Labour 'not ruling out remain' as it seeks referendum on Government's Brexit plan

Labour is "not ruling out Remain as an option" should the party manage to get a fresh referendum on the terms of the Government's Brexit deal, the shadow secretary for exiting the EU has said.

Addressing the Labour party conference in Liverpool ahead of a vote on the issue which delegates are expected to back, Sir Keir Starmer said if Parliament voted down the Government's Brexit deal, Labour would seek a General Election.

However, if it were not possible to get a General Election, then Labour "must have other options", including campaigning for a referendum (so long as it is backed by delegates in Tuesday's vote) which Sir Keir said could include the option of remaining in the EU.

“It is right that Parliament has the first say [on the Brexit deal], but if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out Remain as an option.”

The announcement was met with a standing ovation.

  • Watch Sir Keir's full speech

Sir Keir also said he would vote Remain in any future referendum.

The former director of public prosecutions said Labour's calls for a people's vote was not "about frustrating the process, it is is about stopping a destructive Tory Brexit.

"It is about fighting for our values and fighting for our country."

The 56-year-old said Labour would not necessarily vote down the Government's Brexit plan, but would do so if it did not meet the party's six Brexit tests which it believes the deal must meet to ensure it results in "the sort of country, the sort of society we all want".

Sir Keir has previously said that Theresa May's Chequers blueprint does not meet Labour's tests.

What are Labour's six tests which a Brexit deal must pass?

  • A “strong and collaborative” future relationship with the EU

  • The “exact same benefits” as single market and customs union membership

  • Fair management of migration

  • Defence of rights and protections

  • Protection for national security

  • Delivering for all regions and nations of the UK

Sir Keir's speech was met frequently with applause. Credit: PA

Sir Keir added any "vague deal" would also be voted down by Labour.

Hitting out at the Government's progress in negotiations so far, the Holborn and St Pancras MP said there was "no credible plan", and that Mrs May's premiership was suffering from “division, chaos, failure”.

Earlier, Sir Keir - who said he was "devastated" by the vote to leave the EU - played down apparent divisions at the top of the party over the motion, after shadow chancellor John McDonnell signalled he would want any second Brexit referendum to be limited to choosing how to leave the EU.

The possibility of another referendum after 17.4 million voted to leave the EU has led to fears of civil unrest and the rise of far-right politics.

But earlier on Tuesday, Sir Keir said that could be avoided and the party had a responsibility to save the UK from leaving without a deal.

  • Ahead of his speech on Tuesday, Sir Keir told ITV News "it's looking increasingly likely that we're going to get a bad deal, or no deal", in Brexit negotiations

Warning of the perceived outcomes of a no deal Brexit, Sir Keir said it would “rupture our trading arrangements and this will cost jobs, I don’t doubt that the pound will begin to drop”.

“We won’t have any arrangements for security and counter-terrorism,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“And frankly this idea that we might have medicines stockpiled for six weeks has spooked people.

“We don’t want to face that situation and we have got a duty to do something to stop it and that’s why the option of a public vote is important as something that may have to happen when we get to that stage.”

Activists marched in favour of a referendum at Labour’s conference in Liverpool Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Labour’s position leaves the Prime Minister brutally exposed to a rebellion by restive Tory backbenchers, with fewer than a dozen able to fracture her fragile control of the Commons in the upcoming vote.

Sir Keir confirmed talks were taking place with potential rebels, adding: “There is a consensus in the House of Commons that this is not what anybody expected to happen and there is a consensus that we cannot simply allow no deal to happen because of the failure of these negotiations.

“I think if we get to that stage this autumn, most MPs would be prepared to say ‘we need to do something to prevent us crashing out of the EU without a deal’.”

Brexit minister Robin Walker accused Labour of trying to take the UK “back to square one” and of wanting to re-run the referendum, saying: “Labour promised to respect the referendum result, but are just playing political games and trying to frustrate it.”