The U.K.’s main opposition party is backing a plan that could open the door to a second European Union referendum, bringing the possibility of stopping Brexit a step closer.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed a series of non-binding votes in Parliament on options for how the U.K. can avoid an economically damaging no-deal Brexit. While the party’s first option remained a customs union deal, another option listed is a new national referendum.
It is the first time the Labour leader has put his name to a proposal in Parliament preparing a path for a new public vote. As leader of the official opposition, Corbyn’s backing is highly significant and the amendment is likely to be put to a vote in the House of Commons on Jan. 29.
It is, though, unlikely to pass. Few if any Tories will support a motion bearing his name, and the motion’s mention of a customs union will mean Brexit opponents in other parties will be reluctant to back it.
But the key question is whether Corbyn, who has so far been equivocal about his support for a second referendum, will now allow or even instruct Labour members of Parliament to back other amendments calling for a referendum.
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“Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a No Deal,” Corbyn said in an emailed statement. “It’s time for Labour’s alternative plan to take center stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”
About 10 Conservative members of Parliament are already campaigning for another plebiscite, though that’s probably not enough to outweigh the number of Labour MPs who would vote against one even if instructed to do otherwise.
Any referendum would also take months to organize, meaning that Britain’s departure from the EU would have to be delayed.
More than two years since the first vote on Brexit, the U.K. has yet to negotiate an exit accord that can win the backing of Parliament. May’s deal was rejected by lawmakers last week by a historic margin and she’s now trying to revise the agreement with the EU to win over opponents at home.
The formula of “keeping all options on the table” sticks to the compromise agreed by the Labour Party last year that has enabled Corbyn, a lifelong Euroskeptic, to hold off demands from rank-and-file members and lawmakers to support a second referendum.
“This is a huge step forward and shows the Labour leadership’s commitment to stop a disastrous no-deal exit,” said Mike Buckley, director of Labour for a People’s Vote. “We still need clarity on Labour’s position in a public vote and whether, as members want, we would campaign robustly for our continued membership of the EU.”