Labour 'dodges most important political choice in generations' with Brexit vote

PUBLISHED: 17:41 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:35 23 September 2019

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, gestures while sitting in the audience during the Labour Party Conference. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, gestures while sitting in the audience during the Labour Party Conference. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Labour delegates have endorsed a position on Brexit which would leave a decision on how to campaign in a second referendum until a 'special conference' after an election.

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The motion backed by Jeremy Corbyn - and backed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) - urged the party to back a People's Vote but to decide the party's position "through a one-day special conference, following the election of a Labour government".

By contrast the pro-Remain motion which called for Labour to "campaign energetically" for Remain was rejected by the leadership and consequently defeated.

Some unions had backed the pro-Remain motion with even Momentum's founder Jon Lansman claiming it was a "stitch-up" the way the leadership's motion had come about.

Momentum organiser Laura Parker said: "We have to decide at this conference. The one we have come to, the one we have travelled across the country to come to, not at some putative further conference which is presumably in the mythical land with that fucking table with all our options on it," she said.

But Len McCluskey and Unite the Union remained on the leadership's side, with the party positioning it as a vote on Jeremy Corbyn.

Consequently the NEC motion was carried.

Chair Wendy Nichols believed that the pro-Remain proposal had also been carried, but was overruled by general secretary Jennie Formby.

While supporters of the leadership chanted "Oh Jeremy Corbyn!" those backing the pro-Remain motion shouted "disgrace" and "stitch-up" as the chair refused a card vote.

Naomi Smith from Best for Britain said Labour had "dodged the most important political choice in generations."

"Today's decision is a fudge that simply delays the inevitable moment when the party has to decide where it stands on the issue of Brexit.

"We know there is massive support for Remain within Labour ranks - thousands of our supporters at Best for Britain have been contacting their unions, bringing pressure to bear on the Labour leadership to adopt a clear Remain stance. They will be demanding urgent answers from Labour leadership."

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said it showed Jeremy Corbyn was a "Brexiteer at heart".

"Jeremy Corbyn has again shown a total lack of leadership on Brexit and settled on yet another fudge on the biggest issue facing our country. Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly had the opportunity to put the full force of the Labour behind a Remain position, but he has once again shown today that he is a Brexiteer at heart.

"He is determined to negotiate a Brexit deal if Labour win an election, despite all the evidence that there is no Brexit deal that is good for our economy, our NHS and our security. By refusing to say how the Labour Party would campaign in a second referendum, Jeremy Corbyn is letting down the millions of people who want to see the UK remain in the EU.

"The Liberal Democrats are the only main party going into the next election promising to end the Brexit chaos. If the Liberal Democrats win the next general election, then we will use that democratic mandate to revoke Article 50 on day one and stop Brexit."

Andrew Lewin, of the Remain Labour campaign, said the party now faced going into a general election without a clear position.

He told PA: "We are going to be unable to answer the question 'are you for Remain or Leave'.

"Obviously, lots of good people and senior people like Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry etc. are going to say individually, but that's not what the public will see.

"The public will see the leader - and therefore by definition a party - that can't make its mind up and I think that will be really damaging."

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