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Corbyn goes to union leaders to float his second referendum plan

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Issue 2660
Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the TUC in 2016
Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the TUC in 2016

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met union leaders this week to discuss a shift in the party’s position on a second Brexit referendum.

Corbyn has already conceded that Labour will support a referendum on any Brexit deal.

But he did not say what Labour thinks should be on the ballot paper, or what Labour’s voting advice would be. He went no further than saying that a second referendum would need to contain “real choices” for both Leave and Remain voters.

The pressure was then on to say that Labour wants a second vote and will back Remain when it happens.

This demand—driven for three years by big business—has been spearheaded by deputy leader Tom Watson. But it has also attracted support from some left wing MPs.

However, a letter from 26 Labour MPs last week warned Corbyn not to go “full Remain”.


They claimed another referendum would be “toxic” and empower the “populist right” in many Labour heartlands.

On Tuesday the shadow cabinet met. 

Corbyn is reported to have told shadow ministers there would be further consultation with the unions and a decision on the next step taken in the coming weeks, to the frustration of several present including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.

Speaking at a car industry conference on Tuesday, McDonnell said, “I’ve said personally, I’d vote for Remain.” He added that the party’s policy would “evolve over the next week or so because there are more party consultations.”

Labour should oppose the Tory visions of Brexit but not line up with the demand for a second referendum or Remain. It would be a gift to racist Nigel Farage who could pose as the champion of democracy and the voice of the 17.4 million who voted Leave.

And it would mean trying to give a left wing gloss to the EU that acts as an enforcer of austerity across Europe and whose anti-migrant policies lead to mass drownings.

Writing in the Guardian last week, Costas Lapavitsas, a former Syriza MP in Greece, said, “It is deeply unfortunate that Nigel Farage, a right wing populist has again been able to make inroads into the natural constituency of the left.

“His success makes it vital for the Labour Party to offer fresh leadership, while maintaining its working class roots. For that, Labour must not side with remain.”

He added that “for Labour to become openly wedded to remain would detach it from its historic roots, ruin Corbyn’s socialist project and directly undermine his personal position as leader. It is also likely to destroy Labour’s electoral support in precisely the marginal constituencies that the party must win.”

Costas Lapavitsas will speak with Alex Callinicos on The Left Case Against the EU at Marxism 2019 on Sunday 7 July. Details here.

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