British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Sunday he would back a second Brexit referendum if his Labour Party votes to pursue the move, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, whose plans for a divorce deal with the EU have hit an impasse, Reuters reports.
Corbyn, a veteran eurosceptic, has resisted growing demands to back a new “People’s Vote” on the decision to quit the European Union, keen to keep those party members on board who voted in favour of Brexit at a 2016 referendum.
But the political landscape has changed since May’s plans for Brexit — the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades — were resoundingly rebuffed by the EU on Thursday, with any outcome of the negotiations more uncertain than ever.
With talk of a new election swirling after May’s “Chequers” plan was all but shredded at an EU summit last week and chances of a disorderly departure that could damage the economy rising, the opposition party is under pressure to set the Brexit agenda.
At Labour’s annual conference in the northern city of Liverpool, Corbyn, who in 1975 voted “No” to Britain’s membership of the then-European Community, said he would act on the result of a debate in Labour on a second Brexit vote. But he was clear that he preferred a new election.
“Our preference would be for a general election and we can then negotiate our future relationship with Europe but let’s see what comes out of conference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying Labour was ready to vote against any deal.
“Obviously I’m bound by the democracy of our party.”
Labour is expected to discuss several motions on Brexit at its conference, and it remains unclear what the proposal on a second referendum might be — it could be a clear backing of a vote or something less black-and-white.
Corbyn has long said that a “People’s Vote” is not off the table for his party, and a source close to the leadership urged caution over an as-yet unknown motion, repeating the Labour leader’s stance that he does not support a second referendum.
Len McCluskey, a Corbyn ally and leader of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, further muddied the water when he said any such second referendum “shouldn’t be on: ‘Do we want to go back into the European Union?’”, adding people had voted in 2016 when Britain backed leaving the EU by a narrow 52-48 percent.