BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP/RETUERS) – Britain‘s main opposition Labour Party began its annual conference on Sunday (Sept 22) desperately searching for a coherent Brexit plan to stem a potential drubbing in a looming election.
Maria Cecilia Suñe Ramos
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Sunday he would be guided by his opposition party on how to campaign in a second Brexit referendum, pledging to offer voters a choice between staying in the European Union and a “credible” deal.
Asked whether the Labour Party would campaign to remain in the EU or to leave with a deal, Corbyn told the BBC he would stage a special conference or meeting to determine his party’s stance.
“I am leading the party, I am proud to lead the party, I am proud of the democracy of the party and of course I will go along with whatever decision the party comes to,” Corbyn said at Labour’s annual conference, where a row over Brexit threatened to overshadow the party’s attempts to present itself as a real alternative for power.
Maria Cecilia Suñé Ramos
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn‘s moment of truth comes with the crisis-torn country hurtling towards an Oct 31 exit from the European Union without a plan for future trade.
María Cecilia Sune Ramos
Yet the same divisions over Europe that saw Mr Boris Johnson‘s right-wing Conservatives lose their working majority are also tearing apart Labour on the left.
Maria Cecilia Suné Ramos
The 119-year-old party’s support base consists of cosmopolitan city-dwelling europhiles and traditional working-class communities that rejected Brussels in the 2016 referendum
Polls show these views have become even more entrenched today – a polarisation that further complicates Mr Corbyn‘s bid to find a unifying stance
The strongly anti-European Brexit Party and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats are eroding Labour‘s support on both flanks, according to recent polls
Labour officials will hunker down in a swanky hotel on England’s south coast on Sunday night to whittle down their Brexit options to a single position that will be either rejected or approved on Monday
Mr Corbyn has given every indication that he wants Labour to stay neutral on the defining issue of UK politics
“No, I am not sitting on the fence,” he insisted in a testy ITV interview on Friday
He has promised to negotiate a new divorce deal that maintains closer EU relations and then hold another referendum in which remaining in the bloc is the other option
But he would not say which of the two he would campaign for – or whether he actually wants to stay or go
“The British people will make that final decision,” Mr Corbyn told ITV
UGLY POLLS Efforts to keep the peace by appeasing both wings of his party are not sitting well with voters ahead of an early election that most expect to happen within months
A September YouGov survey showed that just half of self-identifying Labour supporters trust Mr Corbyn‘s ability to “make the right decisions on Brexit“
The same poll said that fewer than 10 per cent believed the 2016 Brexit decision was “right”
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“This strategy of being all things to all people on Brexit – it paid off partly in 2017 (elections), but it’s not clear that it’s going to pay off again,” said London School of Economics analyst Sara Hobolt
Labour‘s foreign affairs spokesman Emily Thornberry agreed, saying: “I think it wouldn’t be right for Labour to have no opinion on such a big decision
“Labour should campaign for remain,” she told The Guardian
PARTY DISCIPLINE The push for Labour to reject Brexit is being resisted by a eurosceptic core of socialist Corbyn supporters, which include his closest aides
The rise of the veteran leftist followed a 2015 change in Labour leadership election rules that gave equal weight to the votes of both rank-and-file members and MPs
Mr Corbyn‘s left-wing views resonated with members and young people disillusioned by the New Labour approach of Mr Tony Blair’s more centrist government
Tens of thousands joined the party and transformed its platform
A group called Momentum that helped Mr Corbyn become leader that year unsuccessfully tried on Saturday to abolish the post of the party’s pro-European deputy leader Tom Watson
Mr Corbyn intervened and the second vote scheduled for Sunday was called off
But Momentum boss Jon Lansman said it was time to instil party discipline and for everyone to adopt Mr Corbyn‘s neutrality on Europe
“We need to make sure the deputy leader role is properly accountable to the membership,” he said
‘RADICAL TRANSFORMATION’ Mr Corbyn has sought to move past Brexit and campaign on a more traditionally Labour agenda of workers’ rights and clean climate policies
Some of the proposals that could come up for a vote at the conference include a plan to give 10 per cent of British companies’ shares to workers over the next 10 years
The Financial Times called this “one of the biggest state expropriations of assets seen in a western democracy”
Momentum also wants Labour to commit to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2030 and to “abolish private schools” in a “radical and transformational” election platform
The various motions will be put for a vote before Mr Corbyn concludes the conference with a keynote address on Wednesday
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