The Labour Party is not “a Remain party”, Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman told journalists today following the final session of Prime Minister’s Question to feature Theresa May.
At the start of the month, Labour shifted its Brexit position after affiliated trade unions agreed on a stance.
The party now backs a public vote on any Brexit deal, or no deal, and has committed to campaigning for Remain against either no deal or a Tory-negotiated one “that does not protect the economy and jobs”.
Asked this afternoon whether Labour had therefore become a “Remain party”, Corbyn’s spokesman replied: “No… we are not in that zone”.
“We’ve never said that,” he added. “We’ve said we will campaign for Remain against a damaging Tory deal or against no deal, but there are other circumstances that could occur.”
The statement implies that Labour could campaign for Brexit and against Remain if it were to negotiate its own deal, or could allow its MPs including frontbenchers to campaign for whichever side they prefer – as happened under Harold Wilson in 1975.
However, it goes against what has been hinted at by shadow cabinet members such as Emily Thornberry, who has said: “No matter what deal is on the table, and which party has negotiated it, our position must be to remain in the EU and oppose any form of Brexit.”
Although Labour has come to an anti-Brexit position as an opposition party, its policy in a general election has not yet been decided.
According to the scenario outlined by trade unions, Labour would promise in its manifesto to negotiate a different Brexit deal – along the lines of its “jobs-first” alternative plan – that would then be “put back to the people” in another referendum.
The ballot paper options should be Labour’s deal and Remain, the unions have argued, and Labour’s campaign position “should depend on the deal negotiated”.
The spokesman’s comments today reflect the interaction reported on by LabourList at a recent meeting of the Love Socialism Rebuild Britain Transform Europe group of MPs.
Last week, when backbench MP Alex Sobel asserted that Labour was “officially a Remain party”, LabourList heard Diane Abbott quietly tell Keir Starmer: “I’m not sure I’d agree with that.”