Labour's referendum shift sparks unanswered questions

9 July 2019, 12:08 | Updated: 9 July 2019, 16:03

Labour still appears to be a party of in favour of Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn today announced that in the event a Tory government strikes a Brexit deal, or a no-deal divorce looms, then he and his party would proactively support a referendum - and in those circumstances Labour would campaign for remain.

This is a significant shift and shadow cabinet members are right to underline the importance of the change.

But the party is silent on what would happen in the event of an election and what would be in the Labour manifesto.

Will the party still try to strike its own Brexit deal with the EU in the event it wins and Mr Corbyn becomes prime minister?

Would that vote be put to a referendum?

Would Labour campaign for or against its own deal, and therefore for or against Brexit?

The trade unions wanted more clarity on the general election question yesterday, but Mr Corbyn has resisted, ensuring the freest possible hand going into conference.

In a letter to members today, Mr Corbyn is silent on all of these questions.

His support for Remain in the letter to members is heavily caveated - and only applies in circumstances where Labour faces a no-deal Brexit or Tory deal.

From this silence, it can be inferred that in an ideal world, Labour would negotiate its own better Brexit, possibly then going on to implement it without a referendum.

This raises many questions that will have to be settled: though not yet.

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The most likely moment for a resolution will be Labour's "Clause V" meeting when it decides the manifesto, after the date Britain is going to the polls has been set.

All of which appears to be a gift for the Tories in the view of many Labour MPs: many worry that Labour will suffer if it is still seen to support Brexit, and thereby not reunite the Remain course around its flag.

Labour has formally decided that so long as the Tories are in power, they want a second Brexit referendum.

Nevertheless the caveats mean there is a long way left to go in this argument.