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What is Labour's official Brexit policy?

The party leadership is determined the UK will leave. But activists may have other ideas. 

Unlike some, the Labour leadership has never advocated seeking to overturn the Leave vote. But in his speech this morning, John McDonnell went a step further. "It is time we were all more positive about Brexit," the shadow chancellor said. "Labour wants to see an ambitious Brexit Britain." McDonnell also confirmed that the party would not push for a second referendum and would vote to trigger Article 50 if required. To do otherwise, he warned, would "put us against the majority will of the British people and on the side of certain corporate elites". 

But Labour policy, as McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have often noted, is made collectively, not indvidually. Back in September, the party's conference passed a motion which kept open the option of remaining. It read: "[Conference] recognises that many of those who voted to leave the EU were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were voting for change, but believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained,” the motion says.

"The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum."

But Labour's National Executive Committee subsequently stated that the motion was passed due to an error in compositing and was not party policy. "Conference policy on Brexit has been misinterpreted in some reports as committing Labour to a second referendum on UK membership for the EU, so for the avoidance of doubt we want to make clear that it is not our policy.

"We have called for the government to be transparent and inclusive in their process and to respect rights at work and other protections that the EU provided. Those issues will be our focus in holding the Tory government to account."

Party activists, however, still hoped to shape the party's Brexit policy at this weekend's National Policy Forum meeting (the first in two years). Some are now accusing McDonnell of pre-empting this process. Delegate Emma Burnell tweeted: "Can anyone tell me the point of the NPF discussing Brexit this weekend if McDonnell has just announced our (dreadful) response today? Precisely why should I waste my time and train fare to go to the NPF if they treat us like this?"

When asked what Labour's official stance was, a spokesman said: "Our support for invoking Article 50 is unconditional but we would seek to amend or influence the government's negotiating terms in line with our priorities." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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