Brexit: Labour braced for showdown over second referendum

Labour is braced for a showdown over whether to back a referendum on any Brexit deal when the party’s governing body meets to agree its draft European elections manifesto on Tuesday.

Party sources suggested the party was likely to agree a compromise option where it would support a referendum in order to prevent Theresa May’s Brexit deal or leaving without a deal, describing that wording as “the path of least resistance”.

However, a public drive for a stronger line has been led by the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who has urged remain-supporting members to write to the national executive committee’s members, including Jeremy Corbyn.

More than 100 Labour MPs have written to NEC members to argue that Labour should use the election to campaign for a second referendum in any circumstances and more than 20 Labour MEP candidates have pledged to back a referendum and then campaign to remain in the EU.

On Monday, the Labour MPs behind the parliamentary drive for a confirmatory referendum on Brexit also wrote to the NEC urging it to use the European elections to campaign for a fresh poll regardless of whether a deal has been reached with the government.

The manifesto, drafted by Labour’s policy chief, Andrew Fisher, is expected to be presented to NEC members on Tuesday. A source close to the NEC said they expected a compromise would be reached which would commit the party to campaign for a referendum to stop a “Tory Brexit” and leave open the possibility of a fresh poll in other circumstances.

“That would not prevent MPs attaching a referendum as a condition on any Brexit deal that comes to parliament,” the party source said.

Labour MPs Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle, who have drafted an amendment to any future binding Brexit vote that would commit MPs to passing May’s withdrawal deal subject to a public vote, said that option had the most popular support in the party.

In their letter to the NEC on Monday the pair wrote that it was “an opportunity to hold the Tory government to account on its botched approach to Brexit”.

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