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Watson backs second referendum, as Labour draw closer to unequivocal support

Ben Gartside
Reporter
'Our members are remain. Our values are remain. Our hearts are remain,' Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson said in a speech on Monday. Photo: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images

Labour’s deputy leader and shadow culture secretary Tom Watson outlined his vision for Labour as a party of “Remain” in a speech on Monday supporting a second vote on Brexit.

Watson described a new referendum as the “least worst option." He said he came to the view “that parliament will not be able to get a deal on Brexit and therefore the only choice, reluctantly, is to ask the people to take another look at it."

"Pro-European is who we are and who we have always been. Our members are remain. Our values are remain. Our hearts are remain,” Watson said.

"Our future doesn't need to be Brexit. We can change our future. We can put Britain back at the heart of Europe again.

"We can be proud of leading the fight for a fairer and stronger future, together. But we can only achieve this future if Labour fights for it and champions it. It's time we do that."

Watson is not alone in arguing Labour needs to support a second Brexit vote. Labour MP and supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign David Lammy told Yahoo Finance UK: "Tom is absolutely right. My party should be making the case for staying in the EU loudly and proudly.

"We should be making that case because our dreams of transforming this country are best aided inside the EU, not out in the cold having wrecked our economy.

"And beyond that, we should be making the case for staying in because we are internationalists. We cannot be happy just transforming the UK — we must have bigger ambitions than that. We want to change the lives of working people around the world and the EU can help."

Labour’s front bench seems split on the EU question. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, and most of the shadow Brexit team, now support a second referendum. However, party chairman Ian Lavery and those in leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office are far more sceptical of another public vote.

One shadow frontbencher on the left of the party told Yahoo Finance UK: “Labour members are overwhelmingly in favour of a public vote and want Labour to campaign for remain in that referendum. Jeremy leads a member-led party and so sooner or later he will have to recognise that he needs to genuinely move position. Members will make that happen at Labour’s party conference if he doesn’t shift before then.”

Particularly among the new MPs, there still appears to be a significant degree of scepticism towards a public vote. Many MPs take the view that they were elected on a platform that included a promise to leave the EU, and that a referendum on the deal would break that promise.