Sir Keir: Labour must not reverse its commitment to a People's Vote

PUBLISHED: 13:34 19 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:41 19 January 2019

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the Fabian Society new year conference. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the Fabian Society new year conference. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said that the Labour Party must keep its commitment to offering a People's Vote.

Following the defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Sir Keir said the choice lay between instructing the government to negotiate a close economic relationship with the EU based on a customs union, and a further public vote.

Speaking at the Fabian Society’s new year conference in London, he said that with time running out before before Brexit day on March 29, it now appeared “inevitable” the government would have to apply for an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process.

He drew the loudest cheer, however, when he said Labour stood by the commitment made at the party conference last year in Liverpool that if it was unable to force a general election all options must remain on the table - including another referendum.

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“That is a very important commitment. It’s a commitment to you, our members and our movement. And it is one we will keep,” he said.

“As I set out in Liverpool, a public vote has to be an option for Labour. After all, deeply embedded in our values are internationalism, collaboration and cooperation with our European partners.”

Sir Keir again made clear that he believed that in the event of a second referendum, the option of remaining in the EU must be on the ballot paper.

“I don’t think it is any secret I firmly believe there should be a Remain option - and there has to be a genuine Leave option,” he said.

He said that with the raft of legislation that still needed to get through parliament before Brexit, it was difficult to see how an extension to Article 50 could be avoided.

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“It seems inevitable to me that the government will have to apply for an extension of Article 50,” he said.

“So, it’s time for us to inject some honesty into this debate, and to identify the credible solutions that remain.

“In the coming weeks parliament will have the chance to take control. That starts by being open about the dilemmas we face, and the credible choices that are still available.”

Bridget Philipson MP, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said that Labour will be blamed for Brexit if it does not keep its promise.

“Keir Starmer is sticking to both the letter and the spirit of Labour’s policy on Brexit by saying now is the right time for the party to begin campaigning for a public vote.

“Labour’s members and supporters will not understand it if the party continues to hesitate at this moment of national crisis. After parliament’s overwhelming rejection of the government’s deal, there is neither the time nor the patience for another game of fantasy Brexit. Instead, Labour needs to recognise that the only way any sort of deal gets over the line is probably with Labour’s official backing.

“If Labour does not want to be the party blamed for bringing about Brexit, the question is whether we listen to the views of Labour’s supporters who want a new and different public vote on this crucial issue. Polling shows that three quarters of Labour voters and members support a People’s Vote. It’s time for all of us to realise that the only way forward is to let the public have the final say through a People’s Vote.”

Eloise Todd from Best for Britain said: “As Keir Starmer made clear, the Labour party must stay true to the commitment it made at conference, and back the option to remain in a future public vote. Given there will not be a general election, that means the party must move to campaign for the people to have the final say as the best way out of the current parliamentary gridlock.

“Labour members and their voters everywhere are now counting on the Labour front bench to deliver on that promise.”

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