Hunt’s call for second referendum on EU deal
New prime minister must negotiate to stay in single market then put it to the people, says senior Tory
BRITAIN should hold a second referendum on the terms of leaving the European Union if it can secure a deal to control its borders, a Cabinet minister says today.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, becomes the first minister to suggest Britain could hold another vote on Brexit, despite the Leave victory last week.
He says the new prime minister must be allowed to “negotiate a deal” with Brussels and “put it to the British people” either by calling a general election or having another referendum.
Britain must remain in the single market and needs to reach a “sensible compromise” with the EU over freedom of movement rules to allow the UK to control migration, he insists.
Mr Hunt says: “We must not invoke Article 50 straight away because that puts a time limit of two years on negotiations, after which we could be thrown out with no deal at all.
“So before setting the clock ticking we need to negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election.”
Poland yesterday said that Britain should have a second referendum, in stark contrast to other EU countries’ calls for the UK to begin the process of leaving immediately. The Czech Re- public called for Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, to step down over his failure to keep Britain in the EU. Polish and Austrian politicians added their voices to the calls.
Today, David Cameron will attend a European Council meeting in Brussels – the first time he will have seen European leaders since the vote – amid signs of a growing split in Europe over how to handle Brexit.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Mr Cameron suggested a second referendum is possible but that it will be a decision for the next prime minister. He said there is a “very strong case” for remaining in the single market, something which EU leaders say is impossible without accepting unlimited numbers of migrants from the Continent.
Both Mr Hunt and Mr Cameron insist that the result of the referendum must be accepted and that Britain will leave. However, their comments risk angering Eurosceptics who believe that ending freedom of movement rules is a “red line” and may accuse them of ignoring the vote to Leave the EU.
He says: “The people have spoken – and Parliament must listen. Britain must and will leave the EU. But we did not vote on the terms of our departure.” He says the vote shows “the country has rejected the free movement of people as it currently operates”.
He adds: “So our plan must be to encourage them to reform those rules, thereby opening up a space for a ‘Norway-plus’ option for us – full access to the single market with a sensible compromise on free-movement rules.
“As their biggest non-EU trading partner, it is in the European interest to do this deal with them as much as it is in our interests to secure it.” He says by
FOR A Leader of the Opposition to lose 12 out of 30 members of the shadow cabinet in a single day might seem as bad as it can get. Jeremy Corbyn no doubt thought so when he went to bed on Sunday night.
Mr Corbyn was soon to discover, though, that no matter how bad things might be, they can always get worse. By last night, at the end of an even more calamitous day for the Labour leader, the number of resignations triggered by his sacking of Hilary Benn had risen to a scarcely believable 44.
With two-thirds of his shadow cabinet gone, he also had to endure his own MPs shouting at him to resign in the middle of a Commons debate as support for him collapsed.
Frontbenchers quit faster than he could replace them. He was a laughing stock at the Dispatch Box. His new shadow defence secretary had such little notice that he missed defence questions. Crisis turned to farce. Day two of the self-destruction of the Labour Party had begun with a smokescreen put up by Corbyn ally Emily Thornberry, who started the day as shadow defence secretary. Appearing on ITV’s Good Morn
ing Britain at 7.20am, she did her level best to deflect attention on to the parallel crisis within the Conservative Party.
“We have got all the Brexiteers from the Tory party who are now just interested in their own leadership campaign,” she said sternly.
It was a valiant effort, but within half an hour the sound of Jeremy Corbyn’s in-box pinging with resignations was back. Diana Johnson, shadow foreign minister, was first out of the blocks at 7.45am, followed two minutes later by Anna Turley, shadow minister for civil society, and two minutes after that by Toby Perkins, shadow armed forces minister.
Ms Turley told Mr Corbyn she had “many, many Labour-voting members of the public tell me this weekend that they do not have confidence in your leadership … I’m afraid I share their view”, while Mr Perkins said the Labour Party faced “catastrophe” if Mr Corbyn fought a general election.
At 8.01am, before those resignations could even be digested, Stephen Kinnock had resigned as parliamentary private secretary to the shadow business secretary Angela Eagle.
Mr Kinnock, who as son of the former Labour leader Lord Kinnock knows plenty about disastrous election campaigns, said Mr Corbyn did not have “the requisite skills or experience” to lead the party through years of Brexit negotiations.
With 12 shadow cabinet posts empty and four junior posts to fill, Mr Corbyn tried to seize the initiative by announcing a new line-up at 8.30am.
Emily Thornberry found herself promoted to shadow foreign secretary (replacing Hilary Benn, whose sacking had started the crisis), with Diane Abbott at health. Then the likes of Kate Osamor (international development) Rachel Maskell (environment) and Cat Smith (youth affairs) were plucked from obscurity to make sure Mr Corbyn had someone – anyone – sitting next to him in the House of Commons for the EU referendum debate later in the day.
Clive Lewis was given the job of shadow defence secretary despite being an opponent of Trident. His first task was to appear at defence questions in the Commons. The only problem (apart from his lack of experience) was that he was not back from the Glastonbury Festival. So Ms Thornberry had to pretend she was still doing her old job, and took his place.
Steve Reed, shadow minister for local government, quit at 8.40am, warning of electoral “annihilation” if the Labour leader stayed on.
Mr Corbyn broke cover at 9am, leaving his house in north London for a meeting with his deputy, Tom Watson, who managed to spend five minutes of their 20-minute meeting telling him what a marvellous time he had had at the Glastonbury Festival.
Mr Watson also told him he had lost authority among his MPs and faced a “bruising” leadership contest if he refused to stand down. What he did not do was give him his backing.
