By Nick Clark
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Labour is wrong to back second referendum

This article is over 5 years, 3 months old
Issue 2643
Corbyn is giving in to pressure
Corbyn is giving in to pressure (Pic: Neil Terry)

The Labour Party’s left wing leaders have given in to pressure from the right to support calls for a second Brexit referendum.

Journalists were briefed on Monday that the Labour Party would support or put forward an amendment to parliament backing a new referendum at some point. Left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn announced a shift in policy to Labour MPs at a meeting on Monday evening.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said that Labour would put forward an alternative Brexit plan to the Tories’ in parliament this week. If this failed, he said, Labour would “support a public vote”.

Matthew Pennycook, Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, said that despite “serious reservations” it was now right for Labour to be “proposing or supporting amendments in favour of a public vote”.

Alastair Campbell, former manufacturer of lies for Tony Blair, tweeted, “Very good news that Labour frontbench backing principle of People’s Vote.”  

It is not yet clear what a second referendum backed by Labour would ask.


It could mean backing an amendment to May’s Brexit deal by right wing Labour MPs Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle. This says MPs would support the deal in return for it being put to a public vote.

Corbyn’s move does not ensure that the call for a second referendum will go through parliament. Dozens of Labour MPs are likely to vote against it, and few Tories for it.

But the right see Corbyn’s concession as a step towards overturning the first Brexit vote and backing remaining in the racist, neoliberal European Union (EU).

The announcement followed a week of intense pressure on the Labour leadership, during which nine right wing MPs resigned from the party. It was the culmination of a long campaign to force Corbyn to give in.

The move on the referendum is a success for the assault and for the pressure from big business to block Brexit.

The Labour right frame opposing Brexit as a way of challenging the Tories. In reality they want to remain in the EU because it enforces pro-privatisation, pro-free market rules supported by most of big business in Britain.


The original vote to leave the European Union was contradictory. But at its heart was a kick against the establishment by ordinary people who have suffered years of attacks on jobs, wages and services.

Corbyn held out against a second referendum because it would be viewed by the millions of Labour voters who supported Brexit as siding with the elite. Coming out in favour of the EU would help the racist far right pose as the only anti-establishment alternative.

But after last week’s resignations by pro-EU MPs, Corbyn came under intense pressure from leading figures in Labour.

Deputy leader Tom Watson demanded that Corbyn had to “address the reasons why good colleagues might want to leave.” It was really a threat that, unless Corbyn gave the right what they wanted, more resignations and turmoil would follow.

And the right further ramped up the pressure with a renewed assault over allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. They want Corbyn to concede to claims that his support for the Palestinians against Israel has encouraged antisemites to join Labour.

Corbyn and the left wing leadership may hope that by giving in to the right, they will stop attacking him and allow him to continue as leader.

Yet within minutes of Monday’s announcement, the right were already attacking Corbyn for not openly opposing Brexit.

Labour’s move on the referendum is a rare piece of good news for Theresa May

Corbyn has been gradually backed into a corner over Brexit by trying to defeat the Tories and the right through concluded parliamentary manoeuvres.

This has only allowed Theresa May to cling on to office, and allowed the right to present opposing Brexit as the only way of stopping the crisis-ridden Tories.

Labour’s move on the referendum is a rare piece of good news for May. It could persuade more of her MPs to back her deal for fear of losing Brexit entirely. Alternatively she could pose as the friend of democracy against those who now want to overturn it.

Meanwhile ordinary people have been left as spectators to a major political crisis.

Labour needs an alternative Brexit plan based on opposition to austerity and racism, and champions renationalisation, and spending on wages, jobs and services.

But above all it needs action by ordinary people in the streets and the workplaces to break the Tories and the Labour right.

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