Sadiq Khan has set out the possibility of Britain remaining within the EU, arguing that Brexit could be legitimately stopped if the Labour Party included the pledge in an election manifesto or committed to a second referendum,Hindustan Times reports.
In a considered and powerful intervention that could raise the hopes of remain supporters, the London mayor described himself as “an optimist” about the possibility of the UK staying part of the European Union.
But he said it was only possible to “trump the referendum” of 2016 in which 52% opted to leave the EU with a fresh, democratic vote, which could be delivered through the next general election or a national vote on the final Brexit deal.
“For it to have credibility with the British public, there would have to be a Labour manifesto offer, because the public would say, not unreasonably, ‘Hold on a sec, we voted to leave and you’re now sticking two fingers up at us’,” he said.
“You’d have to spell out, in black and white, what we’d do if we won the general election. What could trump the referendum result is us having a manifesto offer saying, we would not leave the EU, or we would have a second referendum.”
The comments are likely to fuel Labour’s divisions on Brexit, as the leadership is adamant that the party should respect the result of 28 June last year, but some MPs believe Labour should fight for a second referendum.
The party has been pulled in different directions over Brexit by those who warn of the risk of losing working-class voters across the north if there is any loosening in support for leaving the EU, and those who warn of the fiercely pro-EU views of Labour members. The Guardian recently revealed that an overwhelming majority of Labour members support staying in the single market and customs union , and favour a second vote.
Labour’s position has softened in recent days, with Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, making clear that staying in the single market and customs union should stay on the table, contradicting previous remarks by Jeremy Corbyn and Barry Gardiner, the shadow trade secretary.
But the shadow cabinet is united overall in the view that Labour should be in favour of carrying out Brexit. In response to Khan’s comments, a Labour spokesman said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and is making the case for a jobs-first Brexit through securing full tariff-free access to the European single market.”