Labour is not ruling out offering people the option of remaining in the EU in a future Brexit referendum, Sir Keir Starmer has told the party’s conference.
To rapturous applause from party delegates in Liverpool, the shadow Brexit secretary said all options should be kept on the table, including a so-called “People’s Vote”.
Party members will debate the possibility of a second Brexit referendum and then have their own vote on the contentious issue later today.
Sir Keir also said opposition MPs will be ordered to vote against any withdrawal deal that Theresa May agrees with the European Union, unless the deal fulfils the six tests set by Labour – an extremely unlikely scenario.
He said the Chequers plans look set to fail the tests, and will therefore not be supported by Corbyn’s party.
The announcement that the option of a Remain choice in a second referendum was not being ruled out drew a lengthy standing ovation, with about two thirds of delegates getting to their feet to applaud.
Sir Keir said Labour’s preferred option if Theresa May fails to secure a satisfactory deal would be an early general election, but that failing that “we must have other options”.
He said: “That must include campaigning for a public vote.
“It is right that parliament has the first say but if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.”
Earlier, speaking about Mrs May’s potential EU deal, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is going to be a very bad deal. I don’t think it is going to meet our tests and we shouldn’t be voting for a deal which we don’t think is in the national interest.”
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His pledge is at odds with that of shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who said on Monday that any public vote would only be on the terms of a deal – not a repeat of 2016’s decision.
In one of a series of media interviews before his speech, Sir Keir told the BBC: “The question would be wide enough to encompass the option of Remain.”
He added: “There isn’t this difference of opinion between me and John McDonnell and the whole Labour Party is united around the motion that is going forward this morning.”
Sir Keir confirmed he would vote to remain in the European Union if there was a second referendum.
“Oh yes, I would vote in. I voted in last time, I’d vote in if the question was ever put again,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
He declined to rule out extending the Article 50 process, under which the UK leaves the EU two years after declaring its intention to quit.
Asked whether he could guarantee Britain would leave the EU on March 29, Sir Keir told TalkRadio: “Well, the answer is it depends, because we don’t know when we’re going to get a deal.
“The October deadline might slip to November, November might slip to December. I don’t know, I’m not conducting the negotiations so the timeline is not in our control.
“I don’t think at this stage anybody is talking about extending Article 50 but if it has to be extended quite frankly it will be because of the collapsing failure of the discussions and the negotiations.”
The general secretary of Labour Leave, Brendan Chilton, warned that the party was “playing with fire” by discussing a second referendum.
He said: “The fact that people like Keir Starmer are throwing around the possibility of a second referendum is devastating to the party’s brand. It makes us look like the party of Remain.”