Former Labour leader John Smith would have supported a second referendum as a way out of the “destructive mess” of Brexit, Tom Watson will say on Monday.
In a speech to mark the 25th anniversary of Smith’s death, Labour’s deputy leader will argue the man who led the party in the early 1990s believed left-wing eurosceptics were as “wrong-headed” as those on the right.
Ahead of the European elections on May 23, Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will back the “option” of a second referendum, but only if the party can not secure a Brexit deal it is happy with.
Tony Blair, who succeeded Smith as Labour leader in 1994, has urged Labour supporters who can no longer vote for the party to endorse another which backs Remain.
But Watson will plead with Labour voters to stick with the party. “Don’t stay at home, don’t put that cross elsewhere, don’t let them win,” he will say.
Margaret Beckett, who served as Smith’s deputy, is a strong supporter of a second referendum.
Watson will say Smith would have agreed. “If John was alive today, to witness the great damage this process is wreaking on country and our public debate, I have no doubt that he would have taken a stand very similar to that of his deputy, Margaret Beckett, and backed a People’s Vote as a way out of this destructive mess,” he will say.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which backs a no-deal Brexit, has secured a comfortable lead in the European election polls.
Watson will argue Smith would have “exposed” Farage and far-right MEP candidate Tommy Robinson for their “plastic patriotism”.
“There are only two forces that can win this election – that nasty nationalism of the Farage Brexit Party, or the tolerant, compassionate outward looking patriotism of the Labour Party. I can only plead with Labour supporters- don’t stay at home, don’t put that cross elsewhere, don’t let them win,” he will say.
“Anti-EU sentiment, whether of the right-wing independent trading nation variety, or the left-wing ‘socialism in one country’ variety, as equally wrong-headed.”
It comes as Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, warned the Labour leadership that 150 Labour MPs would not back an exit deal if it was not subjected to a “confirmatory” public vote.
Cross-party talks between the Conservatives and Labour are due to resume today on finding a deal that can win a majority in parliament.