Up to party to decide move on Brexit, says Labour chief

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby and party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the party conference in Liverpool yesterday. The party is split over Brexit and Mr Corbyn is trying to balance the debate to prevent alienating voters he would need to win an el
Labour general secretary Jennie Formby and party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the party conference in Liverpool yesterday. The party is split over Brexit and Mr Corbyn is trying to balance the debate to prevent alienating voters he would need to win an election.PHOTO: REUTERS

Party divided on issue but Corbyn says he prefers general election to 2nd referendum

LIVERPOOL • Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he wants a general election rather than a second Brexit referendum but will be "bound" by the decision of his party conference when it votes tomorrow on the issue.

Party officials were working on a compromise in a private meeting yesterday morning after more than 100 local parties submitted motions on Brexit to Labour's annual gathering in Liverpool.

Many called for a referendum on the divorce deal reached with Brussels, while others demanded another vote on the basic question of staying in or leaving the bloc.

"Our preference would be for a general election," Mr Corbyn told the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.

"I'm there elected as leader of this party in order to bring greater democracy to this party. Obviously I'm bound by the democracy of our party."

The party is split over Brexit and Mr Corbyn is trying to balance the debate to prevent alienating voters he would need to win an election.

While a majority of Labour lawmakers oppose Brexit, much of the party's heartland voted for it. Mr Corbyn himself opposed EU membership when Britain joined in the 1970s.

A poll of 1,054 Labour Party members carried out by YouGov for the People's Vote campaign and published yesterday found that 86 per cent want a referendum on the final divorce deal with the EU.

PARTY DEMOCRACY

Our preference would be for a general election. I'm there elected as leader of this party in order to bring greater democracy to this party. Obviously I'm bound by the democracy of our party.

LABOUR LEADER JEREMY CORBYN, on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show. Many called for a referendum on the divorce deal reached with Brussels, while others demanded another vote on the basic question of staying in or leaving the bloc.

The party leadership - backed by Unite, its biggest trade-union backer - wants a so-called composite motion that would keep the option of a second vote open but not tie the hands of Mr Corbyn's team.

Ms Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour's business spokesman, said the difficulty of holding a second referendum without a general election would be that Mrs Theresa May's government would get to set the terms of the vote.

"If the current government was in power, they would hold the pen," Ms Long-Bailey told Sky News.

"I would rather push the government into a general election."

Mr Corbyn refused to say which way he would vote if there was another referendum.

"It's conjecture what the question would be," he told the BBC. "We don't know what it would be. In the referendum, I wanted to remain and reform the EU."

Britain is to exit the EU on March 29 next year.

After weeks of both sides making positive noises about prospects of clinching a divorce deal and their future trading relationship, the mood turned sour last Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, when the bloc's leaders, one by one, came out to criticise Mrs May's Chequers plan that aims to keep close trade ties with the EU after Brexit .

A tacit agreement to try to offer her some support before she heads to what is going to be a difficult annual conference of her governing Conservative Party later this month was broken by some British diplomatic missteps.

Mrs May says she will hold her nerve in the talks, pressing the EU to come up with an alternative proposal to her Chequers plan, named after the Prime Minister's country residence, where a deal was hashed out with her top ministers in July.

But the impasse with the EU has prompted some to predict an early election, with local media reporting that Mrs May's team has begun contingency planning for a snap vote in November to save both Brexit and her job.

Brexit Minister Dominic Raab ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as "for the birds". He said Britain would not "flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly". "We are going to be resolute about this," he added.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2018, with the headline 'Up to party to decide move on Brexit, says Labour chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe