Labour’s Brexit row escalated today as London mayor Sadiq Khan warned staying neutral is “not an option”.
Jeremy Corbyn wants Labour to wait three months after an election to negotiate a better Brexit deal with the EU.
Only after that would Labour decide which way it would campaign in a second referendum. The decision would be taken next spring at a special conference.
That angered some members, shadow cabinet ministers and ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) members who demanded the party back Remain now.
It came amid a new row as Jeremy Corbyn’s term sent a “final” statement on his plans to the ruling NEC for agreement.
His team gave NEC members a 1.30pm deadline to agree the statement – at the same time as key pro-EU figures were distracted, speaking at rallies and fringe events.
Amid a backlash, a source claimed NEC chair Wendy Nichols argued such an important decision needed a face-to-face meeting. The source said a meeting was later scheduled for 8am on Monday.
But this was contradicted by a pro-Corbyn NEC source who said there was no planned Monday meeting and Ms Nichols had previously agreed to circulate the plan by email.
And sources later said Mr Corbyn’s had been agreed as a statement by the NEC.
The NEC statement will not be binding – instead, Labour members will decide the party’s Brexit policy in a separate vote on the conference floor in Brighton.
But the NEC’s and Mr Corbyn’s verdict would have been likely to influence delegates as they trooped into a crucial meeting on the party’s final policy tonight.
The “compositing” meeting will decide the phrasing of any motion on Brexit that goes to a final vote.
Up to 200 activists will work to lump together around 90 motions from local parties – mostly calling for Labour to back Remain – into one coherent motion for a vote.
Mr Khan joined Labour top figures including Emily Thornberry demanding an unequivocal Remain stance.
London mayor Sadiq Khan wrote on Facebook: “Labour is a Remain party and we need to make this official by making it our policy to campaign to stay in the European Union under all circumstances – and to whip all our MPs to back that position.
”Staying neutral in the face of the biggest economic and social threat to our country for decades is simply not an option.”
He added: “I’m making a direct appeal to delegates at Labour conference: do not accept any “compromise” on Brexit, do not accept a fudge, do not delay us setting out what our stance would be in any future referendum.
“It’s time for Labour to commit to stopping Brexit – not only by promising to give the British public the final say, but by pledging to throw all our energy behind the campaign to stay in the European Union.”
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson added: “We are a Remain Party. We are a European Party. We are an internationalist party. That is who we are. Not perfect, not pure. But overwhelmingly committed to Britain remaining in Europe and reforming Europe.
“By backing a people’s vote, by backing remain, I am sure we can deliver the Labour government the people of this country so badly need.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry turned up to the rally where Mr Watson spoke today.
And later she declared: “We must demand a second referendum, we must demand that the public has a final say and we must not just campaign to remain but we must lead the campaign to remain.”
She added “that doesn’t mean that we are not socialists or that we are disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn”.
One frustrated shadow Cabinet minister said the neutral-on-Brexit policy “hasn’t been road-tested” with the very Leave voters it is designed to please.
“The NEC motion wound everyone up,” they said.
Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn today pledged to obey Labour members if they force the party to throw its backing behind Remain in a second referendum.
The Labour leader said he would “of course” go along with the party’s decision as a row grips the annual conference in Brighton.
Under the leader’s plan, Labour would spend three months negotiating with the EU.
Then it would hold a special one-day party conference in spring 2020 to decide whether to back Remain or Leave.
But many Labour members say this stance does not go far enough and want the party to back Remain now.
“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,” Mr Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
But he added: “Please remember why people voted leave, why people voted remain.”