Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has suggested Labour frontbenchers would be expected to back the party’s push for a second Brexit referendum in any Commons vote.
Asked if shadow ministers would be sacked if they broke any whip on voting for a second referendum, McDonnell told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘Normally we will whip and that will be decided in the normal way by the chief whip and the shadow cabinet and the party overall.
‘I think on an issue as this we would see a whip but also you’ve got to respect people’s views and their constituency interests as well, and the whipping arrangement will be determined in discussion in due course.
‘I just say this – and I think it’ll be for MPs right the way across the House in all parties now – that they’ve got to look to the long-term interests of the country, they’ve got to protect people’s jobs, they’ve got to protect the economy, otherwise we’ll never be forgiven in the future.’
McDonnell, pressed on whether the entire Labour frontbench needs to support a second referendum, replied: ‘Well, there’ll be discussions in shadow cabinet and in the normal way we’ll come to a conclusion on the exact wording of whatever amendment was put up and you’d expect the frontbench to support it.’
McDonnell, asked if he would attend the People’s Vote campaign march later this month, joked: ‘Well, I’ll think about it certainly, I’m not one to miss a good march.
‘I also have to say as well I don’t want to do anything or say anything that disrespects the people who strongly, in my own constituency and elsewhere, who supported Leave and I don’t want to do anything that offends them.’
McDonnell added he was attempting to bring people together over the issue and seeing what compromises could be reached, saying: ‘At the end of the day I think we will have to unite on the basis of a very British compromise.’
McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, earlier denied Labour had the next election in mind when switching its approach.
Asked if supporting a second referendum would make the next election harder, he said: ‘It may well be but we’ve got to be honest with people – people have had enough of politicians who say one thing and actually do another.’
McDonnell said Labour could not allow a ‘reckless’ Brexit as pushed by Theresa May nor a no-deal as it would have ‘dire consequences’ in the long-term.
Former minister Caroline Flint estimated up to 70 Labour MPs were against a second referendum.
The Labour MP appealed for the party leadership to allow a free vote and also urged colleagues to back an improved Brexit deal given the 2017 election promise to respect the 2016 referendum result.
Flint told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘My appeal to John McDonnell, to Jeremy Corbyn, to Keir Starmer, is allow MPs to have a free vote on an improved deal.
‘So those MPs who want a second referendum can vote for that but those of us who want to keep our promises to our electorate can also keep faith with those people and vote for an improved deal.’
Flint also said: ‘I think there is something like 60 or 70 Labour MPs who feel as strongly as I do against a second referendum, but also I think it’s important to recognise that many of those MPs also feel that we have to move on, we have to stop a no-deal and if there’s an improved offer on the table, then Labour should engage with that sincerely.’
She added if there was a free vote among Labour MPs then ’10s, 20s, 30s would vote for an improved offer’.
Pressed on whether he would choose a no-deal exit or an extension of Article 50 if the PM’s withdrawal agreement was defeated again, justice minister Rory Stewart said: ‘Personally, I think we would have to be forced into an extension for Article 50.
‘But, I think people need to understand that that is a worse option than the prime minister’s deal.’
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘It is not where we want to be. It’s not where I want to be.’
Stewart said: ‘Extension to Article 50, which is going to be a vote which would effectively give, let’s say, a couple of months extension, would resolve nothing.
‘It would put us in a world in which we were still in a zombie world, not knowing where we are going.’