Elections are about the future: why Labour had to rule out a second EU referendum

21st April, 2017 9:30 am

It was the one thing everyone was talking about this morning (apart from the election, Corbyn’s war on the establishment, Yvette Cooper and the resignation of Douglas Carswell).

Brexit. In particular, Labour’s decision end months of uncertainty and rule out a second referendum.

This speculation came to a head yesterday after Corbyn kicked off his election campaign with a pledge to dismantle Britain’s elites when he appeared at Church House in Westminster.

He and shadow chancellor John McDonnell had responded to a grilling from the massed ranks of reporters with equivocal answers but, by early afternoon, the leader’s office had published a statement in which they definitely ruled out a re-run.

“A second referendum is not our policy and it won’t be in our manifesto,” it read.

While it will disappoint many in our party, Labour had no choice but to rule out another vote. Senior party figures such as Corbyn and Keir Starmer may have been considering offering the public the chance to vote again on Britain’s departure from the EU, according to a report in The Times this week, but whatever discussions took place, they are now over.

Yes, the historical referendum on June 23 was marred by disgraceful falsehoods – particularly that pledge of £350m a week for the NHS – by conniving Tory and UKIP politicians. And the outcome was only a narrow 52/48 margin.

Some suspect the result would be different if it were held again this summer – but now we know it won’t be.

The people have decided. Many of us on the left – whether ardent europhiles or reluctant remainers – don’t like it but we have to respect the result. The people have spoken.

Labour could not go into a general election behind in the polls and pledging to ignore the outcome of the last national vote.

Our party’s focus must be on the best Brexit deal for Britain. If the Tories get back into government, then Labour must hold them to account on their failures – the lack of trade deals, the chaos over an agreement with the other EU states and the threat to workers’ rights and our economy.

If Labour is in office then clearly a lot more would be up for grabs – but now we know that will not include a re-run of the “once in a lifetime” vote.

Yesterday was a big moment for Labour. Of course, Corbyn continued his anti-establishment rhetoric and put banks, chief executives and the “cosy cartel” on notice. But with one simple sentence from the leader’s office the party crystallised its stance line and dashed the hopes of many activists who wanted a re-run. It may have felt uncomfortable, but it was necessary.

With Labour trailing by double-digit figures in the polls, and by 21 points according to two weekend surveys, it must look to the future. That future outside the EU looks foggy and unknown but oppositions are rarely elected by pledging to re-run the battles of the past.

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