UK opposition Labour Party moves to back second Brexit vote

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will push for second Brexit vote, party statement says.

    Labour will back another second referendum on Britain's membership of the EU if parliament rejects the party's alternative Brexit proposal, a party statement said [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]
    Labour will back another second referendum on Britain's membership of the EU if parliament rejects the party's alternative Brexit proposal, a party statement said [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

    Britain's main opposition Labour Party has said it will back a second referendum on Brexit if parliament rejects its alternative plan for leaving the European Union.

    Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will on Monday evening tell his MPs the party is "committed to … putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory [Conservative] Brexit being forced on the country," a statement on Labour's website said.

    Corbyn has been under pressure for some time from elements of his own party to support a second referendum. Last week, eight legislators quit Labour, in part owing to frustration over his handling of Brexit.

    Labour's statement on Monday said the party would put an amended plan for Brexit to the British parliament this week and also support a separate cross-party motion which seeks to rule out the possibility of the United Kingdom exiting the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.

    The alternative Brexit strategy would include a "comprehensive customs union with a UK say", "close alignment" with the EU's single market, protection for Britain's role in the bloc's various agencies and a wide-reaching "security agreement", the party's statement added.

    Labour's Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer said in a tweet the party would back a second referendum on membership of the EU should MPs dismiss Labour's Brexit plan during a series of votes expected to take place in the British parliament on Wednesday.

    The move is likely to cheer many of Labour's members who have backed calls for a so-called "people's vote" but could also threaten the party's popularity in pro-Brexit districts represented by Labour MPs, particularly in northern England.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May's ruling Conservative Party, meanwhile, accused Corbyn of wanting to "betray the will of the British people and ignore the biggest democratic vote in our nation's history".

    "Labour have ripped up their promise to respect the referendum result and are now pursuing a divisive second referendum that would take us back to square one," the Conservative Party said in a post on its official Facebook page.

    Both of the country's major parties fractured last week, with parliamentarians quitting May's ruling Conservative Party and the main opposition Labour Party suggesting both were failed remnants of a political system in meltdown.

    Nearly 52 percent of Britons - more than 17 million people - voted to leave the EU during the UK's June 2016 referendum on membership of the bloc.

    Looming Brexit deadline

    Labour's announcement came after May postponed on Sunday an expected "meaningful vote" on her widely maligned Brexit plan, which had been expected to be held this week.

    May said MPs would have their say on the divorce deal sometime before March 13 instead.

    "It is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on the 29th of March and that is what we are working to do," she said.

    With just 32 days until Britain is due to leave the 28-member EU, May is making last-ditch efforts to win concessions from the bloc on the divorce package, brokered after months of arduous negotiations between London and Brussels.

    The EU has ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, though both sides are looking at a possible legal addendum to reassure MPs who worry the controversial Irish border backstop clause could keep Britain trapped in the EU's orbit for years to come.

    The mechanism would guarantee no re-establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event that post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU prove unsuccessful.

    European Council President Donald Tusk said on Monday the EU was open to Britain postponing its exit from the bloc beyond March 29, adding he had discussed the "legal and procedural context of a potential extension" when he met Sunday with May on the sidelines of an EU-Arab summit in Egypt.

    "I believe in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution but Prime Minister May still believes she's able to avoid this scenario," Tusk told a closing summit press conference.

    May has repeatedly ruled out delaying Brexit, arguing it would not solve the ongoing impasse shrouding British politics.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies