Today the Shadow Brexit Secretary will confirm that the party is set to oppose Theresa May’s Chequers deal, having determined that it cannot meet Labour’s “six tests”. More importantly though, he will say “if we cannot get a General Election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”. This position, agreed late on Sunday night, is expected to be ratified by conference delegates today.
The wording “all options remaining on the table” signals a shift in Party policy. Corbyn had previously ruled out another referendum, saying he’d much rather the issue be resolved at a General Election. But he has buckled to grassroots and union pressure – who are overwhelmingly Remain supporters – and vowed to respect the decision of party members. This edges the party definitively in the direction of a second referendum as they have promised to oppose a “blind Brexit”, ruling out support for a “no deal” and what they see as a vague fudge in the form of Chequers.
Interestingly, this new position could set the Labour membership (and therefore Momentum) off on a collision course towards Corbyn and McDonnell, who fear the impact on the party’s support in leave-voting areas if it appears to be seeking to overturn the referendum result.
Before the policy has even been put to the conference floor the tension and splits right at the top are plain to see. Despite supposedly agreeing to the “all options” option on Sunday night, McDonnell signalled that he would try to thwart the move, saying at a fringe yesterday morning that any second EU referendum would only be on the terms of the Brexit deal itself – not on whether to reverse the original decision to leave. A classic 180 turn.
This sparked an outcry from other senior Labour figures and activists, which prompted him to clarify later in the day that all options were indeed still on the table, a point reinforced by Keir Starmer. A full 360.
Sir Keir will say today that Labour has a message for the Prime Minister: “If your party wants to tear itself apart, that’s fine, but you’re not taking our country with you”. But it might not be just the Tories that have got themselves in a tangle. Will Labour’s new position pit the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn-ers” against the man himself?