This week the Labour conference took place in Liverpool. While Jeremy Corbyn probably would have preferred most of the conversation about the conference to centre around his pitch to become the “new common sense” party, instead the topic on most people’s lips was talk of a “second referendum” on Brexit.
Corbyn and his allies are torn between pleasing their party members, many of whom seem to want to remain in the EU, and trying to build on their 2017 General Elec tion vote by winning over people disenfranchised by the government, which includes many Brexit voters. In many ways, Corbyn’s Labour would like to regain the party’s reputation for representing working class people; Remain is often viewed as elite, whereas Brexit is seen as anti-establishment. Talk of a referendum is often interpreted as support for the former.
Jeremy Corbyn is at pains to stress that another vote wouldn’t involve reversing Brexit; rather it would be a vote on the final deal. There have been contradictory messages during the conference on that point, with Keir Starmer claiming that “nobody is ruling out remaining in the EU”.
Many of those calling for a “second referendum” are not motivated purely by wanting the best Brexit deal, they are opposed to leaving the EU altogether. They see it as a bad thing for the UK, and want to halt it indefinitely. Those who support leaving the EU are suspicious of these calls for a referendum. Increasingly, Brexiteers have taken the opinion that they will happily take ‘no deal’, so long as it means we actually leave the EU.
Since the Brexit vote over 2 years ago, the British public has not been reconciled behind one viewpoint when it comes to leaving the EU. Instead, many people have simply become more staunch behind their original viewpoint, widening the gulf between those who voted to Leave and those who voted to Remain. While the calls for a referendum on the final vote seem stronger than ever, the reality of such a vote would only be to deepen the divide.