Activists lead push for Labour to back staying in EU before conference

Labour anti-Brexit activists will lead another push to harden the party’s position in favour of remain at Labour’s annual conference this year, with local parties urged to submit motions committing the party to “campaign energetically” for a second referendum.

Grassroots activists, including the pro-remain groups Another Europe is Possible and the youth group For our Future’s Sake (FFS), were behind a major push at last year’s conference in Liverpool which compelled the party to adopt a position that a public vote on Brexit should be an option if a general election could not be forced.

A record number of constituency Labour parties, more than 100 in total, submitted conference motions last year calling for a public vote to become Labour policy, though organisers behind this year’s push said their efforts were unlikely to produce such numbers again, with competition from other popular motions including on Green New Deal.

Another Europe is Possible, the leftwing anti-Brexit group which was a major driver behind the motions to conference last year, said they had received assurances that at least 40 local parties were planning to submit a motion on remaining in the EU.

Michael Chessum, the group’s national organiser said conference was “taking place on the edge of the cliff” and said activists would no longer accept a compromise composite motion like the one brokered last year when members agreed to the wording that “Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”.

“If it really does come down to a vote on conference floor, we can expect the debate to be sharp,” Chessum said.

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“With Labour already committed to a public vote and an option to remain, we have no incentive to accept a fudge – and we can expect overwhelming support from members, as well as significant union backing. Ultimately, Labour needs to be able to answer the question: ‘Do you want to stop Brexit or deliver it?’”

The group has been phone-banking contacts in constituency Labour parties since June to persuade local parties to submit their motion, containing the line – “Labour will campaign energetically for a public vote and to remain. We support revoking article 50 if necessary to prevent no deal.”

Though the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has committed to holding a public vote and campaigning to remain on any Conservative-brokered Brexit deal, as well as holding a referendum should his party get into power before any EU exit, the new motion would go substantially further than any Labour policy.

It would commit the party to proactively campaigning for a referendum, as well as campaigning for remain on any deal, including one clinched by a Labour government, as well as backing revoking article 50 as a measure to stop no deal. The final clause in particular is likely to be robustly opposed by some Labour MPs in leave seats.

Shadow Treasury minister Clive Lewis, who is backing the motion, said the party needed to ensure its Brexit position was crystal clear before conference starts.

“Either we can disappoint our leave voters on Brexit and win them back with a radical domestic programme, or we can fudge the issue, lose our base and watch as the free-market Brexit dream becomes a reality and demolishes the welfare state,” Lewis said.

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“It would be better for everyone if this shift happened in advance of conference – not forced by members but owned by the leadership, as part of a serious strategy to stop Boris Johnson, ditch Brexit and rebuild Britain instead.”

Sources behind the drive to harden Labour policy said the circumstances had fundamentally changed since last year’s conference, including much firmer support from trade unions for a public vote, as well as from the shadow cabinet.

However, CLPs are only permitted to put forward one conference motion and anti-Brexit activists pushing the motions concede many are unlikely to want to submit a motion on the same topic as last year.

One popular alternative motion, endorsed by Momentum, commits Labour to a Green New Deal which some activists are wary about competing with.

Nadia Whittome, a member of Another Europe’s national committee, said they did not want to view it as an arms race. “It’s not a coincidence that Brexit’s biggest cheerleaders are rightwing climate change deniers,” she said.

“We welcome the fact that this year’s conference will see a renewed wave of motions on all kinds of issues, especially on the environment. In fact our motion will also include a call for a Europe-wide Green New Deal because saving the planet is one of the main reasons why we need to stop Brexit, Johnson and Trump.”

FFS, which is linked to the main People’s Vote campaign, has also been canvassing CLPs to submit their version of an anti-Brexit motion, which commits Labour unequivocally to a public vote.

It seeks pledges that “Labour will now throw the full weight of our movement behind efforts to secure a confirmatory vote … If a general election is held, the Labour manifesto must include a commitment to a confirmatory referendum with remain on the ballot.”

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A People’s Vote rally is planned for weekend of Labour conference in Brighton, as well as a youth and student rally on the Monday. FFS will also launch a Together Against Brexit app for use by Labour delegates who want to organise against Brexit.


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