Labour to back second Brexit vote in effort to avoid no-deal outcome

London to bring back direct rule in NI as administrative move in event of crashout

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: “We are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.” Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

In a major policy shift on Monday night, the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would back a second referendum on Brexit.

Mr Corbyn told Labour MPs that the party would also back a vote this week in the House of Commons that, if passed, would compel Theresa May to delay Brexit rather than leave the EU without a deal on March 29th.

"One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May's overwhelmingly rejected deal. That's why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country," he said.

Mrs May will make a statement on Brexit to MPs on Tuesday ahead of votes on a series of amendments on Wednesday, including one tabled by Labour MP Peter Kyle that would put the prime minister's deal to a referendum. Labour will table an amendment outlining its own Brexit plan, including a permanent customs union but it is almost certain to be defeated.


"If parliament rejects our plan, then Labour will deliver on the promise we made at our annual conference and support a public vote," shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said.

Possible delay

Labour's move comes as EU leaders, meeting in Egypt for an EU-Arab League summit, raised the possibility of a delay to Brexit by extending the article 50 process. Mrs May did not rule out a delay to Brexit but said it would not "deliver a decision in parliament".

Meanwhile, The Irish Times understands the British government is likely to reintroduce direct rule to Northern Ireland if there is a no-deal Brexit.

The move is being planned principally because of a large amount of new legislation, regulations and government orders which will become necessary to deal with a no-deal Brexit, according to British and Irish sources who have been briefed on the plans.

There is legal uncertainty surrounding the powers of civil servants in the North in the absence of the powersharing institutions, and British ministers and officials have been advised the legal changes necessary after Brexit may need to be done from London, necessitating a period of direct rule.

Several Irish Government sources confirmed Dublin is aware of the plans, which have been suggested as an administrative necessity rather than a political move.

Restoring Stormont

The Department of Foreign Affairs did not comment directly on the prospect of direct rule but said the Assembly and Executive were “urgently needed in order to represent the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland and address issues of concern”.

The Northern Ireland Office said secretary of state Karen Bradley is "focused on working closely with the political parties and restoring the devolved institutions at Stormont".

Unionist parties have repeatedly urged the British government to introduce direct rule, but the move has been strongly resisted by the Irish Government. Sinn Féin and the SDLP also oppose the move.

The British government has resisted the DUP’s request for the reintroduction of direct rule, though it was forced to introduce a “direct rule budget” for the North last year in Westminster to provide a legal basis for the continued spending on public services in the North under the direction of civil servants.

But there are doubts about the legal basis for the extent of civil servants' powers. A court judgment last year which found that Northern Ireland civil servants did not have the legal authority to sanction a controversial waste incinerator plant in Co Antrim has prompted caution by officials about the extent of their powers in the absence of the Assembly and the powersharing executive.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times