Labour distances itself from backing a second referendum

PUBLISHED: 11:36 22 January 2019

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey

PA Wire/PA Images

Labour has distanced itself from backing a second referendum after tabling an amendment allowing MPs to vote on ways to end the Brexit deadlock.

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Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said the amendment had been carefully written and did not tie the party into backing a new vote “in any way”.

It came as Theresa May was due to hold her weekly Cabinet meeting to discuss her next moves, with backbenchers also planning various amendments designed to make various changes today.

Labour’s amendment calls for a vote on Labour’s plan for a customs union with the EU, and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” that is supported by a Commons majority.

But Long-Bailey reiterated to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the party was “prioritising” its own Brexit deal.

She said: “The amendment is very specifically worded to allow for the debate of the options.

“It is not stating that the party supports a second referendum in any way and indeed if it was passed, the amendment, and it went to a vote on the specific issues, then that would be a decision for the party to take at the time.”

But Long-Bailey also described a backbench amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper designed to stop a no-deal Brexit as “fantastic”, suggesting Labour could support it.

The move came as it was understood that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had urged Downing Street to allow Tory MPs a free vote on moves aimed at preventing a no deal, amid fears that dozens of ministers could otherwise resign.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that Tory HQ had been effectively put on a snap general election “war footing” due to the Brexit situation in Parliament.

In a break from usual parliamentary rules, MPs will be able to amend the so-called “neutral motion” tabled by the prime minister on Brexit, with votes due to take place on amendments chosen by speaker John Bercow on January 29.

A cross-party group of MPs, including Cooper and Tory former minister Nick Boles, is seeking to give time for a Bill to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no new deal with Brussels by the end next month.

Labour’s Hilary Benn has tabled an amendment to the government motion calling for a range of indicative votes on various Brexit options.

He tweeted: “Just tabled an amendment for next week’s Brexit debate calling for the House of Commons to hold a series of indicative votes on a way forward.”

Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve tabled an amendment allowing MPs to take control of Parliamentary business a day every fortnight in February and then a day a week in March until Brexit day.

Backed by MPs from across Parliament, including Tory ex-ministers Justine Greening and Sam Gyimah and Labour’s Chris Bryant and Chuka Umunna, it would allow debate of up to six-and-a-half hours and the motion, like that due to be laid on Tuesday, would be amendable.

He removed a controversial passage that would allow a motion by a minority of 300 MPs - from at least five parties and including 10 Tories - to be debated in order to allow for indicative votes on where to go next.

In a sign of Labour divisions on the issue of a second Brexit referendum, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn said she could not support such a move.

However, Umunna, a prominent supporter of a People’s Vote, called for a firmer stance.

Meanwhile, Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl poured cold water on a suggestion by her Polish counterpart that the Irish border backstop, a key stumbling block in the Brexit deal process, could be time-limited.

Jacek Czaputowicz said yesterday that it could be set at five years to allow a deal to pass the UK Parliament.

But Kneissl told Today her Irish counterpart Simon Coveney had made it clear “Ireland belongs to the 27” at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday and “anything that was negotiated by commissioner Michel Barnier was part of the position that Ireland was part of”.

She said: “We were all taken by surprise when the Polish minister made his statement.

“We have had cohesion and we wish to continue having cohesion on the EU27 position, so the statement by our Polish colleague came as a surprise, but I don’t believe that it will cause some sort of breakthrough, certainly not because if we start having all kinds of bilateral suggestions it doesn’t lead us anywhere.”

She also dampened hopes of an extension to Article 50 to give the UK more time to negotiate, saying: “Where is the added value of the new British suggestion?”

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay also suggested that European politicians might not all support an extension to Article 50 if the UK asked for one.

He told Today there were “practical issues” over the European Parliament elections in May, adding: “From the EU point of view, they have been very clear that they don’t want an extension with no purpose and so we come back to the issue as to what it is MPs are for and just what they are against.”

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