Staying in the EU should not be on the ballot paper of any fresh Brexit referendum, Labour’s representative for young people has declared.
Ahead of a crunch vote by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, Lara McNeill said that it would “not be wise” to commit to putting Remain on any ballot paper in another public vote.
McNeill, a final year medical student, is one of the 39-strong body due to decide Labour’s European manifesto policy as the party’s senior figures gather ahead of the May 23 elections.
With the NEC finely balanced between those who want a referendum on “any Brexit deal” and on “a Tory Brexit deal”, McNeill is one of the swing votes that could tip the balance towards simply re-stating the party’s conference motion from last year.
After a tortuous process, Labour agreed in September that campaigning for a public vote should be one of the “options” should other avenues including a general election be exhausted.
But since then, both Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer have inched the party’s policy towards a second referendum.
In February, Corbyn and Starmer agreed that one way to stop a “Tory Brexit” would be to put May’s deal to the public as a form of “lock” on the damaging impact of her plans.
In parliament, the party has also formally proposed a “confirmatory ballot” as a way through the impasse.
And campaigners for a ‘People’s Vote’ have stepped up the pressure after HuffPost UK reported last week that a draft Euro elections leaflet failed to include any reference to a referendum.
McNeill pointed out that when she was elected to her NEC post last year, she won the election without mentioning Brexit and against a candidate who pledged to support a ‘People’s Vote’ policy.
“At a time when this country so desperately needs a General Election, and with Westminster in such conditions of turmoil, I am not prepared to say that every option has been exhausted,” she said in a new blog.
“Nor do I think it would be wise to commit the party to putting Remain on the ballot paper should such a time come when all other avenues to preventing a damaging Brexit have been closed off.”
McNeill added: “The lobbying I have received from members across our party has offered no answers or political clarity on what a ‘remain and reform’ or ‘remain and revolt’ agenda for Labour resembles in practical or tactical terms. Many of those supporting a confirmatory vote as our final option do not propose putting Remain on the ballot.
“I believe that it is the duty of the left to provide a compelling vision of Britain outside of the EU which will not alienate Leave voters but also give ardent Remainers an optimism for a society where the economic rules of the game will change.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who has held out against calls for a referendum, has previously also suggested that Remain should not be on the ballot paper.
One party source said that it was “obvious” that many young Labour members backed Remain but low income young Labour voters disproportionately supported Leave.
At the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday night, several MPs warned that a lack of clarity on a referendum would cost the party votes in the European elections.
Andy Slaughter and Wes Streeting stressed the potential electoral damage, while Neil Coyle said that he had lost 500 members in his London constituency party over the issue, with some councillors threatening to join Change UK.
Stephen Doughty said that there were particular risks of getting the decision wrong in Wales and Scotland.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “We’ve got a clear position from our party conference. There’s obviously a debate going on. Shadow Cabinet will look at it tomorrow and then the NEC will look at it tomorrow afternoon so we’ll have to let that process proceed.”