British Labour leader Corbyn faces showdown with party members over Brexit

British Labour leader Corbyn faces showdown with party members over Brexit

By Elizabeth Piper and William James

 

2019-09-23T080614Z_1_LYNXMPEF8M0G3_RTROPTP_4_BRITAIN-EU-CORBYN.JPG

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Britain, September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Files

 

BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party will vote to decide its Brexit strategy on Monday, with leader Jeremy Corbyn heading for a showdown with his members over whether the party should back staying in the European Union.

 

The vote at its annual conference in the English seaside resort of Brighton is the latest attempt by the party to bridge its divides over Brexit, a row that has overshadowed party officials' attempt to present Labour as a government in waiting.

 

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting that Britain will leave the EU on an Oct. 31 deadline, Labour, like the ruling Conservatives, is struggling to agree strategy on Brexit, increasing the uncertainty over Britain's biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years.

 

Leftist Corbyn, an instinctive critic of the EU, has been under renewed pressure from party members and even some of his top team to unequivocally back remaining in the EU and their rebellion forced a vote between two options on Monday.

 

Britain's Labour Party will on Monday decide between two possible Brexit policies: to campaign to remain in the European Union at a second referendum or defer a decision on what stance to take until after an election, a Labour source said on Sunday. Michelle Hennessy reports.

 

The party will vote on whether Labour should be neutral before a new election, which is widely expected to come by the end of the year, or whether the party should declare a so-called "remain" stance now.

 

Corbyn's finance policy chief, John McDonnell, backed the Labour leader's approach of trying to win an election, to renegotiate a Brexit deal and then to hold a second referendum when lawmakers can campaign for whichever side they want.

 

"We are working together as a party to make sure that people have a choice and that people will decide," McDonnell told Sky News. "That means having another referendum in which the people will be able to decide between a sensible option in terms of 'leave' and making sure they also have the option of 'remain'."

 

But Corbyn has been criticised over what some describe as a vague stance on Brexit, with some in his party saying the lack of clarity has driven away Labour supporters, lowering the likelihood of an election victory.

 

According to a new opinion poll on Monday, more than half of voters who backed Britain's opposition Labour Party at a 2017 election think it is now time for Corbyn to stand down, an opinion poll showed on Monday.

 

So far the Labour leader has struck a neutral stance, saying on Sunday it was more important to hold the party together by embracing its "remainers" and those who want to leave the bloc.

 

Asked whether Labour would campaign to remain in the EU or to leave with a deal, Corbyn said he would hold a special conference to determine his stance after an election, pledging to be guided by his party.

 

"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," Corbyn said.

 

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-09-23
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