Jeremy Corbyn will tell Labour MPs tonight that the party will back a public vote on Brexit. This is the first sign of how The Independent Group has changed the political weather; it is hard to imagine Corbyn accepting this policy without the threat of more defections.
Now, we wait to see the details of this policy and whether Labour is going to back a second referendum with Remain on the ballot. But if this is the shift, it is significant. In the 2017 election, Corbyn managed — to my surprise, and with some political skill — to successfully straddle the Leave / Remain divide. This decision will make that more difficult. But there is some talk in Westminster this evening that Labour’s eventual position will be to campaign for its Brexit deal in a referendum. Indeed, the speculation is that the choice Labour wants in a referendum is between its Brexit deal and Remain. (Something which means that very few Tory MPs are likely to be tempted by this amendment).
Corbyn is being pushed in to backing this ‘public vote’ by the fear that more of his MPs will defect if he doesn’t. It is also worth remembering that the Labour membership is massively in favour of Remain. But there’s a reason beyond personal preference why Corbyn has held out against a second referendum for so long. Of the 45 seats in England and Wales that Labour needs to win to get a majority, 35 voted Leave. Compounding this, 16 of Labour’s 20 most vulnerable seats in England and Wales backed Brexit.
Now, Labour’s backing of a public vote doesn’t mean it is suddenly going to pass the Commons. There are a chunk of Labour MPs who won’t vote for a ‘public vote’ and it is hard to see more than a handful of Tory MPs backing this kind of second referendum amendment.