Cornered Corbyn close to second referendum surrender: Humiliated Labour leader signals he is ‘ready to support a public vote’ after huge Euro election losses
- Mr Corbyn told his MPs that only an election or public vote could break deadlock
- John McDonnell and Diane Abbott have both urged him to commit to a fresh vote
- Labour came a humiliating third in the Euro poll, finishing behind the Lib Dems
Jeremy Corbyn was close to surrender over a second EU referendum last night after Labour’s electoral humiliation triggered a mutiny at the top of his party.
Mr Corbyn signalled he could be ready to commit to a second Brexit vote after his closest colleagues said it was the only way to stop Labour haemorrhaging support.
John McDonnell and Diane Abbott both told him the party must guarantee a new referendum under any circumstances in the wake of its European elections mauling.
Party policy has been to push first for a general election and then back a second referendum only to stop a ‘bad’ or No Deal Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured leaving his London home yesterday) has told his MPs that the party is ‘ready to support a public vote’ on Brexit
But after Labour was pushed into third place nationally by the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats on Sunday night, Mr Corbyn’s colleagues demanded an end to the ambiguity. In a dramatic intervention, Shadow Chancellor Mr McDonnell said: ‘Our only option now is to go back to the people in a referendum.’
Last night, Mr Corbyn made what his aides described as a ‘tonal shift’ to his position.
In a letter to his MPs, the Labour leader said: ‘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.’
The statement moved the party closer to fully committing to a second referendum, but Mr Corbyn will still face intense Labour pressure to back a so-called ‘people’s vote’ without delay, in any circumstances – and to campaign on the Remain side. The major obstacle to this remains his hard-Left allies such as powerful union boss Len McCluskey, who is vehemently against a second Brexit vote for fear of Labour being wiped out in the North.
The party endured an appalling night on Sunday, finishing with just 14 per cent of the vote, losing control of London to the resurgent Lib Dems and seats to Nigel Farage’s newly created Brexit Party in its pro-Leave heartlands.
The Tory party was also humiliated by Mr Farage, finishing fifth in vote share and suffering one of the worst electoral nights in its history.
Leadership candidates warned yesterday that the party must deliver Brexit by October or face oblivion.
This diagram shows the Brexit Party’s dominance everywhere except London and Scotland
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell (pictured) said Labour could unite the party and country by ‘taking the issue back to people in a public vote’
As both main parties were engulfed by the fallout from Sunday night’s political earthquake:
- Mr Farage said he was ready to reshape politics at a general election, and would contest every seat, as his party demanded a seat at the Brexit negotiating table;
- Tory leadership contenders scrambled to promise to deliver Brexit ahead of the October deadline, with Dominic Raab making clear he was ready for No Deal;
- Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the party ‘absolutely needs to deliver Brexit’ and it would be his first priority if elected, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there was an ‘existential risk to our party’ of not getting ‘Brexit done’;
- The Liberal Democrats said they would use their second-place showing in the European elections to ‘stop Brexit’;
- Change UK’s future was thrown into serious doubt after the newly created party failed to gain a single MEP;
- SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon signalled she would push for a second independence referendum after winning in Scotland;
- A row broke out over whether pro-Remain or pro-Leave parties had collectively won more votes in the elections.
Both main parties have hit the panic button after Sunday night’s mauling, but Mr Farage said: ‘In some ways, the Labour Party today are in more trouble than the Conservative Party.’
Until yesterday, Labour demands for a second referendum had been led by pro-Remain frontbenchers such as Sir Keir Starmer, Tom Watson and Emily Thornberry. But yesterday the calls came from two of Mr Corbyn’s closest hard-Left colleagues, Mr McDonnell and Miss Abbott.
Mr McDonnell acknowledged that Mr Corbyn wanted a general election rather than a referendum – but said the reality was that this was unlikely.
He said the country was facing the prospect of a ‘Brexit extremist’ becoming the next prime minister, meaning the UK faced the prospect of No Deal. ‘Of course we want a general election,’ he said. ‘But realistically, after last night, there aren’t many Tory MPs who will vote for an election – it will be like turkeys voting for Christmas.
Trade union boss Len McCluskey (pictured), an opponent of a second vote, demanded that Mr Corbyn stick to his existing position of trying to keep Leave and Remain supporters together
The Brexit Party won the most seats in the election last Thursday, followed by the Lib Dems
‘Our best way of doing that [stopping a No Deal Brexit] is going back to the people in a referendum – I think that’s what our members want.
‘We’re saying quite clearly, if there can be a deal, great, but it needs to go back to the people.
