Labour supports a referendum with caveats

Labour’s governing body has agreed to support a further referendum on Brexit under certain circumstances.

The National Executive Committee met to decide the wording of its manifesto for May’s European elections.

It rejected the idea of campaigning for a referendum under all circumstances – as supported by deputy leader Tom Watson and many Labour Party members.

But the party will demand a public vote if it cannot get changes to the government’s deal or an election.

Labour is “the only party which represents both people who supported Leave and Remain”, a spokesperson said.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) oversees the overall direction of the party and is made up of representatives including shadow cabinet members, MPs, councillors and trade unions.

A Labour source said: “The NEC agreed the manifesto which will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy to support Labour’s alternative plan and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a general election, to back the option of a public vote.”

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A number of pro-referendum Labour MPs have reacted positively to the decision – although some fear it may not go far enough.

Wes Streeting tweeted that the NEC had “made the right call and confirmed that a public vote will be in our manifesto for the European elections”. Lloyd Russell-Moyle said the commitment was “not as strong” as he would have liked, but a week ago he had feared there would not be one at all.

But fellow MP Bridget Phillipson said Labour had “done the bare minimum needed and I can only hope it will be enough to secure the support of all those millions of our voters demanding the final say on Brexit”.

Conference policy

The UK will have to take part in European Parliamentary elections on 23 May unless a Brexit deal is accepted by MPs before then.

Labour agreed a policy at its last conference that if Parliament voted down the government’s withdrawal deal with the EU – which it has effectively done three times – or talks ended in no-deal, there should be a general election.

But if it could not force one, conference agreed that the party “must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.

Since then, though, Labour has entered into cross-party talks with the Conservatives to see if they can reach a consensus on how to get a Brexit deal through Parliament so that Britain can leave.

Many Labour members wanted the party to make its agreement to any deal conditional on it being put to a public vote – what Labour calls a “confirmatory ballot”.

Labour have not yet made clear what their proposed referendum would be on, but a party briefing paper to MPs published earlier this year said it would need to have “a credible Leave option and Remain” on the ballot paper.