(Bloomberg) -- Owen Smith, who’s challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party, said he’d seek to block the start of the formal Brexit process unless Prime Minister Theresa May lets the public vote on the results of withdrawal negotiations.
Under his leadership, Labour would vote in Parliament against any attempt to trigger Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty unless May commits to put the final deal to a vote in either a referendum or a general election, Smith said on Wednesday in a statement. That would allow the British public to decide whether or not they accepted the terms of the exit deal, he said.
“The British people were lied to by the ‘Leave’ campaign: they deserve to have a say on whatever exit deal the Tories strike with the EU,” Smith said. “Nobody knows what Brexit looks like. It could involve trashing workers’ rights and environmental protections, opening our National Health Service up to foreign competition, making it harder for us to trade with our neighbors and damaging our economy.”
Smith is trying to attract the support of the 48 percent of the British public who voted to stay in the EU in the June 23 referendum by differentiating himself from Corbyn, who won the leadership with the resounding support of party members less than a year ago and remains the clear favorite. The incumbent is a longtime Euroskeptic who has been accused by many Labour lawmakers of only half-heartedly campaigning for “Remain.”
Corbyn said in the wake of the referendum that “Article 50 has to be invoked now,” a stance even at odds with May, who says she won’t do so before the end of this year.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to call for Article 50 to be invoked immediately after the referendum result was deeply irresponsible and, if he had been listened to, would have damaged Britain’s interests,” Smith said. “I’m a passionate pro-European, and I will fight tooth and nail to keep us in the EU. Under my leadership, Labour won’t give the Tories a blank check.”
First, though, Smith would have to win the leadership vote among 640,000 party members and supporters. Bookmakers make Corbyn the clear favorite, with the result due to be announced on Sept. 24.
“A referendum did take place, a result was delivered, and I think Parliament has to work with that result,” Corbyn told reporters in London on Wednesday when asked about Smith’s proposal.