UK Politics

Labour leadership: Smith 'wants referendum on EU deal'

Owen Smith Image copyright PA

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith wants a second public vote to approve any Brexit deal the UK strikes with the EU, according to a newspaper.

Mr Smith told the Guardian there should be a general election or referendum "when the terms are clear".

He is challenging Jeremy Corbyn to become Labour leader, with fellow MP Angela Eagle also standing.

Meanwhile, the union Unite is calling for a new reselection process to be put in place for Labour MPs.

The union wants Labour MPs to have to ask their constituency party for reselection, rather than automatically being put forward to stand.

It comes after several MPs rebelled against Mr Corbyn in an attempt to oust him as leader. The union says the change "would ensure the democratic accountability of MPs, who do not have jobs for life".

Meanwhile, in terms of setting out the parameters of how the UK should leave the EU, Mr Smith said it was clear people wanted both access to the single market and controls on immigration.

He accused Mr Corbyn of acting selfishly, and said Labour was "teetering on the brink of being destroyed".

Ms Eagle said she and Mr Smith were not "very different" in terms of political views, but she had more experience and "further reach".

Legal challenge

Mr Corbyn has rejected calls to stand down, saying he was elected as leader with a "very large mandate" 10 months ago and would campaign on "all the things that matter".

One Labour donor is launching a legal challenge to party's ruling that Mr Corbyn can be automatically included in the leadership ballot.

His rivals need the backing of 51 MPs or MEPs to stand.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Angela Eagle resigned from Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet in June

In the Guardian interview, Mr Smith said the public should be given "another chance" once they knew what Brexit deal had been agreed.

"That does mean a second referendum or a general election when the terms are clear. The Labour government should be committing to that," he said.

He said many people voted for Brexit in "good faith", but many had been "misled by the Brexit campaign" and were now thinking it was the wrong decision.

Labour's role "is to be sensible and mature about this and put our foot on the ball for the British public and say what do the terms actually look like", he added.

After the 23 June referendum, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also suggested the public should give their verdict on the UK's deal with the EU via another referendum or general election.

There have also been calls for a second public vote on EU membership itself, though the government rejected a petition demanding this.

BBC Reality Check examined these issues and concluded that another membership referendum was "unlikely", while a vote to ratify the UK-EU deal was "possible but not required by current legislation".

Who can vote in Labour leadership contest?

Labour Party members, affiliated trade union supporters and so-called registered supporters are able to vote although there are some key differences from the 2015 contest, which Jeremy Corbyn won.

  • Labour Party members need to have signed up on or before 12 January to be eligible to vote. Nearly 130,000 people have become members alone since the EU referendum. As it stands, they won't automatically be able to take part
  • Anyone can become registered supporters - giving them a one-off vote - if they pay £25 and "share" Labour's aims and values. There is a two-day window for people to sign up, expected to be between 18 to 20 July
  • Registered supporters who paid £3 to vote in last year's leadership election will have to reapply
  • Affiliated trade union or socialist society supporters can sign up for less then £25, with rates depending on the organisation they belong to, but they have to have joined an affiliated organisation before 12 January, and then need to register before 8 August

Speaking about her bid to lead Labour, Ms Eagle said Mr Corbyn "cannot provide" leadership in Parliament and was "not going down well on the doorstep" with Labour voters.

She said Mr Smith was a "perfectly fine man" whose views were similar to her own.

But she added: "I think I have further reach as a northern woman from working-class roots, as a person who understands identity politics... as a gay woman. I think I've got the toughness and the experience."

Announcing his leadership campaign on Wednesday, Mr Smith said Labour needed someone "radical and credible" in charge.

The Pontypridd MP, who quit as shadow work and pensions secretary last month, said he could "heal" the party and "turn the page" on its internal strife.

Profile: Owen Smith

Image copyright PA
  • Began his career as a BBC journalist, where he worked for 10 years as a radio and television producer, including on BBC Radio 4's Today programme
  • Worked for five years in the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry and went on to become a special adviser in Parliament
  • Elected as the Labour MP for Pontypridd in 2010, succeeding former Labour minister Kim Howells, after he stood down
  • Served as shadow Welsh secretary under Ed Miliband and then as shadow secretary of state for work and pensions under Jeremy Corbyn, until resigning in June

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