Members of Britain’s Labour Party voted in favour of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit stance on Monday, backing his bid to hold an election and then decide whether to campaign to remain in or leave the European Union in a new referendum.
In a show of hands, Labour voted in favours of Corbyn’s stance.
The vote at its annual conference in the English seaside resort of Brighton is the latest attempt by the party to bridge its divides over Brexit, a row that has overshadowed party officials’ attempt to present Labour as a government in waiting.
Members voted down a plan that would have required the party to “campaign energetically” for a second referendum on Brexit and to argue that Britain should decide to remain part of the EU, not leave.
There was some confusion about the vote results and some calls for a recount.
The series of three votes leaves the party’s position somewhat ambiguous, reflecting the fact that the membership in general prefers to stay in the EU, while Corbyn and some in his inner circle prefer not to take a clear stance.
If unchanged, it means that the party would not take an active “remain” or “leave” position if there is another referendum on the question of EU membership, and would seek to remain neutral in a national election.
Labour Party’s unclear position
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting that Britain will leave the EU on an Oct. 31 deadline, Labour, like the ruling Conservatives, has struggled to agree on a Brexit strategy, increasing the uncertainty over Britain’s biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years.
Johnson advised Queen Elizabeth to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament on Aug. 28, a move his opponents said was made to stymie challenges to his promise to take Britain out of the EU.
Johnson said the aim of the suspension, in effect until Oct. 14, was to allow his Conservative government bring in a new legislative agenda and that few working days would be lost.
The Supreme Court said its 11 justices would hand down their judgment at 10:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
Leftist Corbyn, an instinctive critic of the EU, has been under renewed pressure from party members and even some of his top team to unequivocally back remaining in the EU and their rebellion forced a vote between two options on Monday.
He and the party’s divided National Executive Committee do not want Labour to spell out a “remain” or “leave” stance ahead of a general election, even though the divisive issue is by far the most prominent policy matter on the political horizon.
Their complicated scenario calls for the party to win an election, take power, negotiate a new deal with the EU, schedule a referendum on whether to endorse the new deal or remain in the EU, then hold a special party conference to determine the party’s position on the matter.
Corbyn’s finance policy chief, John McDonnell, earlier backed the Labour leader’s approach of trying to win an election, to renegotiate a Brexit deal and then to hold a second referendum when lawmakers can campaign for whichever side they want.
“We are working together as a party to make sure that people have a choice and that people will decide,” McDonnell told Sky News. “That means having another referendum in which the people will be able to decide between a sensible option in terms of ‘leave’ and making sure they also have the option of ‘remain’.”
But Corbyn has been criticized over what some describe as a vague stance on Brexit, with some in his party saying the lack of clarity has driven away Labour supporters, lowering the likelihood of an election victory.
Asked about the anger over Corbyn’s stance and the suggestion that pro-EU members will force the party to a more explicit position, he told the BBC: “Do not mistake democracy for division. It isn’t, what we are seeing is an honest debate.”
Corbyn will later face a showdown on another vote, when members will say whether they also back a separate motion for the party to campaign to remain in the EU in that general election.
Parties remain deeply divided
More than three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, both the Tories and Labour are still deeply divided, leaving parliament deadlocked and heightening uncertainty over when, how and even whether Brexit will happen.
More than half of voters who backed Britain’s opposition Labour Party at a 2017 election think it is now time for Corbyn to stand down, a new opinion poll showed on Monday.
Brexit rows have hurt Corbyn’s leadership, and on Monday, even some of his closest allies said his plan to force through his idea was “a travesty.”
Ally Jon Lansman, whose leftist Momentum movement was created to support Corbyn, urged Labour members “to vote with their conscience,” and the country’s biggest union, Unison, was planning to back the “remain” stance because it was worried ambiguity could hurt the party’s election chances.
Corbyn has struck a neutral stance, saying on Sunday it was more important to hold the party together by embracing its “remainers” and those who want to leave the bloc.
Asked whether Labour would campaign to remain in the EU or to leave with a deal, Corbyn said he would hold a special conference to determine his stance after an election, pledging to be guided by his party.
“I am leading the party, I am proud to lead the party, I am proud of the democracy of the party and of course I will go along with whatever decision the party comes to,” Corbyn said.