Watson lobbies for ‘pure’ public vote pledge in European manifesto

Sienna Rodgers
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Does Labour back another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU only to avoid a bad Tory deal or no deal? Or does it support a public vote on any Brexit deal, including one that meets its own tests? This isn’t a new debate, but it is hotting up ahead of the European parliament elections. These questions are set to feature in tonight’s regular parliamentary party meeting and dominate the emergency meeting of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) tomorrow, when the ruling body will decide what goes in our European manifesto.

Tom Watson, who revealed his endorsement of the “on any deal” commitment in March, is leading the charge for the Pure PV campaign. No ifs, no buts, just a simple ‘confirmatory vote’ pledge. The deputy leader has even tweeted to encourage members to lobby their local party reps on the NEC, and the replies are worth a look. Unite/CLPD-inclined NEC member Claudia Webbe has told Watson off for being “divisive” and this morning he has hit back. Meanwhile, Momentum chair Jon Lansman (personally hesitant about a referendum but supportive of his colleague Laura Parker who is a pro-PV MEP candidate) is trying to keep the peace.

When it comes to lobbying, Labour activists need no encouragement (as my inbox shows). So far, Labour for a Socialist Europe has collected over 700 signatures from Labour activists, officials and parliamentarians, and Remain Labour has organised for 22 MEP candidates to sign a PV pledge. Emergency motions have been passed at CLPs. But the leadership wants to stick to imposing conditions, specifying the circumstances in which the party would back a referendum. And while there will be strong voices on the NEC – Watson himself, Richard Corbett, Margaret Beckett – those backing Corbyn’s Brexit position should have a majority. Turnout will be decisive.

Surprise surprise, then, Labour is divided over Brexit. Nobody could be blamed for getting bored of this debate, which has seen the same arguments rehashed again and again. Perhaps we should be thanking Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion: the last few weeks of activism focussed on raising awareness of green issues has offered an alternative conversation topic.

As Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman told LabourList readers over the weekend, Labour will table a motion this week calling on the government to declare a national climate emergency. If approved by MPs on Wednesday, it would make our parliament the first in the world to make such a move. “For young people, the climate emergency is the cause of their generation. And we in older generations must face up to this seriously,” Corbyn said. The policy details of the future may be more divisive (remember Heathrow), but for now this is an important unity issue for Labour.

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