Jeremy Corbyn was hit by a growing revolt today as four union bosses ratcheted up pressure on the Labour leader to clearly back giving the public another say on Brexit.
They lined up with senior MPs to urge Mr Corbyn to come off the fence and throw his weight firmly behind a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal.
Ahead of a crunch meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee, GMB general secretary Tim Roache told The Standard: “It must be the public who have the final say on Brexit. A grubby political stitch-up to meet the needs of internal Tory party politics, rather than the best interests of our country, won’t put this question to bed for a minute, let alone a generation.” Unison general secretary Dave Prentis stressed: “The Prime Minister’s deal and a no-deal Brexit would be terrible for the UK, public services and working people.
“A package that protects peace in Northern Ireland, keeps the UK in a customs union with a close relationship to the single market, and protects future employment rights isn’t on the table. That’s why any final proposal must be put back to the country for voters to decide.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, said: “Frankly it’s time for our party to act on the overwhelming wishes of its members and votes by pledging to support a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal.”
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of shopworkers’ union Usdaw, added: “If our politicians are confident that their deal will benefit working people, our economy and communities across the country, then they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”
Former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, who sits on the NEC which will tomorrow discuss Labour’s stance for the European elections, warned it would be “indefensible” for party chiefs to block a so-called People’s Vote because of the risk it may deliver a verdict that they opposed.
“It’s time for Labour to take a clear position,” she told The Standard.
Amid signs of a growing shift against Brexit in the country, she also accused some colleagues of no longer being willing to listen to other people’s opinions. “They are just like Theresa May in that respect,” she added.
The veteran MP, who has led a Commons push for a confirmatory vote, said it was “completely understandable” that people were concerned that a second vote on Brexit could be divisive. But she added: “If we don’t, we will all live to regret it. To be prepared to not ask them because we don’t want to hear an answer that might change things, I think is indefensible.”
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has defied Mr Corbyn in seeking to drum up support for a confirmatory vote, which is backed by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer. He believes that any Brexit deal agreed in this Parliament would need “further democratic approval”.
Even the Labour leader’s allies have spoken out in favour of another public vote. Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott this morning told The Standard: “The principle of a People’s Vote is Labour Party policy.
“Conference policy is very clear that the People’s Vote is on the table but the thing we are going to be debating at the NEC is whether it’s a confirmatory ballot in all cases or whether it’s a People’s Vote to stop no deal, or a bad Tory deal.”
However, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock urged the NEC not to back a referendum, which he said could backfire badly. “I think it would be divisive, not decisive,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “You could well end up with a narrow victory for Remain. I think this would lead very rapidly to campaigning for ‘best out of three’.”
Mr Corbyn’s aides have been accused of leading opposition to a second referendum and came under fire recently after a planned leaflet for the European Parliament elections at the end of May did not include any mention of another public vote.