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Amid farcical scenes, Labour will campaign for another Brexit referendum but won't pick a side

The party chose not to push for Remain as their general election position.

Jeremy Corbyn at his party's conference in Brighton.
Jeremy Corbyn at his party's conference in Brighton.
Image: PA Images

THE UK’S LABOUR Party conference descended into farce as it narrowly rejected a grass-roots attempt to force leader Jeremy Corbyn to campaign to remain in the European Union and reverse the outcome of the 2016 Brexit vote.

The 119-year-old party’s annual congress turned into a showdown between its irreconcilably splintered pro- and anti-Brexit wings.

Opinion polls show Corbyn’s efforts to unite the two by either delaying a decision on departure or putting it in hands of voters in a likely early election have led to a dramatic drop in support.

But a motion to force the party to “campaign energetically for a public vote and to stay in the EU in that referendum” was lost in a show-of-hands vote that appeared too close to call, to many watching in the hall.

“In my view, it was carried,” congress chair Wendy Nicholls announced after surveying the hands of 1,200 delegates packed into hall in the south coast resort city of Brighton.

“No, sorry, it was lost,” she corrected herself a moment later.

Nicholls dismissed pleas from one pro-EU delegate who jumped on stage to ask for a recount.

The result was a triumph for the veteran socialist Corbyn and a painful blow for a clutch of leaders who broke ranks and tried to turn Labour into an unambiguously pro-remain party.

Source: Guardian News/YouTube

“We must fight with every fibre of our beings to say between now and 31 October, and afterwards if there is a general election, that any terms of departure, from any government, must go back to the British public for the final say,” Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry insisted in an impassioned address.

Because conference, we are an internationalist party.

‘Maximum consensus’

The result means that Labour will leave the conference in the same position that it came in — in favour of a second referendum but against openly campaigning for or against.

The strategy has not been working in the polls, with voters appearing to want clear options as the country races toward an 31 October exit from the EU without a plan for future trade.

Two surveys published over the weekend put Labour 15 percentage points behind Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservatives and in danger of losing second place to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

labour-party-conference There were calls for a recount after the congress chair appeared unsure of the result. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Grassroots activists spent hours deep into last night trying to come up with a single Brexit motion that could be put up for a vote at the conference on today.

They ended up with three.

They first passed a motion proposed by Corbyn and backed by the ruling executive in a secret ballot that infuriated numerous delegates over the weekend.

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It sees Labour adopting no official Brexit position in the general election campaign.

But it promises to consider coming up with one “through a special one-day conference, following the election of a Labour government”.

Labour would then stage a second referendum in which voters would be given the choice of either backing a new Brexit agreement negotiated by Corbyn or staying in the EU.

The second motion was the hotly disputed attempt to get the party to adopt an official ‘Remain stance’.

A third motion was carried simply calling for a second referendum that gives “people a final say between a credible leave option and remain”.

It also forces Labour to stay neutral and focus on trying to “build maximum consensus”.

© – AFP 2019

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