Tom Watson calls on Labour to back second Brexit referendum ahead of general election

11 September 2019, 01:34

Mr Watson's comments could spark a fresh row with Jeremy Corbyn
Mr Watson's comments could spark a fresh row with Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson is set to call on his party to back a second Brexit referendum, despite Jeremy Corbyn saying he would not hold another vote before a general election.

In a speech on Wednesday in London, the MP will say a single-issue Brexit election may not break the deadlock in Parliament - something only a second referendum can achieve with certainty.

He will also argue that if a referendum were to follow an election, then Labour should commit "unambiguously and unequivocally" to campaign for Remain.

But Mr Watson’s comments could spark a fresh clash with Mr Corbyn, who has made clear his priority is for an election once Parliament has closed off a no-deal Brexit.

The opposition leader has said that an incoming Labour government would hold a new referendum offering Leave and Remain, but has not yet said which he would support.

Mr Watson will argue it is not too late for Labour to win back Remain voters put off by confusion over the party's position on Brexit, if they were to commit clearly to campaign to stay in the EU.

"My experience on the doorstep tells me most of those who've deserted us over our Brexit policy did so with deep regret and would greatly prefer to come back; they just want us to take an unequivocal position that whatever happens we'll fight to remain, and to sound like we mean it," he will say.

"If we did it we could win, whereas if we don't I fear we won't."

Mr Watson will say that so much has changed since the original referendum in 2016 it was "no longer a valid basis" for determining Britain's future and the priority should be a new public vote before an election.

"Very difficult though it was, I and many others respected the result of the 2016 referendum for a long time," he said.

"But there eventually comes a point - and we are very far past it now, well into the fourth year since the referendum - when circumstances are so changed, when so much new information has emerged that we didn't have in 2016, when so many people feel differently to how they felt then, that you have to say, no, that years-old plebiscite is no longer a valid basis on which to take such a momentous decision about the future of the United Kingdom.

"The only proper way to proceed in such circumstances is to consult the people again."

Mr Watson’s comments came as shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Labour “will be ready” to fight a no-deal Brexit when the Commons returns in October.

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said: "Labour's deputy leader makes clear Labour want to cancel the referendum result.

"This latest trick would mean delaying Brexit again for up to a year, handing over £250 million a week to Brussels for no purpose. Labour are running scared of an election and only offer more dither and pointless delay.

"Only Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will deliver Brexit by 31 October, no ifs or buts, so we can move on and focus on the issues that matter to people - investing in the NHS, reducing violent crime and cutting the cost of living."