Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has insisted it would be “completely wrong” for Labour not to vote one way or the other, should the UK and EU reach an agreement, given it is the “most important issue of the day”.
Shadow ministers appearing on the Sunday round of broadcast interviews repeatedly said they wanted prime minister Boris Johnson to secure a deal, adding the party would reserve judgment on how to order its MPs to vote until the detail has been read.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, acknowledged abstaining was among the available options when dealing with issues in the Commons.
Sir Keir Starmer’s decision is likely to struggle to unite all of his MPs given differing views within the ranks on the best tactics.
McCluskey highlighted the dilemma as he noted Sir Keir needs to “win the trust of the red wall seats” and those who voted leave at the 2016 referendum, and be seen “not to be standing in the way” of what people supported at the 2019 election.
He also told Times Radio: “On the other hand if it’s a thin deal, which I suspect it will be, if indeed we get a deal, he needs to also be in a position in six months if things are going wrong to be able to attack the government without then being regarded a hypocrite because he voted for the deal.”
McCluskey, whose union is one of Labour’s major financial backers, said he expects a deal would get through Parliament.
He added: “Frankly, Labour need – on the most important issue of the day – not to be seen to be sitting on the fence.
“The idea of an abstention, to me, would be completely wrong. I hope they’ve learnt the lesson back in December that any confusion over this will be damaging to them.”
Pressed if Labour should not abstain but vote for a deal, McCluskey replied: “Yes, in my opinion let’s get Brexit done and out the way, it won’t stop us being critical if indeed the deal gives us all kinds of issues and problems going forward.”