The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has told colleagues if they want to avoid a “slow motion car crash” they have to change policy on Brexit.
So far, Labour’s shadow cabinet hasn’t shifted the same position on Brexit despite devoting two meetings to the topic.
Labour wants the public to have a say via a general election – or if that’s not possible, then the leadership says the capabilities of a public referendum to avoid no cope or a “hard Tory Brexit” is on the table.
In effect, that makes a vote on any slew that is negotiated.
There had been a widespread expectation that the party would alter position towards offering not only a referendum on any deal – but that it would make explicit that Remain would be an option on the ballot paper and officially endorse Remain, while allowing MPs to dissent.
But this switching didn’t happen on Tuesday.
A road to Remain?
Following ruinous European election results – overshadowed only by the Conservatives’ poorer performance – deputy leader Tom Watson called for Labour to become an avowedly Remain party.
Significantly, he now has support from the shadow chancellor John McDonnell – who is usually closer to Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr McDonnell told me on Monday he felt it was time for the issue to be put back to the people, and he would campaign for Remain if there were a further referendum.
He likewise quoth Harold Wilson’s 1970 s authority which called a referendum, officially backed staying in the EU, but let all my fellow members, and surely priests, who wanted to leave to call for withdrawal.
There’s been pressure too for the leadership to adopt this position from others on the Left – notably the group Another Europe Is Possible, which is supported by shadow minister Clive Lewis and Momentum’s national organiser, Laura Parker.
They say the time for equivocation and pause is over.
But apparently it isn’t.
Hesitation, repeating but no deviation
At Tuesday’s fractious shadow cabinet meeting I’m told Tom Watson and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry pushed for “decisive action” – the latter saying “this is about leadership” – and John McDonnell was certainly under the impression that policy decisions was supposed to have been taken today.
Another left-winger, Diane Abbott, talked about rising disappointment amongst the membership.
But in effect the decision to – at least – delay a plan shift was taken yesterday when confederations affiliated to Labour met Jeremy Corbyn but came to no definitive resolution on Brexit policy.
Both Unite and the CWU don’t want to adopt a “Referendum and Remain” stance, partly for suspicion of alienating Labour Leave voters.
Some in the shadow cabinet concur – and party chairwoman Ian Lavery and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner expressed concerns about shifting position today.
So there will now be further consultation: first the coming week with members of Labour’s ruling national executive – then with the unions.
Their general secretaries will meet again on 8 July.
‘Muddle and confusion’
I am told that John McDonnell believes it’s vital that policy decisions isn’t retarded beyond this date as he and others crave any Brexit policy to be clear well before a brand-new “ministers ” is installed on 24 July.
Phil Wilson – one of the Labour MPs behind a failed Commons amendment on a so-called People’s Vote – said: “Labour members and Labour MPs expect our party to have a clear policy that shows our values.
“Instead, we have to listen to muddle, confusion and the tone of the can being knocked listlessly down a never-ending road.”
His colleague Neil Coyle, who backs another public referendum, had a union general secretary in his sights. He proposed the Labour leadership wouldn’t shift position unless Len McCluskey of Unite would shift.
But the 26 Labour MPs – chiefly, although not alone, from Leave domains – who signed a letter to Jeremy Corbyn last week warning against a Remain position and a “toxic further referendum – will be pleased that pressure to move quickly has been withstood.