Labour Calls For Vote That Could Spark Second Brexit Referendum
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s main opposition party is backing a plan that could open the door to a second European Union referendum, bringing the possibility of stopping Brexit a step closer.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed a series of non-binding votes in Parliament on options for how the U.K. can avoid a no-deal Brexit: One of those options is a new referendum. This particular amendment is unlikely to pass, but it’s still a significant step that could fuel the campaign to give voters a chance to think again.
It is the first time the Labour leader has put his name to a proposal in Parliament preparing a path for a new public vote. The amendment is likely to be put to a vote in the House of Commons on Jan. 29.
More than two years since the first vote on Brexit, the U.K. has yet to negotiate an exit accord that can win the backing of Parliament. May’s deal was rejected by lawmakers last week by a historic margin and she’s now trying to revise the agreement with the EU to win over opponents at home.
At the same time, members of Parliament are trying to break the deadlock, proposing measures such as extending membership and maintaining close ties to the bloc.
More to Come
While this amendment is unlikely to pass as few if any Tories will support a motion bearing Corbyn’s name. But other amendments calling for a public vote but aimed at garnering broader support could be proposed in the coming days.
The key question is whether Corbyn, who has so far been equivocal about his support for a second referendum, will now allow or even instruct Labour members of Parliament to back them.
“Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a No Deal,” Corbyn said in an emailed statement. “It’s time for Labour’s alternative plan to take center stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”
About 10 Conservative members of Parliament are already campaigning for another plebiscite, though that’s probably not enough to outweigh the number of Labour MPs who would vote against one even if instructed to do otherwise.
Any referendum would also take months to organize, meaning that Britain’s departure from the EU would have to be delayed.
The formula of “keeping all options on the table” sticks to the compromise agreed by the Labour Party last year that has enabled Corbyn, a lifelong Euroskeptic, to hold off demands from rank-and-file members and lawmakers to support a second referendum.
“This is a huge step forward and shows the Labour leadership’s commitment to stop a disastrous no-deal exit,” said Mike Buckley, director of Labour for a People’s Vote. “We still need clarity on Labour’s position in a public vote and whether, as members want, we would campaign robustly for our continued membership of the EU.”
On Tuesday, Labour’s business spokeswoman -- and Corbyn ally -- Rebecca Long-Bailey explained the party’s position to the BBC: “It’s not saying the party supports a second referendum,” she said. “Everything is on the table. We all have our individual views.”
The People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum last week published results of a snap YouGov poll that showed support for remaining in the EU surging to a post-2016 record. The survey of more than 1,000 people showed Remain holding a 12 percentage-point margin -- compared with the 4-point gap in the 2016 referendum.
On the EU side, a second referendum would be welcomed by many, and it would almost certainly mean an extension to exit day, which is currently scheduled for March 29.
Prime Minister Theresa May rejected calls for a second referendum from MPs on all sides during an appearance in the House of Commons on Monday. Warning it would “damage social cohesion by undermining faith in democracy,” she said it would break the trust of the 17.4 million voters who backed leaving the EU.
The Labour move might also actually help May. Pro-Brexit hardliners in her party could decide that the deal she negotiated -- though they hate it -- is a better option than risking a re-run of the referendum that could reverse the decision of 2016. Some in Labour’s ranks are also uncomfortable with the prospect of asking voters again.
The announcement by the opposition party is part of a wider move by Parliament to take control of the Brexit process to avoid an economically damaging no-deal split.
May refused to rule out delaying Britain’s departure from the EU on Monday as she came under pressure from a cross-party group of politicians who have proposed a new law that could force her to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline.
Under the plan, if no deal is struck by Feb. 26, Parliament would be able to direct the next steps, including forcing May to call for an extension to the negotiations beyond Britain’s planned exit date of March 29.
On Monday, the prime minister hinted she’s already contemplating an extension. During a question session in the House of Commons, she was repeatedly asked if she would rule out a delay to the U.K.’s withdrawal -- but stopped short of doing so.
If no agreement can be ratified before March 29, the U.K. will lurch out of the EU with no deal, risking dire economic consequences, including a recession, and potentially a 25 percent fall in the value of the pound, according to British authorities.
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