Tom Goodenough

Will Jeremy Corbyn bow to pressure on a second Brexit referendum?

Will Jeremy Corbyn bow to pressure on a second Brexit referendum?
Text settings

Has Labour finally got the message on Brexit? Since the referendum, the party has attempted to be all things to all people: keeping Brexiteers happy while doing its best not to alienate remainers. But in the wake of the party’s disastrous performance in the European elections overnight, it seems that the fence-sitting might now finally be over.

Labour came third, with its share of the vote falling by 11 per cent to just 14 per cent – a message from voters that has this morning led John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, to apparently come out in favour of a second referendum:

Can’t hide from hit we took last night.Bringing people together when there’s such a divide was never going to be easy. Now we face prospect of Brexiteer extremist as Tory leader & threat of no deal, we must unite our party & country by taking issue back to people in a public vote

— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) May 27, 2019

This looks like the clearest indication yet that Labour will back another vote on Brexit. Deputy leader Tom Watson has also called for an rethink about where the party stands, saying that ‘We need a change of direction urgently’. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the message from voters is that Labour must now ‘campaign to remain in the EU’. And for shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, it is time ‘to listen to our members and take a clearer line on a public vote.’

Of course, while there is an apparent movement in Labour’s position this morning, this doesn’t necessarily mean that anything will actually change.

At last year’s party conference, Labour delegates overwhelmingly backed a Brexit motion saying that holding a second referendum should be an option. But it mattered little because Jeremy Corbyn – and those close to the Labour leader – hadn’t changed their minds about shifting the party’s Brexit stance.

There is still no indication this morning that Corbyn will change his mind. And given that Corbyn has built a political career out of sticking to his guns on issues even when it makes him unpopular, it is far from a given that Labour will back a second referendum. But McDonnell’s message that the party needs to take the ‘issue back to people in a public vote’ is the most obvious sign yet that Labour’s uneasy Brexit stance is about to break.


John McDonnell has just caveated his second referendum call with the following:

So people are absolutely clear what I am saying.Of course I want a general election. But I realise how difficult this is to secure.I will do anything I can to block no deal Brexit. So yes if,as likely GE not possible, then I support going back to the people in another referendum

— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) May 27, 2019

It seems that the party is determined to stick to the fence-sitting that delivered such a bad result in the election overnight. But while nothing appears to have changed in Labour’s stance on Brexit yet, the indication is that the fence-sitting looks to be increasingly unsustainable – particularly if the party heads into another election without making its mind up about what it wants.