Jeremy Corbyn has poured cold water on the idea that Labour could support a bid to attach a referendum to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal at next Saturday’s emergency sitting of parliament.
The prime minister is expected to convene the House of Commons for a rare Saturday session, either to ask for support for his Brexit deal, if he succeeds in striking one at this week’s European council – or to request that MPs back a no-deal exit at the end of this month.
Pro-remain MPs hope to amend any motion put by the government, to insist that Johnson’s deal be subject to a public vote.
But asked by Sophy Ridge on Sky News whether some MPs would be more likely to support a deal if it would be put to a referendum, Corbyn said, “I think many in parliament, not necessarily Labour MPs but others, might be inclined to support it, because they don’t really agree with the deal – but I would caution them on this.”
He said he would instead be keen to see a Labour-style Brexit deal, including a customs union, and guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental standards, put to the public.
Corbyn’s comments appeared to put him at odds with the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who said in a speech in Glasgow on Saturday that Labour would press for any deal Johnson secures to be subject to a referendum.
“Next week our priorities are clear: if Boris Johnson does manage to negotiate a deal, then we will insist that it is put back to the people in a confirmatory vote,” Starmer said.
Corbyn also declined to offer support to those Labour MPs who would like to see a referendum held before any general election.
Asked which should come first, Corbyn carefully laid out Labour’s position, as agreed at the party’s conference in Brighton last month.
“We have to get a deal that we can agree on if possible, and the Labour position is that we would take this to a public vote, with a Labour government. Within three months we would hope to reach agreement with the EU. We believe that to be possible, along the lines we’ve set out – and within six months, hold a referendum,” Corbyn said.
“And a Labour government would then implement the results of that referendum: between a sensible relationship with Europe, and remain.”
Asked when an election should be, he said, “we’ll look at any deal that comes up, before we trigger an election”. He said he was keen to focus on other issues, including investment, tackling the climate crisis, and education.
“We’re not expecting to lose the next election: it’s a hypothetical question, and it’s up to the members of our party to decide who the leader is.” Asked to identify potential candidates, he said, “I am not into the business of ordaining people.”
Asked what Labour will do if Johnson fails to pass a deal, and refuses to implement the Benn act by requesting a delay to Brexit, Corbyn said his party would, “take parliamentary action against him at that point – either by legislation or through a no-confidence vote.
And he underlined the fact that Labour believes he should lead any temporary government, if Johnson were to lose a confidence vote.
“Of course: I’m the leader of the opposition. All the British parliamentary precedents, going back as far as you care to look, are that the first option is that the leader of the opposition be invited to form an administration”.
As the SNP gather for their conference in Aberdeen, Corbyn denied that his party would consider a formal coalition with the party after a general election. “We’re not going into coalition with anybody,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of Labour supporting a fresh Scottish independence poll, he said, “we would certainly not countenance it in the early days, or early years, of a Labour government, because I think the 2014 referendum was supposed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”