Labour Agrees to Support Second Brexit Vote Only as Last Resort

(Bloomberg) --

The U.K. opposition Labour Party’s ruling council agreed it would support a second referendum on Brexit only as a last resort, a decision that risks infuriating supporters who want leader Jeremy Corbyn to oppose leaving the European Union.

While some Labour members of Parliament and trade union leaders have called for the party to pledge support for another Brexit vote in all circumstances, the National Executive Council opted for a much more limited position.

The policy is to demand the government adopt Labour’s plan for a post-Brexit customs union with the EU, or to hold a general election, the party said in a statement Tuesday. Only if these options fail will Labour support a referendum.

Corbyn has tried to straddle both sides of the Brexit divide to retain the loyalty of pro-EU party members and MPs, while not alienating the Leave-voting supporters he needs to win power at the next general election.

Labour Agrees to Support Second Brexit Vote Only as Last Resort

Tuesday’s meeting was arranged to sign off on Labour’s manifesto for the European Parliament elections scheduled for May 23.

Afterward, both sides claimed victory. Ben Bradshaw, an MP pushing for a second referendum, said Parliament would inevitably end up in Labour’s last-resort scenario. But Gloria De Piero, who argues the 2016 referendum result must be respected, said it was important the manifesto “will not contain a pledge to hold a second Brexit referendum.”

There was anger among pro-EU Labour MPs last week when a draft leaflet for the European Parliament election -- which Prime Minister Theresa May still hopes she can avoid by persuading lawmakers to back her divorce deal -- didn’t include any reference to a referendum. Some activists said they would refuse to campaign if it wasn’t rewritten.

“A clear commitment to a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal must be part of our European election manifesto,” a group of 88 Labour MPs and members of the European Parliament wrote in a letter to members of the NEC ahead of the meeting. “Without this clear commitment, we fear that our electoral coalition could fall apart.”

But politicians from Brexit-voting districts warned that Labour candidates in their areas could suffer in local elections this Thursday if the party abandons its carefully crafted ambiguity and appears to favor remaining in the EU. Some called for the NEC decision to be postponed until after this week’s votes.

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