Calls grow for an emergency Labour conference on Brexit

Sienna Rodgers

Soft-left activist group Open Labour has today joined calls for the Labour Party to hold an emergency conference on Brexit, adding to the voice of TSSA chief Manuel Cortes who made the demand last month.

The grassroots organisation hopes such a move would clarify and update Labour’s Brexit policy ahead of an ever more likely snap general election. It expects that conference would opt to support continued membership of the EU while advocating reform.

Leeds North West MP and Open Labour committee member Alex Sobel said: “Our internal democracy is the most vital part of our party decision-making process. When facts change, it’s important to go back to our sovereign policy-making body, Labour Party conference, to make the decisions.

“With 29th March 2019 rapidly approaching, it’s important that our members have the final say in what our position should be before a general election. We all understand that our leadership is managing a very difficult balancing act well.

“I hope that they will see our members as vital in getting our party to stand united at this time of crisis and get the best resolution for our party, the communities we represent and everyone in this country, whether they voted leave or remain.’

The idea of a special conference, which has quickly gained traction amongst pro-EU activists in the party over the last few weeks, is inspired by the events of 1975. Under Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, the party held a one-day conference to resolve its deep divisions over Brexit and debate Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community.

Led by cabinet ministers Tony Benn and Michael Foot, the anti-Common Market faction won the vote by almost 2-1, as only seven of the 46 trade unions at the conference supported EC membership. Although Wilson was pro-EC, the conference result meant Labour as a whole remained neutral and collective responsibility was suspended.

Writing for LabourList last week, Corbynite trade union general secretary Cortes argued that Labour should push for a fresh referendum and “campaign for Jeremy’s Remain and reform vision”. He said, in a piece for Huffington Post in November, that this would require the party to convene a special conference as soon as May’s deal was defeated.

Commenting on Open Labour’s announcement, co-chair Emma Burnell said: “The government is in chaos and is headed towards a hard, devastating Brexit. Now is the time for the Labour leadership, MPs, trade unions and Labour Party members to step up and show the leadership this country needs and offer the country a way out of the appalling mess the Tories have left us in.”

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