Labour is ready to support a second referendum on any Brexit deal, Jeremy Corbyn has told his MPs, amid growing internal tensions over the party’s stance on Europe.
In an email to the parliamentary Labour party this evening, Corbyn admitted that only “going back to the people through a general election or a public vote” could resolve the parliamentary impasse, restating the leadership’s familiar order of preference.
Significantly, however, the Labour leader stressed that he was willing to support a “public vote on any deal” – the formulation favoured by Remainers in the shadow cabinet, most notably Keir Starmer and Tom Watson.
That, though by no means unequivocal, is a much stronger endorsement than Corbyn has previously offered. But it is not necessarily strong enough for the substantial portion of the PLP that favours a new vote.
Unlike Starmer, Watson and John McDonnell, who offered an unambiguous endorsement of a second referendum this morning, Corbyn has not conceded that a general election is unattainable or committed to campaign for Remain in any fresh referendum – as his Scottish and Welsh counterparts, Richard Leonard and Mark Drakeford, did after results showed them losing ground to pro-EU nationalist parties.
It is also unclear what question would be posed in the vote mooted by the leadership. Corbyn is likely to come under intense pressure to offer what one shadow minister described as “a full-throated endorsement of a second referendum with remain as an option, and Labour campaigning for it” from pro-referendum MPs in the coming days. His intervention this evening shows he is not quite there yet. But those MPs who favour a negotiated settlement are already alarmed that he appears to be heading, probably inexorably, in that direction.
The full text of Corbyn’s email to the PLP is below.
I am writing to thank you for all your efforts during the European election campaign, for the support you gave to our fantastic candidates and for campaigning on our platform of bringing the country together.
We were not expecting to be taking part in the European elections, but after three years of Tory failure to deliver a Brexit deal that works for the whole country, these elections became a proxy second referendum.
We ran a positive campaign attempting to bring our divided country together and to challenge the far right in Britain and across Europe. Uniting people in such circumstances was always going to be difficult and these are a deeply disappointing set of results for us. Over the coming days we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on the results on both sides of the Brexit divide.
As ever, your feedback as MPs is vital and I hope you will continue to actively take part in strengthening our approach. Outreach and discussion across our Party are an essential part of charting a way forward through the Brexit crisis together, and I will be writing to all members, CLPs and affiliates to consult.
Throughout the Brexit process we are the only party that has tried to appeal both to those who voted Leave and Remain, and to avoid labelling people depending on how they voted in the referendum three years ago.
We represent constituencies that differ in how they voted in 2016 but our common goals are the same: to bring to an end this disastrous Tory government and end austerity. Only a Labour party that stands together and sticks by our core values can succeed in delivering the radical change this country needs.
Parliament and the country are more divided than ever. We have a disintegrating government that cannot govern, the Tories are tearing themselves apart, and we have a country that has suffered from years of austerity and growing inequality. This was the worst Tory performance since 1832. They did not manage to win a single council area and are now preparing to install another unelected Prime Minister in thrall to the hard right of the Conservative party.
That extreme Tory wing would like to take the UK out of the EU without a deal and over a cliff edge that would be hugely damaging for jobs and industry, living standards and rights and protections. In Parliament our responsibility is to ensure that a Tory civil war does not push us into a No Deal Brexit. But it is also clear that the deadlock in Parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a general election or a public vote. We are ready to support a public vote on any deal.
Colleagues are understandably concerned at the outcome of last week’s elections, but to achieve our aims we must stay united, listen to and understand each other. Only a Labour government can bring our country together, end austerity and inequality and create a society that works for the many, not the few.
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party