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Analysis

People power made Corbyn shift – it may be needed again

by Hugo Dixon | 28.05.2019

Labour has partly come off the fence on Brexit after voters punished it in the European elections and instead supported the Lib Dems and Greens. But the battle isn’t over.

The leader of the opposition took another significant step to back a People’s Vote in the wake of Labour’s dismal results, where it was pushed into third place by the Lib Dems. He wrote to MPs yesterday, saying: “It is clear that the deadlock in Parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a general election or a public vote. We are ready to support a public vote on any deal.”

This is clearer than the line Labour took in its European election manifesto, where it spoke about the need for an “option” of a public vote if it couldn’t get the “necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a general election”. That wishy-washy formulation left open the possibility that Corbyn might back a variation of the Tories’ deal without insisting on a new referendum – or win an election and then force through his own deal without giving the people the final say.

The new wording seems to close off those two options. But it still doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t commit Labour to put “remain” on the ballot paper of a People’s Vote, let alone to campaign to stay in the EU.

There are also still powerful voices in Corbyn’s circle who hate the idea of a new referendum. For example, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, accused some of those campaigning for a People’s Vote of trying to engineer a coup against Corbyn.

This is a diversionary tactic. Most other unions back a new referendum. So do senior shadow Cabinet ministers, including Corbyn’s allies, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. Even Owen Jones, the left-wing Guardian columnist, has now given grudging support to the idea.

But we can’t relax. It’s not just that Corbyn has a habit of taking two baby steps forward and one baby step backwards. Nor is it just that he has not yet committed to fighting to stay in the EU if there is a new referendum. Nor even that we might lose that vote if he fights as lacklustre a campaign as he did in 2016.

Boris Johnson or another extreme Brexiter is likely to be prime minister by the end of July – and that could trigger a general election. If so, the pro-European forces may need to form some sort of alliance to stop us crashing out of the EU with no deal at all.

Corbyn has dragged progressively in a pro-European direction. People power may well be needed again to ensure he doesn’t sabotage efforts to stop Brexit.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “People power made Corbyn shift – it may be needed again”

  • How does Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary argue for going Brexit? I cannot see a good argument benefiting his members. Why does he prioritize some need to unite the country – who believes some vague proposal leads to unification with Farage pulling the other way.
    What happened to the six test?