Jeremy Corbyn is facing a fierce backlash from Labour members after a draft leaflet for the European elections said the party would press ahead with Brexit.
The leaflet, passed to HuffPost UK, which makes no mention of the party’s policy to push for a second referendum on quitting the EU, was sent out to MEPs on Thursday.
One Labour insider said: “MEPs were not given these leaflets to review, they were just told: this is what the party is printing and this is what they would have to put out.”
The leaflet claims the party will seek a “better deal with Europe” which ensures the UK has “a say on trade deals”, while also underlining party policy on domestic issues.
It has left the party’s pro-EU membership furious and dismayed, with one activist telling HuffPost UK: “In what will be an utterly polarised election, standing in the middle will be a bad move.”
HuffPost UK also understands that staunch pro-European former minister Lord Adonis, who is standing for Labour in the South West region, was forced to sign a ‘loyalty’ statement or face being blocked as an MEP candidate.
Adonis surprised his supporters when he put out a statement apologising for his previous remark that Brexit voters should not vote for Labour.
In the statement, he also said “Labour has put forward a sensible alternative plan that would ensure a close economic partnership with the EU after Brexit.
“A vote for Labour is a vote for so much more than just Brexit.”
The wording closely reflects that on the draft leaflet which says that Labour would have a ‘better deal with Europe’ after Brexit.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, deputy leader Tom Watson and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry were not consulted on the wording, even though they form part of the party’s Brexit sub-committee.
Crucially, the leader of the European Labour Party, MEP Richard Corbett, was not consulted about the leaflet’s content, sources said.
A Labour MP told HuffPost UK that party members and MPs were likely to quit in large numbers if asked to campaign on the basis of the leaflet.
“There’s a small number of unelected people in the Labour party who are doing their utmost to subvert our policy of supporting a public vote on any Brexit deal and are trying to bounce the party into a position before the shadow cabinet and NEC (ruling body the National Executive Committee) had a chance to agree the manifesto on Tuesday,” the MP said.
“No MEP or MP I’ve spoken to would be prepared to campaign on the basis of this leaflet. It hardly even mentions Europe and it sounds like it’s pro-Brexit. This will be the only piece of literature going to every single household across the country, via FreePost, so its content really matters.
“If this goes out as it is, it would be a gift to the smaller pro-referendum parties and to Nigel Farage. Labour members won’t campaign on this basis.”
A senior shadow ministerial source added: “Keir is absolutely furious about the leaflet. He knows very well that it doesn’t reflect the party’s policy, the views of the membership or our candidates. It will have to change.”
One senior Labour source said: “This is clearly a monumental and embarrassing f***-up. MPs and MEP candidates have roundly dismissed the leaflets. All eyes are on the manifesto now.
“If the leaders’ office and HQ conspire to fudge the line on Brexit, we will lose unity in the party, and MPs, activists and the MEP candidates themselves will just go rogue. We’ll have to.”
It comes as Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party looks set to capture the pro-Leave vote while Change UK targets Remainers with its clear promise to seek a second referendum.
“Staff were asking for this leaflet’s content and it was withheld until the very last minute, and then with no consultation,” one MP said.
“My members and my region have gone bananas about it. How can you have a leaflet without consulting the candidates in whose names this is going out?”
One Labour insider said: “The plan seems to be to make it all about domestic issues and to dodge the EU elephant inside the room.
“In what will be an utterly polarised election, standing in the middle will be a bad move.
“People will not be voting on domestic issues in this election and people who want Brexit are only going to one place. Labour has to decide whether to be crystal clear on a confirmatory vote on any deal or risk getting hammered from the Remainers, who are highly motivated to come out and vote.”
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is set to decide next Tuesday the party’s manifesto pledges for the European elections to be held on May 23.
The party’s trade trade union group which advises the party is due on Friday to make its own recommendations for the European manifesto. All unions apart from Unite are expected to call for a second referendum on any Brexit deal to be part of the pledges to voters.
A Labour spokesman said: “This is a short pre-manifesto leaflet to introduce our candidates and set out our commitment to Leave and Remain voters to bring our country together.
“It highlights how the Tories’ chaotic handling of Brexit has left our country in crisis and how our MEPs will fight for proper investment in communities, housing, jobs and industries. Our full manifesto, which will address the issues of a Brexit deal and the circumstances of a referendum, will be published after the local elections.