Labour’s members have overwhelmingly spoken – we are closer to getting a Final Say on Brexit than ever
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, won a standing ovation for saying a referendum could include the option of remaining in the EU
The Labour Party conference in Liverpool has opened the door to a Final Say referendum on Brexit, by agreeing by a huge majority that a “public vote” would be one option for Labour if parliament rejects Theresa May’s deal or if the UK is heading for a no-deal exit.
This is a landmark moment for The Independent’s Final Say campaign, adding some crucial political backing to the 825,000 people who have signed our petition since we launched it in July.
Labour has not yet decided to walk through the door it has opened. Its conference motion, hammered out in five hours of tense negotiations, was designed to allow the party to contrast its unity with the deep divisions likely to be on display at next week’s Conservative conference. But Labour was unable to mask its own splits.
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, won a standing ovation for saying a referendum could include the option of remaining in the EU. But the Unite union’s Steve Turner immediately hit back, insisting that any referendum would be merely on the terms of Brexit, and warned Labour not to reopen the wounds of the 2016 vote.
His caution is shared by Jeremy Corbyn. But Sir Keir was right to say that Remain could be on the ballot paper. Indeed, limiting a referendum to the Brexit terms was rejected by the delegates who patched together the motion approved by the conference. In any case, it would be very odd to offer the public a choice between Ms May’s deal and a no-deal exit when it is clear that some 2016 Leave voters have since changed their minds.
We welcome Labour’s shift towards a referendum, and hope that Mr Corbyn completes his journey. Naturally, he hopes that a parliamentary impasse on Brexit would trigger a general election. But the Commons would need to approve an election and no Tory MPs support one. In contrast, some Tories already back a Final Say referendum, and more would do so to avoid crashing out without a deal next March. So a referendum is a more likely prospect than an election.
Opponents of a referendum claim the government would not find parliamentary time for the legislation needed. Yet it could surely not defy the wishes of the Commons if it votes for one. Similarly, the 27 EU countries would extend the Article 50 process beyond next March – not for the sake of it, but for a specific purpose such as a referendum.
While a Final Say vote is possible, our campaign is far from won. But after a groundswell of support from Labour members that Mr Corbyn could not ignore, it has taken a big step forward.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.
Sign our petition here