In Brexit boost, Jeremy Corbyn gets party support for his strategy
By Elizabeth Piper and William James
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won support for his Brexit strategy yesterday, fighting off a challenge by members who wanted him to immediately back remaining in the European Union before any election.
The vote at his party's annual conference in the English seaside resort of Brighton was the latest outburst of dissent over Mr Corbyn's Brexit approach, overshadowing party officials' attempts to present Labour as a government in waiting.
To howls of protest from pro-EU members and cheers from Mr Corbyn supporters, the chairwoman of the conference said the bid to force Mr Corbyn to change tack on Brexit had failed -- chaotic scenes that underlined Labour's divisions over Brexit.
Instead, members fell into line and backed Mr Corbyn's stance to first try to win an election, renegotiate the Brexit deal and then hold a special conference to decide the party's stance - either to leave with a deal or remain - in a second referendum.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting that Britain will leave the EU on an October 31 deadline, Labour, like the governing Conservatives, is struggling to agree strategy on Brexit, increasing the uncertainty over Britain's biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years.
Mr Corbyn, an instinctive leftist critic of the EU, has been under renewed pressure from party members and even some of his top team to unequivocally endorse remaining in the EU, and their rebellion had forced a vote between the two options.
The depth of feeling over Brexit was on show at conference, with even some members of his top team saying Corbyn should decide Labour's position now, rather than wait for an election that is widely expected to be held by the end of the year.
Some members argued with the chairwoman's decision to say that their bid had failed, suggesting that a simple showing of hands was not an accurate way to take a decision.
But Mr Corbyn's team breathed a sigh of relief that his position had been left intact.
"So @jeremycorbyn Brexit position triumphed at @UKLabour conference this afternoon," his home affairs policy chief, Diane Abbott, said on Twitter. "The message is, despite the chatter from commentators, the party is determined to unite behind its leader."
More than three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, both parties are still deeply divided, leaving parliament deadlocked and heightening uncertainty over when, how and even whether Brexit will happen.
Mr Corbyn has been criticised over what some describe as a vague stance on Brexit, with some in his party saying the lack of clarity has driven away Labour supporters, lowering the likelihood of any election victory.
According to a new opinion poll yesterday, more than half of voters who backed Labour at a 2017 election think it is now time for Mr Corbyn to stand down.
Brexit disputes have damaged Mr Corbyn's leadership, and on Monday even some of his closest allies said his plan to force through his idea was "a travesty".
Jon Lansman, whose leftist Momentum movement was created to support Mr Corbyn, had urged Labour members "to vote with their conscience", and the country's biggest union, Unison, had said it would back the "remain" stance because it was worried ambiguity could hurt the party's election chances.
So far Mr Corbyn's neutral strategy has held. He said on Sunday it was more important to hold the party together by embracing its "remainers" and those who want to leave the bloc.
Asked whether Labour would campaign to stay in the EU or to leave with a deal, Mr Corbyn said he would hold a special conference to determine his stance after an election, pledging to be guided by his party.
"I am leading the party, I am proud to lead the party, I am proud of the democracy of the party and of course I will go along with whatever decision the party comes to," Mr Corbyn said.