UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to demand election if PM May loses Brexit vote

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will deliver a speech - a rare public intervention on Brexit - in Wakefield, northern England on Jan 10, 2019.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will deliver a speech - a rare public intervention on Brexit - in Wakefield, northern England on Jan 10, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Britain's main opposition Labour Party will demand a general election if Prime Minister Theresa May loses a vote in Parliament over her Brexit plans next week, its leader Jeremy Corbyn will say on Thursday (Jan 10).

Lawmakers are due to vote next Tuesday (Jan 15) on Mrs May's plans and are widely expected to defeat them after she failed to win over the Northern Irish party that props up her minority government.

"If the government cannot pass its most important legislation, then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will say, according to the text of a speech he will deliver in Wakefield, northern England, extracts of which were released by Labour.

"A government that cannot get its business through the House of Commons is no government at all. So I say to Theresa May: If you are so confident in your deal, call that election, and let the people decide."

Mrs May needs 320 votes to get her Brexit deal through. Even if every lawmaker from her Conservative Party voted with her, she would still be short four votes. And some Conservatives appear poised to defect.

Thursday's speech is a rare public intervention on Brexit by Mr Corbyn, who has been criticised by members of his own party for his lacklustre campaign in the 2016 referendum. Under party policy agreed last year, if Mrs May refuses to call an election, Labour may then pivot to pushing for a second referendum.

That's an option many of Mr Corbyn's rank-and-file lawmakers are already calling for, alongside other opposition parties. They're frustrated that Mr Corbyn, a longtime eurosceptic who voted for Remain in the 2016 referendum, has refused to push for a new vote, even as polling shows the majority of Labour voters support one.

 
 
 

No Plan

"It is shameful that Corbyn continues to sit on the fence on the biggest issue this country has faced since the Second World War," Mr Tom Brake, spokesman on Brexit for the Liberal Democrats, said in a statement.

"If Corbyn really wants to know what the public thinks of Theresa May's Brexit deal, he should support a people's vote."

In response to Mr Corbyn, the chairman of Mrs May's Conservative Party said Labour did not have a plan for Brexit.

"Instead they are arguing in public about whether to frustrate the decision of the British people and rerun the referendum," Mr Brandon Lewis said.

Mrs May has so far refused to retreat from her deal, which envisages close trading ties with the European Union, but without any say on policy as Britain has now, after leaving on March 29.

Lawmakers voted 308-297 on Wednesday in favour of demanding the government come up with an alternative plan within three working days if it loses next Tuesday's vote, rather than a planned 21 days, putting more political pressure on Mrs May.

"To break the deadlock, an election is not only the most practical option, it is also the most democratic option," Mr Corbyn will say.

"It would give the winning party a renewed mandate to negotiate a better deal for Britain and secure support for it in Parliament and across the country."