One of the many surprising features about Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015 was that he managed to get chosen by a party that is overwhelming in favour of EU membership despite, for most of his career, being in favour of the UK being out. Corbyn accepted remain as the party’s position, members adored him for other reasons, and mostly this contradiction has been glossed over. At the last two party conferences Labour used classic procedural ploys to defuse a split on this issue; in 2017 members decided to shelve a proposed debate on Brexit to avoid the need for a row, and last year the party adopted a compromise “all options on the table” composite on a second referendum that satisfied remainers while not actually committing the party to anything.
But this year it looks as though a split can be avoided not longer. As we explain in our overnight story, delegates will be asked to choose between two rival Brexit motions – one setting out Jeremy Corbyn’s preference, which is for the party to postpone deciding whether it will campaign for remain in a second referendum until after the election, and another saying the party should commit to remain now. As our story explains:
[Corbyn’s] proposal to put off the decision until after an election was endorsed by the national executive committee, by 16 votes to 10, after members were asked to send their agreement by email and without a meeting.
“The NEC believes it is right that the party shall only decide how to campaign in such a referendum – through a one-day special conference, following the election of a Labour government,” the statement said.
However, pro-EU activists fought during a lengthy meeting on Sunday night to ensure there would be a vote on the conference floor on Monday on whether Labour should immediately adopt an unequivocally remain position.
More than 50 local parties swung behind a pro-remain motion, while eight backed a more neutral motion closer to the leadership’s position. Both options will now be voted on by delegates, along with the official national executive position, leaving open the possibility that competing motions could pass and cause further confusion over the party’s Brexit policy.
At Labour conference trade unions have almost half the votes, and constituency Labour party (CLP) delegates have the other 50%. (A handful of non-union affiliated organisations have the rest.) Members are largely in favour of the “back remain now” approach, but the unions seem to be mostly behind the party leadership.
In a statement last night Michael Chessum, national organiser of Another Europe is Possible, which has been mobilising support for the “back remain now” motion, said that it would “look awful” if Corbyn won today just as a result of the union bloc vote. He said:
Ninety percent of motions to this conference are anti-Brexit, reflecting a membership which is overwhelmingly pro-remain. We are taking a remain position to conference floor, where we are expecting a close vote. Using union bloc votes to defeat the overwhelming majority of members may well not work, and would look awful.
There will be an attempt to turn this into a loyalty test. But those proposing these motions are by and large people, like me, who have spent years fighting for the left inside Labour and backing Corbyn. We want a radical Labour government, and Corbyn in Number 10. The best way of getting there is with clarity on Brexit and a clear message to our members and voters that we are on their side.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, is about to discuss this on Today.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.45am: Conference opens. Delegates will debate economic issues.
12pm: John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, speaks.
2pm: Delegates start a debate covering foreign affairs and Brexit.
2.15pm: Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, speaks.
5.10pm: Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, speaks at the end of the debate. At that point delegates will vote although, if there is a card vote, the result will not be announced immediately.
As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web, although I will focusing almost exclusively on the Labour conference. I plan to publish a summary when I wrap up.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here.
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