At least Mr Corbyn will always be able to rely on his friends in the unions. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, described Labour MPs trying to oust the leader as “self-indulgent” and said Mr Corbyn was “the best person to lead the Labour Party” through the turmoil ahead. Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said Mr Corbyn’s mandate to lead should be “respected”.
By 11am it was high time for another resignation. Roberta Blackman-Woods quit as shadow housing minister, with Jess Phillips quitting as parliamentary private secretary to the education team 10 minutes later.
Ms Phillips admitted she felt “a bit silly” writing a resignation letter, as it “seems a bit grand”, but there was nothing silly about the points she made in it. “The Labour Party is not about you,” she told him. “It’s about us, most of all it’s about them, the brilliant people in the UK.
“I’m really worried that you cannot see that you have made this all about you and not about them.”
Then came Mr Corbyn’s second meeting of the day, which proved, perhaps predictably, to be disastrous. His five soft-Left shadow ministers, Lisa Nandy, Owen Smith, Nia Griffiths, Kate Green and John Healey had asked to see him with the intention of telling him they were going to support him, subject to certain assurances. They were aghast when John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, “barged in” and hijacked the meeting, “lecturing” the MPs and vowing to fight on.
They wanted to ask Mr Corbyn how he would bring the party back together, but Mr McDonnell told them those who had resigned would be punished rather than brought back into the fold. The bunker mentality appalled them.
“They got a lecture from John McDonnell with Corbyn doing his best woodwork teacher impression,” a Labour source told The Daily Telegraph.
“They came out and thought ‘Oh my God. Your plan is to carry on and change nothing?’. They had a chat and agreed to resign’.”
All five later quit, removing one of Mr Corbyn’s last support bases within the shadow cabinet.
Before midday two more MPs had gone: Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, resigned from Labour’s education team and Colleen Fletcher had resigned as the PPS at Defra.
Ms Nandy and Mr Smith were the first members of the shadow cabinet to resign since Sunday night, and they were quickly followed by another – Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary.
The good ship Corbyn was now sinking faster than its captain could bale the water out. Angela Eagle’s twin sister Maria quit the culture, media and sport brief, taking the tally to 15 resignations, and it wasn’t even lunchtime.
Anger at Mr Corbyn’s stubbornness appeared to be turning to despair. Angela Eagle was clearly close to tears as she appeared on Radio 4’s World at
One programme, saying: “It’s just not working. Today is about Jeremy and the decision he’s got to take and I very much hope that he will take it.”
Still Mr Corbyn refused to bend. He would not be brought down by a “corridor coup”, his aides growled, promising yet another new-look shadow cabinet. Mr Corbyn’s team could not, however, keep up with the sheer pace of events.
A leaked reshuffle list, drawn up at 1.05pm, showed resignations or intended removals in red – 41 names in all. Less than 20 minutes after it had been drawn up, it was already out of date. Nick Thomas-Symonds quit as shadow employment minister, Luciana Berger resigned her mental health brief and Thangam Debbonaire quit as shadow minister for arts and culture.
One of Labour’s rising stars, the former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer was next up, leaving his post as shadow immigration minister.
Significantly, he had not been party to Hilary Benn’s attempted coup, but, like several other Labour MPs who had already quit, he had decided that the mass resignations had made Mr Corbyn’s position “untenable”.
Mr Corbyn probably felt like lying down in a darkened room by now, but there was no hiding place, with the EU referendum debate taking place in the Commons.
David Cameron could not resist having a joke or two at Labour’s expense. Welcoming to the House Rosena AllinKhan, the new member for Tooting, he said: “I’d advise her to keep her mobile phone on, she might be in the shadow cabinet by the end of the day.”
It only got worse for Mr Corbyn when he stood up to respond to Mr Cameron’s statement on Brexit.
“Many people feel disenfranchised and powerless,” he said, prompting hoots of laughter at his lack of selfawareness. He stumbled on, only for some of his own MPs to shout “resign!” at him.
One Labour MP who will never turn against him is Dennis Skinner. After shaking Mr Corbyn’s hand and patting him on the back, the veteran Left-winger stuck two fingers up at rebels, including Mr Benn, on the back benches.
By 6pm a weary Mr Corbyn was facing a new low, this time in committee room 14 of the Commons, where the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was holding its weekly meeting. One MP said they had never seen the room so full, as the vast bulk of Labour’s 229 MPs tried to cram in. Inside the room Alan Johnson, the former home secretary, “eviscerated” Mr Corbyn and his office, telling him: “I’ll take my responsibility, you need to take yours.”
One MP described the mood as “despairing”, with MPs taking it in turns to tell Mr Corbyn he would destroy the party if he did not resign. Others used words like “heartbreaking” and “just awful”.
Chuka Umunna described the meeting as “pretty catastrophic”, while another Labour MP described the Labour leader as “a vacuum surrounded by an emptiness”. Mr Corbyn’s response was to tell them he wants to win a general election. The PLP decided to hold a vote of no confidence in him.
Outside Parliament, a rally of the hard-Left Momentum group was shouting its support for Mr Corbyn. Mr Corbyn joined them and ranted about “the grotesque exploitation of workers on zero-hours contracts”. He seethed at “a government giving tax breaks to the super-rich in our society”.
For a brief moment, it was as if the events of the past week had never happened.
Mr Corbyn cannot escape from reality, though. At 4pm today, when the result of the no confidence ballot is announced, he will discover just how many of his MPs are against him.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with a crowd of his Momentum supporters in Parliament Square last night