Labour Party members should be given a vote in an internal Brexit referendum before MPs vote on another proposed deal from Prime Minister Theresa May.
The ballot would ask:
“Should the Parliamentary Labour Party support Britain’s exit from the EU?”
- Yes (Leave)
- No (Remain)
An internal party poll would be better than a ‘People’s Vote’ for three reasons.
- In 2015 and 2016, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader having promised to give party members a greater say over party policy. Until now, many allies of the leader have worked hard to get Corbyn-friendly candidates elected onto party bodies. During Mr Corbyn’s leadership however, the membership’s role in influencing party policy has remained unchanged. If Mr Corbyn still believes in empowering grassroots members, then he would support this proposal.
- Second, the party would bear the cost of resolving its own split and not the taxpayer through a costly nationwide poll. One leading argument for those who are against another referendum is that it would cost money and take up much needed time on parliament’s already tight timetable. But an internal referendum, asking party members for their advice would not disrupt the existing timetable. The shadow cabinet has spent months explaining its ‘six tests’ and Brexit strategy. Therefore, shadow ministers would not need to embark on a lengthy campaign to persuade party members to vote one way or another. Members would be asked to reflect on an existing policy position.
- Third, this route would keep parliament sovereign as the internal referendum would be held at the request of Labour parliamentarians, seeking the advice of party members. Another criticism of a ‘People’s Vote’ is that like all referendums in the UK, they can threaten the ability of parliamentarians to make the final decision on political matters. Although this internal poll would also be unbinding, it is an opportunity for the leadership to better engage with the views of all members of the party.
If members vote to leave the EU, then Labour would whip its MPs to vote accordingly. Labour should request that a cross-party group be established to negotiate the terms of withdrawal instead of a one-party executive.
If members vote to remain in the EU, then the PLP would vote to withdraw Article 50 and seek to block any legislation that did not guarantee the same conditions as full membership.
I make this proposal as a long-time party member and supporter, seeking the most civil solution to an unwanted and artificial problem from the Cameron-era.
Tom Parkin is a Labour member, former CLP Youth Officer and Labour NEC candidate. He is currently studying International Relations and Politics at the University of Sheffield. (Twitter: @tompjparkin)