Jeremy Corbyn says Labour will back Remain in second Brexit referendum

Jeremy Corbyn has changed his mind on Brexit (Picture: Getty)

Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour would campaign for Britain to remain in the EU in a second referendum on a Tory deal or no-deal Brexit as he sought to provide clarity around Labour’s Brexit message.

He said the Labour Party will challenge whoever is the next Tory leader to put their Brexit deal to the people in another public vote.

Following a meeting of the shadow cabinet, Mr Corbyn said Labour would campaign for Remain if such a vote took place.

Mr Corbyn did not explain what Labour, who have slumped in recent polls, would do if the party won a general election.

In a letter to party members, he said: "Whoever becomes the new prime minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or no-deal, back to the people in a public vote.

"In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either no-deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs."

Mr Corbyn has been under pressure within his own party for a number of weeks to shift to an anti-Brexit position.

In a statement emailed to party members, he said: “I have spent the past few weeks consulting with the shadow cabinet, MPs, affiliated unions and the NEC. I have also had feedback from members via the National Policy Forum consultation on Brexit.

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“Labour has a crucial, historic duty to safeguard jobs, rights and living standards. But no Brexit outcome alone can do that.”

The move follows weeks of wrangling within the party over its position on Brexit - backing a second referendum only in certain specific circumstances - which was widely blamed for its dismal showing in the European elections.

Both Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Mr Hunt have said that, if they win the race for No 10, they would seek to renegotiate the terms of Britain's withdrawal, but would leave without a deal if they failed to do so.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

The statement from Mr Corbyn signals that Labour will campaign for Remain should the next Tory leader, Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson, hold a second referendum before taking Britain out of the EU.

However, Mr Corbyn has now said what he would do if he won a general election and was put in charge of Brexit himself.

He renewed his call for a general election in his statement.

The move has been seen as a further step by Labour to becoming a Remain party.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

The move marks a significant shift in Mr Corbyn’s thinking on Brexit.

In 2017, Labour’s general election manifesto accepted the result of the previous year’s EU referendum, but pressure has increased on Mr Corbyn from within his party to stand up against Brexit.

In November 2018, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour would “inevitably” back a second referendum if it was unable to secure a general election, and at the beginning of this year, 71 Labour MPs said they supported a public vote.

In February, Mr Corbyn wrote to prime minister Theresa May demanding changes to her Brexit policy, but he made no mention of a referendum.

A month later, the party ordered its MPs to abstain on an amendment calling for a second referendum, but also told them to back a separate amendment calling for a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE REACTION?

Former Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who left the party to join Change UK, before swiftly moving on to become a Liberal Democrat, criticised Mr Corbyn for coming up with “another fudge”.

Mr Umunna tweeted: “Yet another fudge, where the Labour leadership keep open the door to standing on a pro-Brexit platform in a General Election or supporting it in government.

“The @LibDems are the only party that can get into govt which is 100% committed to stopping Brexit.”

The Liberal Democrats pointed to Labour's lack of clarity on what the party would do if it won control of Parliament in an election.

Lib Dems Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "Jeremy Corbyn can pretend all he likes that the Labour Party are finally moving towards backing the Liberal Democrat policy of a People's Vote.

Picture: PA

"But it is clear it is still his intention to negotiate a damaging Brexit deal if he gets the keys to Number 10."

Leaders in the youth Labour movement quickly moved to back the change in position, with Young Labour chairwoman Miriam Mirwitch celebrating the "vital shift".

Jeremy Corbyn has shifted his Brexit stance (Picture: Getty)

"The leadership's change in position is incredibly important in the fight to prevent the next prime minister imposing their will on the country without a mandate," she said.

Liberal Democrats leadership contender Ed Davey tweeted: "Corbyn's latest weasel words mean Labour would still enable Brexit.

He said the Lib Dems "are the strongest remain force in Britain, adding "unlike @jeremycorbyn we've opposed the Tories every step of the way".

Labour MP Hilary Benn, who is also chairman of the Commons' Brexit Select Committee, tweeted: "This is a very significant announcement that will be widely welcomed in the Party. Labour supports a referendum on any Tory deal and will campaign for Remain."

Phil Wilson, a Labour former whip who backs the People's Vote campaign, said it was a "positive step forward" but urged Labour to unite with second referendum proponents across the political spectrum.

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