By Bill Smith, DPA/London
Britain’s opposition Labour party yesterday vowed to push for an election to break the impasse on Brexit, but it left open the possibility that it could back a second referendum.
Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a crushing defeat in parliament on Tuesday, as more than 100 of her own Conservatives voted against her Brexit deal, before she narrowly won a no-confidence vote put forward by Labour that split along party lines.
“Wednesday’s no-confidence vote was just the beginning of Labour’s efforts to secure a general election — not the end,” shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said in a speech yesterday to a left-wing political think tank.
“Securing a general election is — and always will be — our priority as it’s the only way to deliver the radical change this country needs,” Starmer said.
But Starmer said Labour could swing its support behind a second referendum on Brexit, as one of “just two remaining options” along with the agreement of a close economic relationship with the EU.
Speculation grew yesterday that May herself could call an election.
The Financial Times reported that senior officials had “discussed contingency plans for an election” this week. Three cabinet ministers had told the newspaper that an election was a possibility, it said.
May has rejected calls for an election and said she seeks “consensus” in talks with lawmakers from all parties.
Critics accuse her of staging a public relations exercise while trying to persuade individual lawmakers to back an amended version of her deal.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has declined to meet May unless she rules out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, called the talks a “stunt.”
Starmer said Labour could not support May’s deal “or any tweaked version of it that may materialise.”
The strong opposition in parliament means May’s deal “can no longer be considered a credible option,” he added.
Corbyn has resisted growing calls from Labour lawmakers to back a campaign for a second referendum on Brexit.
A leaked opinion poll for the pro-EU group Best for Britain found nearly one-third of voters would be less likely to choose Labour if it backs another Brexit referendum, The Guardian reported yesterday.
Best for Britain disputed the significance of its private poll for Labour.
“It is not news that strong supporters of Leave wouldn’t back a pro-Remain Labour party,” the group said in a statement.
“People across the country are turning their backs on Brexit,” it said, referring to recent polls that have suggested a small increase in support for Britain remaining in the EU.
“Fighting against Brexit is the most popular option for (Labour’s) electorate, and increasingly for all voters,” it said.
Starmer said a second referendum “has to be an option for Labour.”
The sole alternative is to negotiate again with the EU, perhaps following Labour’s proposals for a “comprehensive customs union” and “a strong single market deal.”
“This is a credible solution to avoid no deal,” he said.
With Britain scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, it appears “inevitable” that it will have to extend the negotiating process, Starmer said.
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