Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has today dismissed calls for a People’s Vote and vowed that a Labour government would press ahead with Brexit.
McDonnell used an interview on the eve of Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool to defy demands among party members for a referendum pledge, restating his preference for a general election to put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
He told the Guardian: “We would be in the same situation there [in the event of an election], where we would be saying: we’re accepting that original vote; this is the sort of deal that we want.
“I really think people want this sorted. That means negotiating a deal that will meet people’s objectives.
“So you don’t get hung up on the semantics; you do the deal that will protect their jobs, and address some of the concerns that they had during the referendum.”
A People’s Vote will be discussed in Liverpool after more than 100 constituency Labour parties and unions called for it to be put on the agenda. But the Labour leadership under Corbyn have repeatedly dismissed the idea, promising instead something called a “Jobs-First Brexit”.
McDonnell said: “The debate around the next manifesto will go on, but I really worry about another referendum.
‘I’m desperately trying to avoid any rise of xenophobia that happened last time around; I’m desperately trying to avoid giving any opportunity to Ukip or the far right. I think there’s the real risk of that.
“We’re not ruling out a People’s Vote, but there’s a real risk, and I think people need to take that into account when we’re arguing for one.”
McDonnell’s words echoed those of Corbyn, who told BBC Scotland on Thursday, when he was asked whether Brexit should go ahead: ‘The referendum made that decision.’
Delegates arriving in Liverpool tomorrow ahead of Labour’s annual conference will be greeted at Lime Street station by a three-metre-tall installation commissioned by anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain.
The 3D installation will feature a giant crack in the ground with Best for Britain’s red button motif emerging from it, in the form of an interactive red stop button.
The group have also commissioned 500 chalk pavement prints along the route to the ACC, where the conference is being held.
Meanwhile foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged EU leaders to “step back from the abyss” of a no-deal Brexit and engage with Theresa May’s Chequers plan.
Following the angry clashes at the Salzburg summit, Hunt said it was “counterproductive” to “insult” Britain’s referendum vote and to say the only way the UK could legally leave was by “breaking up your country”.
“What we need to be doing in a situation like this is bringing people together,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“This is a time for people in the EU to step back from the abyss, to sit down and to talk to us about how we can make these sensible, concrete proposals actually work.”
After EU leaders meeting in Austria on Thursday warned a key element of the Chequers plan would not work, Hunt called them to engage with Britain in a “spirit of politeness and decency” to find an agreed solution.
But he did not rule out the prospect that the government could now seek a simple, Canada-style free trade agreement – favoured by Brexiteer Tory MPs – rather than continuing with the more ambitious Chequers proposals.
“I am not dismissing anything,” he said, adding however that a Canada-style agreement would not address the issue of the Irish border.
Hunt made clear the government’s anger at the way he claimed May had been treated in Salzburg, with European Council President Donald Tusk posting a mocking tweet with a picture of him offering May a cake with the caption “Sorry, no cherries” – a reference to EU accusations of British “cherry picking” – while French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit campaigners “liars”.
He underlined the prime minister’s warning in a televised address on Friday that she was ready to walk away from the negotiations rather than accept a “bad deal”.
“What Theresa May is saying is ‘Don’t mistake British politeness for weakness. If you put us in a difficult corner we will stand our ground. That is the kind of country we are,”‘ Hunt said.