Labour MP Gareth Snell warned the public has “no appetite” for a rerun poll and said the numbers “simply do not exist in Parliament” to vote it through. “If we all now run back to our preferred positions and say we’re not going to move from this point, we put no-deal back in play by virtue of ruling everything else out,” he added. Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, criticised Mr Watson for making the demand.
“Frankly I think his intervention is irresponsible, it’s a big gamble and it’s not what Labour communities need,” he said.
Mr Watson went further than Labour’s official policy by prioritising another referendum over a general election in a speech yesterday.
But he denied claims he was muddying the waters or trying to pitch for Jeremy Corbyn’s job.
The deputy leader claimed that “compromise is in the air” and said some Conservative MPs have moved towards favouring a second referendum.
“Everyone knows we have got to give a little to find a parliamentary solution to what is a national crisis,” he said.
“All I’m saying, to do with my own personal contribution, let’s all give a little and maybe we can find a way through this.”
He said there was “no such thing as a good Brexit deal” and the result of the 2016 vote to Leave is “no longer a valid” because it took place nearly four years ago.
Mr Corbyn has committed a Labour government to hold another referendum but he wants an election first.
Asked about Mr Watson’s demands, the Labour leader replied: “It’s Tom’s view – I don’t accept it, I don’t agree with it.
Labour MP Owen Smith backed Mr Watson’s position and said the party should be clear that it “doesn’t believe Brexit is a good thing”.
He claimed Mr Watson was “speaking for the majority of Labour members and the majority of Labour voters who voted to remain in 2016”.
“If we go into this election in a middle-of-the-road fudgy triangulated way, we will get run down,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer insisted the party was united in its referendum policy.
He said: “We are in good spirits and, as I say, referendum on any deal now, and referendum in the manifesto, and so that is a really important united position.”
Labour’s civil war ratcheted up after MPs attacked deputy leader Tom Watson for demanding a second referendum to overturn Brexit instead of an election. Former minister Caroline Flint, part of a group committed to backing an exit deal, accused Mr Watson of “fantasy politics”.
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