Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has deflected growing calls from within the party to alter its Brexit stance ahead of a delayed vote on the EU withdrawal deal.
He said this week that he still favoured negotiating a new deal if Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal blueprint is, as expected, voted down by MPs this month.
Corbyn’s rigid stance flies in the face of a new study showing that an overwhelming majority of Labour members now support a second EU referendum.
He is under pressure from many of his own MPs and members to change tack over Brexit but said no decision on a new referendum would happen until after the vote.
The Labour leader’s preference is to push ahead with Brexit after forcing the Government to secure an improved exit deal with the EU.
Parliament will hold the delayed ‘meaningful’ vote on Mrs May’s deal in the week commencing January 14, with MPs on all sides lined up against it.
Corbyn has claimed ‘all options’ are still on the table, but said Labour would pursue Brexit with a full customs union if it won a General Election.
He said: “What we will do is vote against having no deal, we’ll vote against Theresa May’s deal.
“At that point she should go back to Brussels and say this is not acceptable to Britain and renegotiate a customs union, form a customs union with the European Union.”
The survey of Labour members found that 72 per cent thought their leader should support a second referendum.
Labour members still ‘strongly supported’ Corbyn, the study by the Party Members Project found, but were suspicious of his reasons for not backing a new referendum.
The research was conducted by Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary University of London and reflected the stance of last year’s Labour conference over Brexit.
Members at the 2018 Liverpool conference decided that the main priority was to force an election and to go for a referendum if that could not be achieved.
But Corbyn said this week: “The issue of another referendum was of course one of the options, but that was very much after the votes have taken place in parliament.”
“We haven’t yet had a vote and I think the government really should be ashamed of itself. This vote has been delayed and delayed and delayed.
“This government is just trying to run down the clock and create a sense of fear between either no deal or May’s deal.”
Labour’s shadow minister for industrial strategy Chi Onwurah, writing in The Guardian, said the party should instead push for an extension to article 50.
She said extending the two-year notice period which runs out on March 29 was preferable to allowing the Prime Minister to ‘run down the clock’ to no deal.
Onwurah added: “We must recognise the challenge of negotiating a deal that obtains cross-party support before the March deadline.”
“Labour’s conference motion does not reference an article 50 extension but we have acknowledged it may be necessary.
“Increasingly it is clear that the options to avoid an economic and social catastrophe are general election, public vote and/or article 50 suspension.”