‘If it’s a No Deal, we’ve got to block it and the one way of doing that is going back to the people and arguing the case against it because it could be catastrophic for our economy.’
Mr McDonnell added: ‘It’s not just me saying that, it’s Philip Hammond the Chancellor, it’s others across the parties, and independent economists – and I’m not willing to stand by and let my constituents lose their jobs and have their livelihoods undermined by this.’
Asked if Labour now supported a referendum under any circumstances, he said: ‘I think it is, yeah.’
Miss Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, also weighed in, saying: ‘When we come in third after the Brexit Party, that is a clue something is wrong with our strategy. We need to listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote.’
But other hard-Left allies – including Mr McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union – last night demanded that Mr Corbyn stick to his existing position of trying to keep Leave and Remain supporters together.
Labour’s bigwigs turn on each other after election wipeout
Labour was in meltdown last night as the party tore itself apart over its Brexit policy after its European electoral humiliation.
Jeremy Corbyn’s party endured a night of disaster at the polls – losing hundreds of thousands of votes in the Leave-supporting north and the Remain-backing south.
They lost major northern strongholds such as Leeds, Sheffield and Bolsover – and were pushed into second place to the Brexit Party even in the North East.
In Remain-backing London, they ended up second behind the Liberal Democrats and lost Mr Corbyn’s stronghold of Islington.
The results sparked open warfare at the top of the party, with critics saying Labour did so poorly because it tried to appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate – while pleasing neither.
Labour lost control of its stronghold of Wales, coming third in its worst ever result there. And in Scotland, a resurgent SNP pushed the party into fifth place, sparking warnings that Labour will ‘never recover’ north of the border.
This chart shows the parties’ respective share of the vote, with Labour third and the Tories fifth
Labour ended up third on the night with just 14 per cent of the vote, behind the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent. Only ten Labour MEPs were returned, compared to the Lib Dems’ 16.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said Labour’s election results were in many ways worse than the Conservatives’ because the party was being squeezed from both sides.
He said: ‘For the first time in over 100 years, the Labour Party has not won an election in Wales.
‘In fact, they’ve been mightily trounced by the Brexit Party – we won Wales quite handsomely by digging deep into the Labour vote.
‘Our highest-scoring region – 39 per cent of the vote – was in the North East. And where did the vote come from? It came from the Labour Party. The same happened in Yorkshire.
‘You’ve got these three big areas – South Wales, the Midlands and the North – where the majority of the 5 million Labour voters voted Brexit. In some ways, the Labour Party today are in more trouble than the Conservative Party.’
Labour’s poor results led to a debate over a second referendum and whether the party should promise one.
The Scottish and Welsh Labour parties, and two major unions, demanded that Mr Corbyn backed a referendum in all circumstances. Unison’s Dave Prentis said: ‘If Labour is going to win the next election, it needs to understand that ambiguity and division aren’t appealing. The country needs a radical Labour government, with properly-funded public services at its heart – but it won’t get that unless Labour has a clearer line on Brexit.’
As the results flooded in on Sunday night, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer came out in support of a second vote.
And deputy leader Tom Watson said: ‘Following the disastrous EU election results, Labour urgently needs to rethink its Brexit position and realign with members and voters.’
On the other side of the argument stood figures such as Ian Lavery, the party chairman and another close ally of Mr Corbyn.
He tweeted: ‘The country is now more polarised than ever. Very toxic, very unpleasant!
The Conservatives suffered a humiliating 14.9 per cent loss in their 2014 vote share in last night’s European election results
‘UK Labour will never turn our backs on the 48 per cent or the 52 per cent.
‘We will seek the real solutions that will heal society and bring together the 100 per cent.’
The leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, said Labour’s attempt to ‘unite the nation’ over Brexit was ‘an honourable objective that must not be abandoned’. He added: ‘This is the time to hold our nerve because the true prize is the very real possibility of a looming general election.’
In a dig at Mr Watson, he said: ‘Faced now with the serious prospect of a No Deal Tory prime minister, Labour must stay united and show the country that it is ready to lead.
‘There are some rushing to advance other agendas but are doing so to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. They will be seen for what they are and never forgiven by the members.’
Labour MPs also expressed their anger at the European election campaign. Peter Kyle, MP for Hove, said: ‘Party staff did their level best, they are amazing.
‘But their bosses who devised and led this campaign can never again be allowed near a campaign. Never.
‘Our messaging was appalling, our promotional material lamentable. I feel the need to apologise to staff, activists and voters.’
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