Tom Watson’s fresh call for Labour to campaign for a second Brexit referendum has come under fire from the party’s chairman.
Labour deputy leader Mr Watson has launched a renewed push for the party to fully commit to a second referendum in an effort to keep the UK in the European Union.
But immediate criticism came from party chairman Ian Lavery, who claimed the plan would “ignore” Leave voters and was neither “politically smart” nor “democratic”.
He tweeted: “Brexit has turned this country into a toxic nation.
“However ignoring the 17.4m leave voters isn’t politically smart nor indeed particularly democratic. Is it? #simplysaying”
Splits within the party are evident, with many MPs and members blaming Labour’s lack of a clear position on Brexit for their dismal European election results last month, which saw it beaten into third place behind the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats.
But leader Jeremy Corbyn is resisting pressure to change course, insisting the party must maintain its strategy of “constructive ambiguity” and only support another referendum in certain limited circumstances.
Those arguing for change include Mr Watson, who said “our future doesn’t need to be Brexit” as he argued that the European Union’s values were shared by Labour.
Mr Watson said the prospect of Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson becoming prime minister meant there was an urgent need to act.
He used a video message to set out his case, claiming the left had been too timid to defend European values.
“I love Europe because I’m a democratic socialist,” he said.
“Socialism is achieving common causes by the strength of collective endeavour.
“That’s what Europe is. We’ve shied away from saying these things for too long.
“But now, as we stare down the barrel of a Boris Johnson premiership, we really must.”
He said the relationship with Europe was about “more than economics” or political co-operation.
“It’s about what kind of country we are. What we want for our children: what we’re able to bring them up to be.
“So those of us who love Europe should take pride in making this argument.
“We must bring the public back into this decision and we must argue strongly to Remain.
“Our future doesn’t need to be Brexit. We can change the future.
“We can put Britain back at the heart of Europe again.
“We can be proud of leading the fight for a fairer and stronger future, together.”
Mr Watson will set out further details of his position in a keynote speech to the Centre for European Reform.
He will argue that a referendum is “the only way to break the political deadlock” at Westminster.
Former shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said Mr Watson was “absolutely right” and flagged up how Scottish Labour has already switched tack to back a final say and Remain.
The Labour MP for Edinburgh South said: “For the communities we represent, it is vital that Labour puts the national interest first and is at the forefront of the fight to stay in the EU.
“If you stand in the middle of the road you please nobody, and get hit from both sides.
“Scottish Labour’s policy is to back a final say and Remain, and these words must now urgently be turned into action with a vocal summer campaign across Scotland and the UK.”
Range of views
The war between Mr Watson and allies of Mr Corbyn, including Mr Lavery, has been raging for months.
Last week, Mr Lavery hit out at Remainers in the party, dismissing them as “left wing intellectuals” who were “sneering at ordinary people” in traditional Labour heartlands who voted for Leave.
However, Mr Watson will say that all strands of opinion within the party were entitled to a hearing.
“We cannot go on dismissing one another’s right to speak and questioning one another’s motives and intentions,” he will say.
“Some people have begun to equate support for Europe with class identity, I don’t think that’s right or helpful.
“The majority of Labour people are supportive of Europe – and that support is not dictated by social class.”
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