A group of Labour MP’s are set to urge Corbyn and other party members not to ‘torpedo’ the possibility of a Brexit deal with May by insisting on a second referendum.
Early next week, MPs, including Stephen Kinnock and Gloria De Piero, are set to send a letter expressing their ‘deep-seated reservations about a second referendum’, which would be ‘divisive but … not decisive’.
They are also concerned that insisting on a second referendum would cause talks with the government to collapse, as Tory MPs would never back the idea.
Labour has kept a second referendum on the table as one means of stopping a ‘damaging Tory Brexit’, but opinions at the top of the party are divided as to whether to insist on one if Corbyn can secure a deal with the Tories.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has been arguing for a confirmatory second referendum on any Brexit deal, but others are concerned that this would lessen the number of leave voters supporting Labour, which the letter claims has fallen to 13%.
Roughly 30 to 40 Labour MPs are thought to be against a second referendum, whereas over 80 are actively campaigning in favour of one.
The letter shared via NewStatesman, which is spreading via WhatsApp groups used by Labour MPs, begins ‘Dear Jeremy, Rebecca, John and Keir’. It goes on to say that: ‘Insistence on inserting a second referendum into the process would almost certainly cause the talks to collapse. We must not allow what some colleagues see as their ideal outcome (ie, a second referendum) to block the emergence of a pragmatic, sensible, bridge-building Brexit deal that a clear majority of Labour MPs would support.’
It further states: ‘It is unrealistic, for a whole range of reasons that don’t need to be rehearsed here, to expect the prime minister to whip Conservative MPs to back a deal that includes a second referendum. It is simply not going to happen.’
It adds: ‘We are therefore concerned that by insisting on a second referendum as a pre-condition for the deal we could in fact end up torpedoing the talks altogether. It is vital that the public is left in no doubt about the fact that Labour is participating in the negotiations in good faith, and we believe that it would be a mistake if we were to start introducing our own red lines at the very moment that the prime minister appears to be softening hers.’
A previous letter penned by 25 Labour MPs was sent in early April, calling on Corbyn to agree a deal with May and not request a second referendum, but they are hoping to get more signatures for this one.
Progression of talks between Labour and the government have been slow this week, as the Tories are refusing to move any of their red lines that are important to Labour, such as a customs union and the prevention of a future Tory leader unpicking parts of any deal.
On Tuesday, Corbyn warned that talks between them and the government were faltering due to the Tory’s wish for post-withdrawal deregulation, including as part of a US trade deal. He claimed that Labour had been putting forward a strong case for a customs union over the past week but feared that the two sides would not find common ground.
He stated: ‘There has to be access to European markets and above all there has to be a dynamic relationship to protect the conditions and rights that we’ve got for environment and consumer workplace rights. We’ve put those cases very robustly to the government and there’s no agreement as yet.’
Talks are expected to resume next week after numerous working groups on issues such as security and environmental standards – without in-depth discussion on the customs union.