Tom Watson says union Brexit agreement a ‘step in the right direction’

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson launched a fresh push for the party to fully commit to a second refe

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson launched a fresh push for the party to fully commit to a second referendum in an effort to stay in the European Union. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Remainer Labour MPs have cautiously welcomed moves by trade union leaders to back a second referendum on any Brexit deal.

A meeting of general secretaries of some of the party's biggest affiliated unions agreed to support a public vote on any deal agreed by a Tory prime minister, with an expectation Labour would campaign for Remain.

Should Labour win an election before Brexit, they said it should negotiate a new deal with Brussels, which would then be put to the public in a confirmatory vote.

In such a referendum, the party's position would depend on the position it has negotiated in talks with the EU.

Deputy leader Tom Watson, who has been at the forefront of a campaign to get Labour to fully embrace a People's Vote, said it was a "step in the right direction".

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"Remain is who we are. Our values are remain, our hearts are remain," he tweeted.

"Today is a step in the right direction but our members and supporters are clear that any kind of Brexit gives us less than we have now and Labour should not support it."

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Among the leaders present was Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, who has previously resisted calls for a second referendum.

The meeting will add to the pressure on Corbyn to change tack on Brexit, following its dismal showing in the European elections in May.

The Labour leader has been reluctant to fully embrace a second referendum fearing it will cost the party support in Leave-voting areas in its traditional heartlands in the North and Midlands.

However there is growing frustration in the shadow cabinet that Labour's current position - backing a second referendum only in certain specific circumstances - is not understood by voters.

Bridget Phillipson, Labour MP and leading supporter of the People's Vote campaign, said: "It is a step forward that trade unions are now advocating that Labour backs a People's Vote in which it would campaign to stay in the EU on any Tory Brexit.

"But arguments about a general election cannot be allowed to obscure the need to campaign now for a final say referendum, which is the only democratic solution to the Brexit mess. If we fail to vigorously demand such a People's Vote it will only hinder our efforts to reconnect with millions of voters and hundreds of thousands of members who feel deeply let down by our party over Brexit. They just want to know - without 'ifs or buts' that we will give them the final say and campaign to stay in the EU."

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake dismissed the union agreement.

"The unions seem to have moved to a position to support Liberal Democrat policy to stop a Tory Brexit. However, a Labour Brexit would be no better," he said.

"Labour must rule out their Brexit-supporting leader negotiating their own Brexit deal."

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