Jeremy Corbyn has insisted that Labour is the only one seeking to unite a divided UK as he launched the party’s European elections campaign on Thursday (9 May). But he again sat on the fence on a second referendum on Brexit.
Labour has come under pressure to come clean on whether to support a second Brexit referendum and Corbyn sought to distance his party from viewing the polls as a proxy battle between Leave and Remain supporters.
“Labour will never be the party of the 52% or the 48%, we are the party of the great majority,” he said, adding that “a vote for Labour is the only plan to bring our divided country back together”.
“Over 17 million people voted to leave the EU, and as democratic socialists we cannot ignore that,” said Corbyn
“But we cannot respect the government’s shambolic handling of Brexit.”
He also repeated that if Labour could not secure its own Brexit plans for the UK to stay in a permanent customs union with the EU, or force a general election, it backed “the option of a public vote”, later adding that a second referendum could be “a healing process”.
Corbyn also poured cold water on the prospects of cross-party talks with Theresa May producing an agreement, telling reporters that “there has been no big offer and the red lines remain in place”.
But Labour’s exercise in fence-sitting has drawn short shrift from overtly pro-Remain parties, and is likely to cost the party a significant number of votes. Party officials have warned privately that they expect Labour to perform poorly.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described Labour as a “pro-Brexit party”, which was “depressingly close” to May’s Conservatives.
The pro-Remain Liberal Democrats also unveiled their own campaign on Wednesday under the ‘bollocks to Brexit’ slogan.
Party leader Vince Cable insisted that his party was “clearly the best organised” to take on Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, which is set to comfortably top the poll on May 23.
The Liberal Democrats have been buoyed by strong results in last week’s local elections, but Cable expressed regret at the failure of pro-Remain parties to unite behind a common platform in the European elections.
At the Scottish National Party’s campaign event In Edinburgh, meanwhile, Sturgeon urged her country to use the elections to send a message to May’s government that “Scotland has had enough of being ignored”.
The SNP wants to hold a second referendum on independence if Brexit becomes reality. 63% of Scots voted Remain in 2016, and at least five of the six Scottish MEPs elected are likely to represent pro-Remain parties.
May’s Conservatives are now the only significant UK party yet to hold a campaign launch, and party sources suggest there is little chance of one taking place or a manifesto being published.
They face the prospect of finishing in sixth place in the election, with party sources warning that the Tories could win fewer than 10% of the votes.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]