Pressure is mounting on Labour to throw its support behind a second referendum after MPs emphatically rejected Jeremy Corbyn‘s Brexit vision in the Commons.
The 83-vote defeat led to calls for the Labour leader to throw his party’s full weight behind demands for a second referendum on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Mr Corbyn told Labour MPs on Monday that he was ready to support moves to demand a public vote “to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country”.
Speaking after his amendment was rejected by a margin of 240 votes to 323, Mr Corbyn said Labour “will back a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a disastrous no-deal outcome.”
However, he added: “We will also continue to push for the other available options to prevent those outcomes, including a close economic relationship based on our credible alternative plan or a general election.”
Theresa May’s dramatic announcement on Tuesday that she would allow MPs to vote on delaying the UK’s EU withdrawal beyond March 29 took the sting out of an evening of Brexit votes which had been expected to feature a number of ministerial resignations.
Any Conservative bust-ups have now been delayed for up to two weeks, as Mrs May prepares to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back to the Commons for a “meaningful vote” on March 12.
If she fails to overturn the 230-vote rejection the agreement received in January, votes will be held on the following days on blocking a no-deal Brexit on March 29 and extending Article 50.
Mrs May’s U-turn threw a spotlight on the Labour leader, whose “constructive ambiguity” on Brexit has long frustrated those in his party who back a so-called People’s Vote and played a part in the defection of eight MPs to the new Independent Group last week.
Responding to Labour’s defeat in the Commons, Shadow Brexit Minister Matthew Pennycook tweeted saying he is “disappointed”.
He added: “[It is] now time to get behind efforts to facilitate a new public vote that includes the option of staying in the EU.”
However, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon suggested that Labour could still push to secure support for its Brexit plan – in an apparent suggestion that the Opposition may not yet throw its full weight behind another referendum.
“Disappointing that Labour’s Brexit motion didn’t pass,” he said.
“But given parliament looks set to extend Article 50, there’ll be further opportunities to secure support for Labour’s alternative Brexit deal. This would bring the country together and defend jobs, rights and our security.”
Speaking ahead of the vote, a Labour spokesman sidestepped questions on when the party would back a second referendum if their amendment was amended.
The spokesman said: “We support a public vote in order to prevent no-deal or a damaging Tory Brexit. Our focus is on our credible alternative plan.”
Labour’s annual conference voted to keep a second referendum on the table, but made clear that the party’s priority was an early election to allow it to implement its Brexit plan.
It demands included a customs union with a UK say, close ties with the single market and dynamic alignment with EU workplace and environmental regulations.
Speaking to MPs on Monday, Mr Corbyn said that Labour would put forward its plans in an amendment to the Government’s Brexit motion, but was also committed to “putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country”.
A briefing note to Labour MPs made clear the party would back the inclusion of Remaining in the EU on the ballot paper, as an alternative to a “credible Leave option”, but would not back no-deal being a choice on offer.
Mr Corbyn failed to back a referendum amendment tabled by Independent Group MP Anna Soubry, which was not selected for debate on Wednesday by Speaker John Bercow. But anti-Brexit campaigners will hope that he will now give his full support to the People’s Vote cause.
After Labour’s amendment failed, MPs later rejected a Scottish National Party amendment to rule out a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances and at any time by a margin of 288-324.
And a proposal from Conservative backbencher Alberto Costa for a UK/EU treaty to protect expat citizens’ rights in the event of a no-deal was passed without a vote.
Labour former minister Yvette Cooper’s bid to pin Mrs May to commitments made to the Commons on the Brexit process – including allowing MPs to delay Brexit if her deal is rejected again next month – was approved by 502 votes to 20, majority 482.