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UK's Labour will back public Brexit vote if parliament rejects its exit plan, says Brexit spokesman

Key Points
  • Britain's opposition Labour will support a second referendum on Brexit if parliament rejects the party's alternative plan for leaving the bloc, its Brexit spokesman said on Monday.
  • Parliament is due to debate and vote on Wednesday on the next steps in Brexit.
  • Labour has said it put forward an amendment calling on the government to adopt its Brexit proposals, which include a permanent customs union.
Britain's Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party's Shadow Secretary of State for Departing the European Union Keir Starmer leave a meeting with European Union Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier (not pictured) at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2019.
Francois Lenoir | Reuters

Britain's opposition Labour Party said on Monday it would back calls for a second referendum on Brexit if parliament rejects its alternative plan for leaving the European Union.

With just over a month until Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29, Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking changes to her exit deal in order to break an impasse in parliament.

Labour's decision could damage her hopes of winning support for a revised deal in a vote she has promised by March 12, by attracting those who would have backed her agreement to avoid a no-deal exit but who prefer a second referendum.

Parliament is due to debate and vote on Wednesday on the next steps in Britain's tortuous departure from the EU, and lawmakers are set to put down proposals, or amendments, which could include demanding the exit deal is put to a public vote.

Labour said it would put forward an amendment calling on the government to adopt its Brexit proposals, which include a permanent customs union with the EU and close alignment with the bloc's single market.

"If Parliament rejects our plan, then Labour will deliver on the promise we made at our annual conference and support a public vote," Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Twitter.

Parliament is not expected to back Labour's Brexit plan.

Labour said it would support a bid by its lawmaker Yvette Cooper to give parliament the legal power to force May to delay Brexit by seeking an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period.

"We are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory (Conservative) Brexit being forced on the country," Labour leader Corbyn was due to tell a meeting of his lawmakers on Monday, his office said.

"One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal."

No turning back

That amendment may not come at this week's vote in parliament however.

A proposal by Labour lawmakers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson that May's deal be put to the public in another referendum will not be put forward for a vote in parliament until May brings her agreement back for approval.

"There's no turning back for Jeremy now," Kyle said.

Corbyn has been under pressure for some time to support a second referendum. Last week, eight referendum-supporting lawmakers quit the Labour Party, in part owing to frustration over his failure to back another vote.

The prospect of holding a second vote poses a dilemma for Corbyn; while many of the party's members and supporters fervently back a so-called People's Vote, others simply want Britain to leave the EU as soon as possible.

Reaction from lawmakers in the meeting on Monday was split.

It remains unclear whether there is a majority in parliament in favour of holding another public vote and Labour lawmaker Stephen Kinnock said while he was pleased parliament would get a chance to express its view, he also had concerns.

"I still have deep reservations about the idea of having another referendum. I think it's going to be deeply divisive," he said.

Britons voted by 52-48 percent in favour of leaving the EU in a referendum in 2016.

The Remain Labour campaign group, which wants to stop Brexit, said the announcement was "a significant step forward".

"A second referendum was only ever possible with the votes of Labour Members of Parliament and we are now on the verge of making this happen," founder Andrew Lewin said in a statement.

"We are not complacent, but we are closer tonight to a Peoples Vote than we have ever been."

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Key Points
  • British lawmakers were meant to be given a vote this week on British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal.
  • That vote has been delayed and it will now take place just 17 days before the U.K. is meant to leave the EU.
  • May said on Sunday that her government is making progress in talks with the EU and that a deal is still "within our grasp."