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16 January 2019

Labour MPs pushing for a second referendum are doomed to fail

Only 71 Labour MPs declared for a new vote this morning – well short of the sort of number that could convince Jeremy Corbyn to drop his opposition.

By Patrick Maguire

Can Labour MPs force Jeremy Corbyn’s hand on a new EU referendum once tonight’s vote of no confidence in the government fails? That’s the hope of pro-Europeans on the opposition benches.

But on current evidence it remains a delusion. Of Labour’s 256 MPs, only 71 – less than a third – have signed a letter to their leader demanding a fresh poll.

That number is barely over 10 per cent of all MPs, too, which is not the best advertisement to would-be Tory backers. Around half of that cohort made their case with a banner on the steps of parliament’s Portcullis House this morning. That modest total falls short of more optimistic projections briefed by People’s Vote campaigners (who did not licence this morning’s launch) last night, which suggested that more than 100 MPs, among them a significant number of new faces, would declare.

Instead, the opening salvo fired by advocates for second referendum – in what promises to be a protracted internal battle over just what Labour should do once Theresa May defeats tonight’s no confidence motion – comes from a group who, with a few exceptions, were already on the record as supporters of a fresh vote. (The NS’s own list, compiled in November, had the number of Labour backers at 65.)

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Though they lay claim to 50 or so more private backers, the lack of a shift the headline number underlines why they are unlikely to succeed – and raises questions about the strategic wisdom of their decision to go for broke and attack advocates of the more popular Norway-style solution in recent weeks. As with most other solutions to the parliamentary impasse over Brexit, a second referendum cannot happen without the explicit and proactive backing of the Labour leadership. Its otherwise flatlining support among MPs shows why the cause remains doomed without it – just as the lack of any significant movement towards its camp from within the PLP means Corbyn can continue to withstand internal pressure to do so.