By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2656

Labour right pressure Corbyn to back a ‘people’s vote’

This article is over 4 years, 6 months old
Issue 2656
Tom Watson and others on the right are trying to pressure Corbyn into backing a remain position
Tom Watson and others on the right are trying to pressure Corbyn into backing a remain position (Pic: Chris Boland)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is about to officially back a second Brexit referendum, according to the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The paper claims it has spoken to senior Labour figures who say Corbyn will announce Labour’s support for a second referendum “within days”.

High-up Labour politicians and prominent Corbyn-supporting writers have put pressure on him to give in. It would mark a victory for the right wing campaign to force Labour into campaigning to keep Britain in the racist, neoliberal European Union (EU).

They argue that Labour did badly in last week’s European elections because it failed to back remain, losing votes to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

If Labour backed remain it would drive division among the working class, damaging the chances of a united fightback agaisnt racism and austerity when it is needed most.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Labour now supported a “people’s vote”—a term the right invented to rebrand a second referendum.

Another “senior shadow cabinet minister” told the Mirror, “We need to be more definitive quickly and you’ll see that in the next couple of days, to give our membership confidence again that they can get back on the doorstep, because they couldn’t this time round.”

The debate in Labour has become one between those who argue immigration lowers wages and those who want to rescue the EU.


It comes after shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Corbyn himself both appeared to suggest on Monday that Labour would soon back a second referendum.

A number of prominent Corbyn-supporting writers have also used articles in the EU-supporting Guardian newspaper to pressure him into giving in.

The latest, Ash Sarkar, wrote on Wednesday that a campaign to stay inside the EU—which enforces austerity, privatisation and the exclusion of refugees—would be “an expression of the conflict between the freedom of people and democratic institutions, and the freedom and protection of capital.”

Another, Owen Jones, defended the Labour leadership’s attempt to fudge a line that satisfied both right wing Remainers and Leavers. But he argued that now it had essentially been defeated, “publicly backing a second referendum becomes unavoidable,” and it should therefore give up.

It was the clearest admission of falling in behind the right’s demands.


The right wing of the Labour Party has led the campaign to force Corbyn into backing Remain.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson claimed Labour had lost “many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of potential votes” because it hadn’t backed a second referendum.”

He demanded that Corbyn “show some humility, to listen and to move very, very quickly”. But even before the election he had defied Corbyn to claim that Labour was already a “remain and reform party”.

And on Wednesday he said it was “spiteful” for Labour to expel Alastair Campbell—the former spin doctor who helped Tony Blair concoct an excuse to invade Iraq—for publicly saying he had voted against Labour.

Watson—who in 2016 backed a campaign to drive Corbyn supporters from Labour—said right wing figures such as Campbell should be given an “amnesty”.

If Corbyn gave in and announced his backing for a second referendum, it would be a big victory for Watson the right. It would also abandon the millions of people who want to leave the EU to the racists of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.


Supporters of a second referendum argue the election results showed a split between a right wing vote for Brexit and a progressive vote for Remain.

But support for Brexit is not a straightforward right wing vote—just as support for Remain-backing parties is not straightforwardly left wing.

The choice in the election was between parties who want a right wing version of Brexit, and parties who back the racist, neoliberal EU.

The left made itself completely absent from the argument.

Some trade union leaders argue that a second referendum is like putting a bosses’ offer to workers. But when this happens workers have the option of rejecting the offer and telling the union to get a better one. In a second referendum the option of fighting for a better Brexit would be excluded. 

Labour could cut across both with a distinct, left wing argument for Brexit that included defending migrants and the NHS, and fighting for jobs and public services.

Instead the debate in Labour became one between those who argue immigration lowers wages and those who want to rescue the EU.

Corbyn has tried to balance between the two but is now losing his footing.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance