Labour should fight a referendum before an election

by Hugo Dixon | 23.09.2019

The Labour Party has just approved a complex Brexit policy in the event that there’s an election before a referendum. But it’s not in a good state to win such an election. It should force Boris Johnson to hold a referendum instead.

The party’s conference debated three Brexit motions this afternoon. It backed the two supported by Jeremy Corbyn and rejected the one supported by the party’s pro-European wing. 

The circumstances of that defeat were controversial. The chair relied on a show of hands despite admitting there was some confusion about the result. She rejected a call for a “card vote”, which would have given an accurate record of the vote.

Corbyn’s policy is not simple. First, Labour wins an election. Then it negotiates a new Brexit deal with the EU. Then and only then does it decide whether it wants to stay in the EU or leave. At that point, it asks the people what they want in a referendum.

Lots of Labour voters, supporters and MPs have already made their minds up that no Brexit deal could be nearly good as our current deal in the EU. And they are right.

But whatever the merits of Labour’s new policy, it doesn’t look like it will win an election. Quite apart from the complexity, the party is split down the middle on Europe. What’s more, the failed attempt to remove Tom Watson as deputy leader shows there’s a deeper power struggle underway.

There is one way Labour can avoid an election defeat: force a referendum before an election. The party has a wonderfully simple policy in that scenario – back “Remain” and reject any Tory Brexit. In the election that followed, it wouldn’t even need a Brexit policy.

Holding a People’s Vote first is also in the national interest. The referendum would determine what happens on Brexit and the election would then determine who runs the country. Having them the other way round would muddle up the two issues.

Labour’s pro-Europeans have lost a battle. But they haven’t lost the war. They should now try to persuade Corbyn to switch his attention to a referendum – for the good of the country and the good of their party.

Demand a vote on the Brexit deal

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Edited by James Earley

Categories: Brexit, UK Politics

4 Responses to “Labour should fight a referendum before an election”

  • There is one serious flaw in this argument – there isn’t sufficient time for a referendum before January 31 2020, even assuming we get the extension of Article 50 to that date. It now seems inevitable that a general election will occur before the end of this year and will be the only democratic test before the revised brexit date is upon us. This means the only hope may be the bold approach of Jo Swinson i.e. campaign to achieve a remain majority led by the Lib Dems and revoke. Given that it is the only way to put an immediate and clean end to the whole chaotic brexit process this may even appeal to some leave voters who now simply want a way out of the whole damn thing.

  • What can’t you understand about the fact that the Labour mandarins want Brexit? Not a Tory Brexit but a Labour Brexit, to prove that they had the power to succeed in getting a deal where the Tories miserably failed. Never mind that a Labour deal too is going to be a sad affair, economically far worse than what the UK has now. At least they can freely take the privatized utilities back under state control and subsidize them into worker heaven. That’s what Labour is after; prepare for some major union action if ever Labour actually wins the keys to number 10.

  • Labour would be daft wanting an election given the shambles of their Brexit policy, (unless they secretly want Boris to win next time, and so allow him to take the blame for the Brexit debacle).
    If an election happens it will between those who still think Brexit will be fine (Conservatives and Brexit parties ) and those who don’t think it will be fine (the Lib Dems). Labour will be for those who can’t make up their minds.

    Chukka and Chris Leslie have been totally vindicated in their decision to ditch the Labour party, and they won’t be the last MPs to do so. There could be quite a few more.

  • 1 Since the splits over brexit cut across both labour and tory, I agree it would be preferable to have the ref first, single-issue, to clear it without the complications of other policy issues and topics. If the answer is remain, then the road ahead is clear. If there is still a majority to leave, then after an election the incoming government will still have the headache – and so will we all….
    2 If time is needed beyond Jan31 for the ref, then ask for it – EU have indicated they would accept a request to extend Art 50 for particular reasons – like GE or Ref. What they don’t want is to extend the chaos without any prospect of resolution.
    3 I am very concerned that there are elements in Labour who seem to want no-deal. (Do they really appreciate the impact it would have on working people?) Even more worrying are reports that BJ’s financial backers and others are betting – shorting – that UK will leave EU without a deal on Oct 31, and that they stand to make around £8bn if that happens. (Some of them have apparently already coined it by doing something similar at the time if ref1.) Have you watched ‘Tories at War’ – the Channel 4 documentary that went our last night? Find it on the Ch4 website. One of said financial types says at one point something like the ‘politicians know who their bosses are.’ What sort of a corrupt country are we becoming??