Labour and a second referendum

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Jeremy Corbyn has been engulfed in recent months by the controversy over anti-Semitism. That crisis is unlikely to abate any time soon. But in the run-up to Labour’s party conference later this month, he will have to confront another matter: the growing demands by leading party activists for Labour to back a second referendum on Brexit.

Many Remainers, whatever party they support, have long been frustrated by Mr Corbyn’s stubborn — and often disengaged — stance over Brexit.

It is almost certain that Labour will vote in the Commons against whatever Brexit deal Theresa May finally signs with Brussels (if, of course, she does end up signing one). But Mr Corbyn has thus far ruled out all demands for a second referendum on Brexit, or, as it is sometimes called, a People’s Vote.

Pressure on the Labour leader to reconsider this position is now mounting. This week, the GMB, one of Britain’s biggest unions, demanded that there should be a vote on the final Brexit deal come what may.

“GMB respects the result of the referendum, but how we leave the EU is as important as the decision to leave in the first place,” Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, told members. “That’s why today, GMB is calling for a public vote on the final deal.”

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has also weighed in on the issue. His position is a little different from the GMB’s. He does not support a second referendum in all circumstances, only if the UK looks to be heading for a “no-deal” outcome.

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“As a last resort, when everything else has failed, when we have tried to extend Article 50 to get more time, then and only then should we consider holding a second vote,” Mr Burnham told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Labour activists are also working to make the second referendum the major debate at their conference in Liverpool. The Guardian recently reported that a handful of local constituency parties have agreed to back a motion demanding that there should be a referendum on whatever deal Britain agrees, with an option to remain in the EU.

All this should make for a lively conference. But will the debates have any impact on the course of Brexit? 

If Mrs May comes back from Brussels with a deal, and if she then wins a Commons vote approving her pact, it is very hard to see how a second referendum would happen. Having seen the Brexit negotiation go through all its political and parliamentary hoops, it is difficult to imagine MPs opening the whole matter up again to a referendum.

But where Labour’s stance matters is if the Brussels talks collapse or if Mrs May loses the Commons vote.

In those circumstances, parliament would be plunged into chaos, with many MPs calling for Britain to leave with no deal — an outcome that would be disastrous. 

Some MPs, including Mr Corbyn himself, might advocate Britain moving to a general election, which could well prove to be inconclusive.

It is therefore important, before we get to that stage, that Labour specifies as clearly as it can that the only possible course of action would be a second referendum that asks the public what they want to see happen next.

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Further reading

It’s time to aim for a Canada-style Brexit

“Canada Plus is still in play. Despite their bombastic and tin-eared rhetoric over the last year or so, Messrs Tusk and Barnier have finally signalled a safe haven for our beleaguered Premier. It’s a small landing strip and the weather is bad but it’s the only flight path left if she wants to avoid defenestration and civil war in her party. Otherwise, WTO planning should reign supreme.” (Stewart Jackson, former chief of staff to David Davis, in The Telegraph)

Here are three viable hard Brexit options. All are dreadful

“Given all these problems, it’s not surprising that the Brexiters don’t want to be pinned down. But they need to pick their poison. Otherwise, they are treating the public like idiots.” (Hugo Dixon on InFacts)

Don’t be fooled: EFTA or EEA membership would not let us take back control

“Instead we should seek an advanced free trade agreement like Canada and Japan. That way we would continue to trade positively with the EU. Yet we would also be in charge of our laws, borders, money and trade. We would be free to do trade deals around the globe while still trading closely with the EU.” (Martin Howe, chairman of Lawyers for Britain, on BrexitCentral)

Hard numbers

Britain requires a once-in-a-generation revolution in the way its economy generates income and wealth to secure “prosperity and economic justice”, involving higher wages to boost the country’s weak productivity growth, according to a report published on Wednesday.

The recommendations by a commission established by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-of-centre think-tank, also include higher government investment on infrastructure partly paid for by increased taxes on wealthy people, and requiring company directors to focus on the long-term interests of their businesses.

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The big idea in the commission’s report is to change thinking on productivity. Instead of relying on competitive markets to force productivity improvements and hope wage increases follow, the commission said that at a time of full employment, pay rises should come first, thereby forcing companies to become more efficient or die.


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