Anti-Brexit campaigners have won a major boost after Jeremy Corbyn called for MPs to be given the right to trigger a second referendum.
Unveiling his official amendment to the government’s plans, the Labour leader said for the first time that parliament should be allowed to ‘legislate’ for a new public vote on the UK’s future relations with the EU.
Corbyn’s move, tabled on Monday night, “requires” ministers to vote on alternatives that would avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Some MPs saw the wording as a significant shift in narrowing Labour’s choices for what it will eventually support in the Commons.
His amendment came as backbencher Yvette Cooper published her own separate, cross-party bill aimed at instructing Theresa May to delay Brexit by nine months if agreement can’t be found before February 26.
During a Commons statement, May repeatedly attacked the idea of a second referendum, even suggesting a fresh vote would ‘damage social cohesion’ and spark violent protests.
But nearly a week after May’s deal was heavily defeated by MPs, Corbyn claimed that Labour’s plan would allow parliament to break the deadlock.
He stressed that his priority was to avoid a no-deal exit by proposing two alternatives: a ’soft Brexit’ to protect jobs and rights, or a ‘public vote’.
Corbyn’s amendment, which will be heard next week, includes the key line that one option for MPs should be “legislating to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons”.
“The prime minister is both refusing to change her red lines or take the threat of a no deal exit off the table. MPs must now act to break the deadlock,” Corbyn said.
”Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a No Deal.
“It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”
HuffPost UK understands that some shadow ministers will insist that the ‘legislation’ outlined in the Corbyn amendment would include two options: ‘remain’ and a credible Leave option.
The Corbyn amendment adds to May’s wording, due next Tuesday, with the following:
“and..requires ministers to secure sufficient time for the UK Parliament to consider and vote on options to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration., and that those options should include:
i) negotiating changes to the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration so as to secure a permanent customs union with the EU, a strong relationship with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, and dynamic alignment on rights and standards, in order to command a majority in the House of Commons
ii) Legislating to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition that has commanded the support of the majority of the House of Commons”
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer nudged Labour’s policy further towards a second referendum at the weekend, stressing the party was now in the final stages of its policy sequencing.
The new Corbyn amendment will further embed the shift, as it will be the first time the party’s frontbench will vote for an amendment which explicitly backs a ‘People’s Vote’ option.
It is also designed to keep on board different wings of the party which back a ‘Norway-style’ Brexit and a second referendum.
However, unease among some MPs over the prospect of a new referendum surfaced at the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting on Monday night.
Former minister John Spellar joined left-winger Chris Williamson in pointing out the dangers in key seats to the party’s core vote who had voted Leave in the 2016 referendum.
Just 71 Labour MPs publicly attended a campaign launch for a second referendum, and several shadow cabinet ministers are very sceptical about the idea.
Sources said several MPs at the PLP backed Cooper’s own proposals, stating that legislation was needed to force May’s hand to delay the two-year Article 50 process by nine months.
Cooper’s bill is backed by senior Tories Nicky Morgan and Oliver Letwin as well as Labour’s Hilary Benn and Lib Dem Norman Lamb.
The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 3) Bill gives the Prime Minister until February 26 to get parliamentary approval for a withdrawal agreement, at which point MPs will be able to direct the next steps.
If the government fails, then parliament would be given a binding vote on Article 50 extension to prevent no-deal.
Labour has yet to decide whether to give Cooper’s bill its official backing but the party is ‘sympathetic to its objectives’, one source said.
A carefully-worded motion, passed at the party conference last autumn, states the official policy on Brexit: “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
At the time, Starmer made clear that remaining in the EU should be one option on the ballot paper.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, said the Corbyn amendment was “exemplary and timely”.
“Labour is now grabbing the Brexit bull by its horns, as May continues to pander to the far right in her party and outside it.
“It right that our Party now insist that the British people have sign off on any deal. Of course, not agreeing to the deal and staying as we are must be an option when the people do get that final say.”
Labour MP David Lammy added: “It is a big step forward that for the first time my party is acknowledging in a parliamentary amendment that a People’s Vote may be the only way forward.”
But Chuka Umunna was more critical.