By Heather Stewart/ Guardian News & Media
Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is set to debate Brexit tomorrow as the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership accelerates Labour’s drift towards supporting a second referendum.
Corbyn is coming under renewed pressure to set out his backing for a fresh public vote more clearly, as the shockwaves from Labour’s catastrophic performance in the European elections continue to reverberate.
Shadow ministers will be shown the second part of a presentation on polling which began at last week’s meeting, and according to one person present showed Labour was being “squeezed from both sides”.
Corbyn said in the aftermath of the European Parliament elections that any Brexit deal would now “have to be put to a public vote” – though that could include a general election, and he subsequently suggested a referendum remained “some way off”.
One shadow cabinet member and Corbyn loyalist described Labour’s Brexit policy as “in a state of transition”, saying that they expected it to shift towards a clearer stance in favour of a referendum in the next
“two or three weeks”, rather than wait for their hand to be forced by restive grassroots members.
Another shadow cabinet source said Johnson’s imminent arrival in Number 10 on a hard Brexit ticket must be “the decisive factor” for Labour’s policy.
Corbyn is content to allow the focus to remain on the warring Tories for the moment.
But the Labour leader is facing a pincer movement from both sides of his deeply divided party.
“Another Europe is Possible”, the anti-Brexit campaign group that works closely with left-wing Labour MPs including Clive Lewis and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, has announced that it plans a “summer of resistance”.
Alena Ivanova, from the group, said: “What we’re witnessing this summer is the growth of a mass and plural movement against Brexit, with mass demonstrations announced for both July and October, and lots of different organisations holding speaker tours and preparing for a referendum.”
She added: “But this movement needs to be radical, both tactically and politically – it has to become a hot summer of resistance, willing to disrupt the status quo.”
Meanwhile Tom Watson, Corbyn’s deputy, has continued to push for a People’s Vote, and will make a major speech on the issue tomorrow.
Recriminations from the party’s poll performance have continued.
Some shadow ministers, including some on the left, lament what one called the “malign influence” of Corbyn’s advisers, in particular his key confidant, Seumas Milne, and chief of staff, Karie Murphy, complaining that the pair insulate Corbyn from criticism and challenge.
Several shadow cabinet members have told the Guardian that Corbyn himself was uncomfortable with the party’s message in the run-up to the European elections, which he felt was insufficiently clear.
“They’re clearly under pressure: I don’t think he’s happy with the way it’s working,” one said.
Another claimed: “Even Jeremy, who has always held Seumas in awe, is increasingly dissatisfied with the messaging.”
The shadow cabinet was not consulted about the expulsion of former New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell for publicly admitting that he had voted Lib Dem at the European elections.
“No politician was involved in that decision,” said one senior party source.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, was said by allies to have been particularly irked about Campbell’s expulsion, fearing it made the leadership look vindictive.
The move to drop shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry from prime minister’s questions last week, after she spoke out about Labour’s Brexit policy, also raised eyebrows.
Corbyn was lambasted by colleagues at last Monday’s meeting of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), with one veteran of the Blair and Brown eras saying it was the worst they had witnessed, with Corbyn reading from a prepared script and failing to take on hecklers.
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