Richard Corbett's blog

Where are we now on Brexit, a new referendum, and the European elections?

Brexit is turning out to be very different from what was promised by the Leave campaign three years ago, so it is justified to ask people to confirm whether they wish to proceed or not.

Not holding a referendum on the actual Brexit deal is tantamount to saying to the public “You had your say three years ago, so now you must shut up and accept whatever politicians come up with”.

Public opinion has not done what many people expected, namely to rally behind the result of the 2016 referendum (“we’ve debated it, we’ve voted, let’s get on with it”. Many expected 60% or more to be backing Brexit), but it’s shifted the other way – polls show a majority against Brexit. It would not be right to proceed with Brexit on the ground that this is the will of the people, without checking whether that’s still the case.

The Labour Party agreed unanimously at party conference that we should have the option of a public vote to settle this issue. Faced with a damaging job-destroying, rights-threatening, Tory Brexit, the overwhelming majority of party members want a public vote on any Brexit deal the government signs. Indeed, our frontbench in the Commons has voted for that.

In the European elections, if Labour were less than wholehearted in backing a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal that the Government signs, then it would risk haemorrhaging votes to the smaller anti-Brexit parties (Greens, LibDems, ChangeUK, SNP, Plaid Cymru). Not that this would necessarily be enough for them to gain seats (in most regions, they’d not quite reach the threshold for a seat, so these would be wasted votes in terms of winning seats), but it could siphon enough votes off Labour to cause it to fall behind Farage’s Brexit party, giving them seats they would otherwise not have won.