Socialist Worker

Labour remains divided over second Brexit referendum

by Nick Clark at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool
Issue No. 2623

The debate on Brexit showed up splits about whether the referendum should include an option to remain in the EU

The debate on Brexit showed up splits about whether the referendum should include an option to remain in the EU (Pic: PA)


Delegates at the Labour conference were set to vote on a motion that edges the party closer to supporting a second Brexit referendum on Tuesday.

The motion boosted the Labour leadership’s position of pressuring the Tories into a general election over their Brexit deal.

But it opened the door to supporting the People’s Vote campaign. “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote,” it said.

The motion was designed to paper over disagreements in the Labour Party.

It revealed splits about whether a future referendum should include an option to remain in the European Union (EU).

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer went further than the motion. “Our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option,” he said.

That could mean effectively a second referendum—the position much of big business has been agitating for.

In the debate Unite union deputy general secretary Steve Turner raised legitimate concerns about Starmer’s position. “Despite what Keir may have said earlier it’s a public vote on the terms of our departure,” he said.

“And that is not a second referendum.”

Delegate Gemma Bolton said, “Our party leadership have said we’re not calling for another referendum.

“We all know how divisive the first referendum was. Do you honestly think a second will achieve anything different?”

The motion on Tuesday was the result of months of pressure on Labour’s left wing leadership.

Most of them see it as a step towards remaining in the racist, neoliberal EU. But it was supported by some left wing groups and trade union leaders who see the EU as a progressive option to protect jobs and oppose racism.

Vision 

In contrast Labour’s leadership had failed to argue for a left wing vision for Brexit.

A second referendum offers no alternative to the Tories and EU’s austerity and racism.

Who would gain from a ‘People’s Vote’?
Who would gain from a ‘People’s Vote’?
  Read More

Unite union member Aidan told Socialist Worker, “Calls for a second referendum bind you to a binary choice.

“I think instead we should have a general election. That gives people a lot more choice and some hope as well.” The motion was a fudge that doesn’t bind Labour to definitely supporting a second referendum.

The leadership rightly wants to focus on pushing the Tories into a general election instead.

But right wing MPs will use it to pressure the leadership into calling for a second referendum with an option to remain.

The only way to resist them is to offer an alternative, left wing version of Brexit.

This would call for an end to privatisation, racism and austerity.


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