A second Brexit referendum is not Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘preferred’ or ‘default’ option if he can’t secure a general election, his aides have declared.
Speaking after the Labour leader addressed his MPs on Monday, his spokesman stressed that a ‘People’s Vote’ was just one of several alternatives to Theresa May’s plans that the party could pursue.
In what will be seen as a blow to hopes of those campaigning for a second ‘public vote’, the spokesman also ruled out any further consultation of party members during the coming crunch Parliamentary votes on Brexit.
HuffPost UK understands that the party may instead attempt to exhaust a rolling series of ‘no confidence’ votes - needed to trigger a general election - before it ever moves on to campaign for a fresh referendum.
Earlier in the Commons, Corbyn warned May that he would table a ‘no confidence’ vote in the government ‘soon’ after her plan was defeated on Tuesday.
And speaking at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) he accused the Prime Minister of trying to “blackmail” Labour MPs into backing her plan by threatening chaos if the UK crashes out without a deal. “The Labour Party will not be held to ransom,” he said.
Some MPs asked Corbyn for more clarity on how Labour could get to a ‘People’s Vote’, which was formally listed as a possible route out of the deadlock at the party’s annual conference last year.
Clive Lewis and Marsha de Cordova piled pressure on their boss by demanding the party backs a left-wing “remain and reform” agenda to keep Britain in the EU in any fresh poll.
Labour’s conference policy sets out its six-point plan for a ‘jobs-first’ Brexit, but says that “should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal”, “the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election”.
The policy goes on: “If we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
But Corbyn’s spokesman said that it should not be assumed that a referendum was automatic in the sequencing of what the party did next.
“A public vote is one of the options, it [the conference policy] doesn’t say it’s the preferred option or the default option. Obviously we will judge how to deal with the options.”
Some local parties have called for an urgent ‘special conference’ or even a poll of members to decide what Labour does next if it can’t secure an election in the next few weeks.
But the spokesman added: “There won’t be a mechanism to consult the membership on every twist and turn in Parliament. That’s not possible.
“It [the conference policy] set out quite a clear framework for [what happens] if the government is defeated tomorrow and if we can’t get a general election, quite a fast moving and multi-layered set of decisions.
“The biggest expression of democracy under the Labour party constitution is the conference. It set a framework and a set of steps knowing that this is a fast moving situation in Parliament.”
Corbyn has repeatedly advocated an expansion on internal party democracy since his landslide leadership victories, and has stressed that if there were to be a general election the party’s members and unions would decide the manifesto.
But although he has experimented with consulting the mass membership with emailed polls, such as during the Commons vote on Syria, his allies believe that Brexit is too complicated and time too short to make such consultation feasible. UK intervention in Syria was ‘a binary’ issue, and easier to consult on, one source said.
Asked by HuffPost if it was now up to Corbyn and his shadow Cabinet to decide the next steps, his spokesman replied: “Sure. In relation to the question of no confidence vote and a general election, that’s his decision.
“We will continue to try and bring about a general election because we believe that’s the best way to not only deal with this crisis - it needs a different team to negotiate a different outcome - but also to deal with all the other questions facing the country.”
Referring to the ‘no confidence’ motion, he added: “That’s something that I don’t think - if the Government is defeated tomorrow - that you are going to have to wait a long time for.”
In her own private meeting with her Tory MPs, the Prime Minister warned her her own side that she could face an onslaught from the Opposition in the shape of “repeated” no confidence votes and contempt of parliament motions.
She told her backbenchers to think of ‘the future of the party’, an apparent warning that the Tories could split if they failed to back her deal.
Corbyn told the PLP meeting that he wanted the challenge the “neo-lliberal economics” of the EU, including state aid rules and public procurement.
Allies of Corbyn believe there has been ‘misrepresentation’ of recent polls showing a large majority of Labour members back Remain or a second referendum. “The polls also show they back Jeremy by two to one on Brexit policy.”