Parliament returns this morning with the results of last week’s local elections still being debated on all sides, but one thing is clear – Theresa May’s claim that the results were a mandate to press ahead with her Brexit deal is clearly nonsense.
Talks are continuing between Labour and the Tories today, in which we are pushing for significant changes to the deal and for a further public vote. At the same time we are preparing for crucial elections to the European Parliament in just two weeks, on Thursday 23 May. I’ll be campaigning hard in those elections to ensure that we elect as many Labour MEPs as possible and, in doing so, defeat Nigel Farage and the far right who are seeking to exploit the Brexit crisis.
Labour’s election manifesto will be launched later this week and, despite some of last week’s press coverage, a commitment to a further public vote will be a key part of our pledges. Our approach is determined by our conference last September, which overwhelmingly agreed to a policy which said:
“Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power. If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”
We have whipped our MPs twice to support a public vote and, speaking for Labour as a Shadow Brexit Minister, I said in the Commons last month:
“We have also been clear in our support for a confirmatory public vote on any deal that comes about at this very late stage.”
One clear message from the local elections was frustration on all sides with the current impasse. It is adding to uncertainty and paralysing our politics, undermining our economy and deflecting attention from pressing concerns from housing to the NHS. That’s why we are engaged in discussions with the Government, but they are showing little sign of real compromise – and, as the Tories are meanwhile preparing to replace Theresa May with a leader committed to a harder and more damaging Brexit.
This Government is broken and, in normal circumstances, we would have had a General Election. We have pressed for one, but have been blocked by the Conservative/DUP majority. So, whatever the talks produce, as I made clear when speaking for Labour’s front bench back in March, (see here) we will back “a further public vote between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU”. Whatever the outcome of such a vote, it looks increasingly like the only way to break the impasse.