POLITICS
24/09/2019 09:43 BST

Tom Watson Critics Plan Speech Protest To Defend 'Neutral' Brexit Policy

Exclusive: Left mobilises amid fears deputy leader will challenge vote that rejected pro-Remain campaign.

Le numéro deux des travaillistes Tom Watson à Brighton le 22 septembre 2019|DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
Le numéro deux des travaillistes Tom Watson à Brighton le 22 septembre 2019

Critics of Tom Watson are planning to disrupt his conference speech amid fears that he will seek to reopen Labour’s conference vote on Brexit, HuffPost UK has learned.

The deputy leader is due to use his speech in Brighton to hit back hard at an attempt by Momentum’s Jon Lansman to abolish his post, warning that party in-fighting is “a gift to the Tories” ahead of an election.

But pro-Jeremy Corbyn supporters are ready to stop what they suspect will be an attempt to challenge a controversial vote by conference on Monday that saw delegates reject a more pro-Remain policy stance.

Chaotic scenes accompanied the announcement of the result, with conference chair Wendy Nichols eventually deciding that a show of hands was enough to determine a clear majority against Labour taking a side in a future EU referendum.

A message sent to delegates at the conference late last night discusses plans for a ‘walkout’ during Watson’s speech, but also warns that it may be better to pack the hall to protest against and stop any attempt to reopen the Brexit vote.

It suggests that Corbyn’s deputy - under fire for calling for Labour to put a referendum ahead of an election - is seeking to get a ‘friendly chair’ of his session of the conference to allow a bid to reopen the whole issue.

The message reads: 

“*URGENT URGENT URGENT*

Senior source says that Watson is seeking a “Watson-friendly chair” for his session tomorrow. He does not require a chair to do much other than introduce him...so, the thinking is that the Watson-approved chair will accept a point of order from the floor re Monday’s Brexit vote (Composite 13 / 14) after the walkout. Many of us voted against 13 and for 14. He is seeking an opportunity to overturn this and the mass walkout gives him his vote.

This is from a viable source.

Options:

1. Confirmation that chair is strong and won’t take a point of order (or that it’s not possible to achieve)

2. An alternative protest to a walkout to ensure that we are in the room, in our seats and ready to defeat his tactic.”

Watson is expected to use his speech as a call for unity following the bid to abolish his role at a meeting of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Friday night.

“I didn’t choose the row going into this vital week for our party and our country, I didn’t want it, I didn’t seek it and I regret it. It was damaging, divisive and unnecessary. Unfortunately we cannot pretend it didn’t happen. But let us now draw a line under it,” he will say.

The ‘coup’ attempt failed by just three votes, as pro-Corbyn supporters were late. Corbyn has said he was not aware of any detailed plan to axe the deputy role at that meeting, and was said to be furious that the row overshadowed key policy announcements this weekend.

He has since announced a plan to review the deputy role and replace it with at least two posts to create a better gender balance.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey confirmed on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that she had voted to allow a debate of Lansman’s motion and heaped praise on him as a voice of the Labour grassroots.

She said the motion “was a total shock for most people in the room”. But her intention was “not to get rid of Tom Watson” but instead to promote debate.

“We were actually voting for the ability for the proposer of the motion to be able to discuss the motion... It was made by one of our fantastic constituency representatives who represents our members and a lot of us in the room felt that he should have the opportunity ... I don’t want to stifle democracy.”