Conference row looms over second referendum as far-left Brexit split widens

Brexit split widens as Labour's most influential far-left group tells members to back Corbyn in face of calls for second referendum vote at conference.

Labour’s most influential far-left group has instructed its members to support a motion at Labour conference backing Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit position, setting the stage for a row with members who want the leader to take a tougher stance on the issue by supporting a second referendum.

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy has told its activists to back the motion, which expresses support for the ‘six tests’ adopted by the party to determine if it will support the final exit deal the government negotiates with Brussels.

The CLPD is run by Peter Willsman, a close ally and friend of Corbyn who was recorded at a meeting of Labour’s NEC attacking members of the Jewish community who complained about antisemitism as “Trump fanatics”.

The motion highlights the growing split that has emerged over Brexit on the left of the party. Momentum, which was set up to support Corbyn’s leadership, is currently consulting its members over whether to back a second referendum at conference after a petition supporting the idea was signed by more than 4,000 of its members.

The group’s national coordinator Laura Parker, who used to work in Corbyn’s office, has publicly expressed her support for the idea, telling the BBC: “If we were staring down the barrel of a no-deal gun, I personally would like to be asked what I thought about that”.

Momentum’s founder and owner Jon Lansman is a former CLPD stalwart, but relations between the two groups have been strained since Momentum dropped Willsman from its slate of approved candidates for election to the NEC after his comments about antisemitism were made public.

Another far-left group founded by veteran campaigner Michael Chessum – Labour for a People’s Vote – is also trying to force the party to adopt a second referendum as its official policy by encouraging local parties to table a motion demanding vote on the issue.

A growing number of Labour members now back a second referendum. Of equal significance is the fact that, according to recent poll carried out by YouGov, the target voters the party needs to win an election also back a second vote by a margin of two to one.

Aside from antisemitism, Brexit is the most potentially divisive issue facing the party. Many of the young voters who supported Labour at the last election did so because they want the UK to remain in the European Union.

Corbyn is a lifelong Eurosceptic who had never previously supported Britain’s membership of the EC or the EU, but campaigned for Remain in 2016. He has since adopted a deliberately ambiguous position on Brexit in an attempt to avoid alienating traditional Labour voters who voted Leave.

At last year’s conference, party managers prevented a full debate on Brexit from taking place but the strength of feeling among members means they will struggle to keep the issue off the conference floor this time.

Campaigners for a second referendum have been encouraged by an apparent softening of Labour’s position on the issue in recent weeks. Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have both said publicly that a second vote should not be off the table.

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