Opposition Labour Party will vote this week to keep a second Brexit referendum on the table if Theresa May fails to pass her plan to quit the European Union through parliament, heaping pressure on a struggling prime minister.
After May’s plans for Brexit – the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades – were rebuffed by the EU on Thursday, the outcome of talks to leave are more uncertain than ever and have boosted those who want to stop the divorce.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been reluctant to support behind growing demands for a second referendum, or People’s Vote, but the motion agreed by members after more than five hours of debate may satisfy both sides of the party’s divide.
Labour agreed late on Sunday night the party will vote on Tuesday on a motion committing the party to support “all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote” if no election is triggered by May’s Brexit plans.
Earlier, Corbyn had spurred hopes among those campaigning for a second referendum when he said he would back such a vote if his party voted to pursue the move.
But for his backers, the motion does little to change his position that Labour prefers a general election to a second vote, which will ask a different question from the one posed at the 2016 referendum which showed a narrow margin for leave.
Corbyn’s second in command, finance spokesman John McDonnell repeated that Labour was getting ready for an election.
“We believe general election is the best solution because people can then have a wide-ranging debate and also then choose the team that would then do the negotiations,” McDonnell said.
He said a second referendum would be on the deal itself rather than a repeat of the question posed in 2016, whether to remain in the EU or to leave.
Britain is to exit the EU in March next year after months of talks that have again exposed the deep divides in both the country’s main parties – the Conservatives are all but at war with each other and Labour is also at odds over how to leave.
The country’s path out of the bloc is even more unclear after weeks of positive noises about the prospects of clinching a divorce deal and one on a future trading relationship, the mood between Britain and the EU turned sour on Thursday.
That has increased the possibility of Britain leaving without a deal, which could hurt the economy and sever trade flows, and spurred those who want another referendum to try to overturn the 2016 vote.
On Sunday, the campaign for a People’s Vote said its supporters were pleased with “signs that the Labour leadership was listening to its membership”.
But May has ruled out a second referendum and has said she will hold her nerve in talks with the EU over her Chequers plan, named after her country residence where an agreement with her top ministers was hashed out in July.
Many in both parties question out loud whether there is time to stage another referendum.
May’s Conservative Party criticised Corbyn for his move.
“Jeremy Corbyn this morning proved he is not fit to govern our country. He confirmed Labour would take us back to square one on Brexit,” Brandon Lewis, the party’s chairman, said on Sunday.