LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour Party resisted calls to unconditionally embrace a second referendum on Tuesday, restating its support for such a vote only if the government refuses to change its EU deal or there is no new election.
With Britain’s delayed departure from the European Union far from clear, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been under pressure from lawmakers and party members to throw his support behind a second referendum, or confirmatory vote, on any Brexit deal.
But the veteran Socialist, a long-time eurosceptic, has stuck firmly to his position that a second vote was an option to prevent what Labour calls a “damaging” Conservative Brexit or to stop Britain leaving without a deal.
The move could further infuriate Labour lawmakers, including deputy leader Tom Watson, who have pushed for an unconditional commitment on a second referendum.
The rift has spurred eight Labour politicians to form a new party called Change UK.
After a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee, its governing body, a party source said an agreement had been reached which “will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy”.
That policy is “to support Labour’s alternative plan, and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a general election, to back the option of a public vote.”
Nearly three years after Britons voted to leave the EU by 52 to 48 percent, the main parties, and the country, are deeply divided over Brexit, leaving it unclear when, and even if, Britain will leave the bloc.
The deal that Prime Minister Theresa May agreed with the EU has been rejected three times by parliament, forcing the Conservative leader to open talks with Labour to try to find common ground and win approval to avoid taking part in the European elections.
After nearly four weeks, Labour sources said Monday’s talks with the government were better in tone than before and ministers had shown some willingness to move, declining to offer specifics.
But with a new Brexit deadline set for Oct. 31, parties are readying themselves for the May 23 European Parliament elections, offering those wanting to remain in the EU and others supporting a clean break another potential battleground.
Corbyn has tried to keep his party united by treading a fine line on his position on a second referendum, which is set to become one of the main issues in the European elections with smaller parties keen to publicise their backing of a new vote.
“Labour is the only party which represents both people who supported Leave and Remain,” a party spokesman said. “We are working to bring the country together after the chaos and crisis created by the Tories (Conservatives).”
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Janet Lawrence