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Analysis

Corbyn’s twists and turns are going in the right direction

by Hugo Dixon | 18.03.2019

The Labour leader can be maddening with his pronouncements on a new referendum. But yesterday he took two more steps towards backing one.

Talking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would be supporting the so-called Kyle-Wilson amendment if it is brought to a vote in Parliament. This calls for a “confirmatory” referendum on the government’s deal.

This week may not be the best time to bring such an amendment – and Kyle-Wilson isn’t the only form of referendum. But it is good that the Labour leader is backing the principle. Last week, the party whipped its MPs to abstain on a public vote. So the promise to support a referendum is a step forward.

Corbyn also told Ridge: “I’m enthusiastic about getting a deal with Europe which guarantees our future trading relationship and protects jobs and industries in this country, and I do think people should have a choice on that.”

This second promise isn’t crystal clear. But it suggests that, if some softer form of Brexit emerges from the political sausage factory, that too should be put to the people in a confirmatory referendum.

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This is important as Corbyn prepares for cross-party meetings today with the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru to see if they can find common ground on some form of soft Brexit. It’s doubtful that they will be able to agree on a viable Brexit and then find enough Tories to support them. But it’s reasonable that they try.

The other parties should insist on two conditions in these talks with Labour. First, any soft Brexit has to be specific and negotiable with the EU, not another cake-and-eat-it fantasy. Parliament has wasted too much time already chasing after unicorns.

Second, if they can all agree on a proposal, it must be put to a confirmatory referendum with Remain as the other option on the ballot. That would turn Corbyn’s implied promise yesterday into a hard commitment.

Close observers of the Labour leader’s meanderings over Brexit may still be worried that he isn’t committed to vote to stay in the EU in a future referendum. He said “it depends what choice is in front of us”, implying that he could vote to quit the EU if the sort of soft Brexit he wants was on the ballot paper.

It would, of course, be better if Corbyn was more enthusiastic about our EU membership. But this leopard is unlikely to change his spots. The priority is to get a public vote, and we’re moving closer to one.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe