Labour frontbencher Barry Gardiner has sparked a furious backlash after warning the party would have difficultly backing a plan for a “confirmatory” referendum on any Brexit deal as it was “not a Remain party”.
The shadow international trade secretary said that it would imply Labour did not accept the result of the 2016 EU referendum if it supported the motion in a series of “indicative votes” by MPs in the Commons on Wednesday.
But his comments sparked an angry response from some Labour MPs who said they flew in the face of party policy, while deputy leader Tom Watson said he was in favour of the plan.
The motion, tabled in the name of former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, would require a public vote before any deal with the EU was ratified.
However, Mr Gardiner said the wording meant that voters could be faced with a choice between accepting Theresa May’s deal – which Labour opposes – or the UK staying in the EU.
“It would be saying we could accept what we have always said is a very bad deal. Therefore it looks as if the attempt to have a public vote on it is simply a way of trying to Remain because nobody likes this deal,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Therefore, to put that up as the only alternative in a public vote and say ‘we will let it go through’ looks as though you believe that at the end of it Remain would be the result.
“It is not where our policy has been. Our policy is clearly that we would support a public vote to stop no-deal or to stop a bad deal, but not that we would allow a bad deal as long as the public had the opportunity to reject Brexit altogether.
“That implies that you are a Remain party. The Labour Party is not a Remain party now. We have accepted the result of the referendum.”
Labour backbencher Wes Streeting said Mr Gardiner’s comments were the “complete opposite” of what MPs had been told would be happening in the vote.
“The opposite of what Labour stands for. Urgent leadership needed. We live in hope…” he tweeted.
Fellow MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “It is NOT Labour policy only to vote for peoples vote only in circumstances of no deal. NOT AT ALL.”
Mr Watson insisted that the whipping arrangements for the vote had not been agreed, adding that he supported the motion.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell also made clear the whipping arrangements had not yet been decided, but said Mr Gardiner’s remarks were “exactly in line” with party policy.
“We had to accept in our manifesto respect for the referendum result. We campaigned for Remain, we lost, we have to accept that,” he said.
“What he is saying is exactly in line with party policy. We have got to prevent a new deal, prevent a bad deal, advocate for our own policy, try to get a general election if we can, but failing that, if there is a logjam, yes, we will if necessary go back to the people.”
On Tuesday, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry predicted the motion would be “popular” while the architect of the plan, backbencher Peter Kyle, said he believed Jeremy Corbyn would support it, despite his previous reluctance to back a second referendum.
“He will order MPs to vote for this. We had a really constructive process of engaging with him. At no point was he instinctively against this,” Mr Kyle told the Today programme.