LONDON (Reuters) - British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed a second referendum on any Brexit deal on Wednesday, his strongest support yet for a vote he said must offer “real choices” for those who want to leave or stay in the EU.
Corbyn, an instinctive critic of the European Union, has been under growing pressure to back unequivocally a second referendum to satisfy many members and lawmakers in his party who say it is the only way to break the Brexit deadlock.
He has previously showed his preference for a new national election, almost three years since Britain voted to leave the EU which left both his party and the governing Conservatives deeply split over how, when and whether Brexit should happen.
Corbyn has come under fire for trying to keep both the so-called “Leave” and “Remain” sides of the debate happy by not siding with either camp. His latest shift may ease strains for some, but for others it will be too little, too late.
Addressing his top policy team, Corbyn set out his position more clearly than before: “I have already made the case ... that it is now right to demand that any deal is put to a public vote. That is in line with our conference policy which agreed a public vote would be an option.”
“A ballot paper would need to contain real choices for both leave and remain voters. This will of course depend on parliament,” he said in a statement.
But in a sign that Labour’s discussion over Brexit is by no means complete, Corbyn also called on others in Labour and trade unions to express their views.
“Then I want to set out our views in public,” he said.
Corbyn, who led Labour to a much stronger than expected showing in a 2017 general election, has long wanted to move the conversation away from Brexit, seeing his anti-austerity message as a vote winner.
But Labour and the Conservatives were punished in European elections last month, with many of their supporters either turning to a new movement led by veteran euroskeptic Nigel Farage or the pro-EU message of the Liberal Democrats.
That result has prompted soul-searching, with many Labour lawmakers saying the only way for the party to recover is to embrace a second referendum and then campaign to remain in the EU. Earlier Corbyn’s spokesman declined to comment when asked whether Labour would campaign for Remain in any new vote.
Chris Leslie, who left Labour to join an independent group, said Corbyn was playing his party’s members and lawmakers “for fools”.
“Corbyn has delayed and prevaricated for so long, he’s run down the clock on Brexit,” he said on Twitter. “There’s maybe only eight parliamentary weeks left before crashing out!”
Editing by Stephen Addison