt – to put the matter back to the public in a referendum. And they said in that case, they would back Remain.
In a letter to party members, leader Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘The Labour Party will now challenge whoever emerges as the leader of the Conservative Party to have the confidence to put their deal to the people in a referendum, with remain on the ballot, in which Labour would campaign for remain.’ The letter goes on to call for a general election in which Brexit is still on the cards. Critics have said that the party are again sitting on the fence because Mr Corbyn goes on to champion a customs union post-Brexit calling it the ‘sensible alternative’ to the current impasse.
Labour has plunged into fourth place with just 18% of the vote, according to a poll last week by YouGov. Their uncertain position over Brexit has helped the pro-Remain Lib Dems, who have surged ahead to 20%. In May’s European elections, Labour came third behind the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems. Tory leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have both threatened a no-deal Brexit if the EU is unwilling to renegotiate ahead of the October 31 deadline.
This is despite Parliament previously ruling out no-deal as an option and experts warning of financial chaos if we crash out of the bloc. There are fears that Parliament could be suspended, or prorogued, as a political move by the new Prime Minister to impose a no-deal. Mr Hunt has already ruled it out but Mr Johnson – the frontrunner with the Tory faithful – has not despite repeatedly being asked to.
Labour has called the current situation a ‘race to the bottom’ saying it opened up the possibility of a ‘sweetheart deal’ with the US, which could jeopardise the NHS. They said the new leader, set to be announced on July 23, should put the question back to the public with remain as an option on the ballot paper. A statement by the party added: ‘Whoever becomes the new prime minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or no deal, back to the people in a public vote. ‘In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either no-deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs.’
Labour has been painfully split by Brexit with pro-Leave leader Jeremy Corbyn facing pressure from Remainers in his cabinet and the wider party. Labour’s traditional northern industrial heartlands primarily voted to Leave while younger members and the urban electorate want to stay part of the EU. Political analysts warned the party faced oblivion unless it came out in support of a second referendum.
Labour helped defeat outgoing Theresa May’s Chequers deal three times in the House of Commons. In a last-ditch effort to get it through Parliament, the Tories attempted to work with the Labour party at some form of compromise. Labour said any deal should involve the UK staying in the customs union – which would remove trading barriers and allow the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to remain open.
However, it was one of Mrs May’s red lines when it came to negotiating with the EU and to stay in the customs union would limit our ability to strike trade deals with other nations post-Brexit. Talks collapsed after just six weeks and now Parliament remains in limbo with the deadline looming. Labour are also campaigning for a general election, hoping to take over from the current minority Tory government who have been in power for the last nine years.
However, the letter to party members did not say what would happen with Brexit if they won, leaving open the possibility they could still opt to leave the EU after renegotiating terms with the remaining 27 member states. The letter still refers to a customs union, which Mr Corbyn said he found to be the ‘sensible alternative.’ The Lib Dems said this caveat still meant that Labour wanted Brexit to happen.
Tom Brake, the Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesman, said Labour ‘are still a party of Brexit’ despite Mr Corbyn’s announcement. He said: ‘Jeremy Corbyn can pretend all he likes that the Labour Party are finally moving towards backing the Liberal Democrat policy of a People’s Vote, but it is clear it is still his intention to negotiate a damaging Brexit deal if he gets the keys to Number 10.’ A Labour party source also admitted that the party’s position on Brexit in the event of a general election had yet to be decided.