The shadow home secretary was challenged on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show after the Guardian published a letter she had written to constituents in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat, saying: “I will argue for the right of the electorate to vote on any deal that is finally agreed.”
Confronted with the wording of the letter, she said: “It’s about the electorate, and we have a parliamentary system, and we did agree, last week, against the wishes of the government, that parliament will have a final vote on the deal, and I think that’s very important, and it will allow MPs to reflect the views of the electorate.”
She added: “The Labour party does not support a second referendum, and we’ve never supported it, and we don’t support it now.”
However, Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said in a separate interview that Labour backing for a referendum could not be completely ruled out.
Appearing on Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “We’ve not said we want a second referendum. What we actually want is a negotiated settlement. The point about the vote this week was we don’t want power to be taken away from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, as the debate went in the referendum, to be given to the executive or unelected bureaucrats in Whitehall. We want parliament to have a say on it.”
When pushed on whether Labour would rule out a second referendum, Watson said: “When you’re in complex negotiations on behalf of the nation, you shouldn’t rule anything out. What I am trying to say to you [is] I don’t think it is likely at all. It would be more likely that we try and renegotiate the deal should parliament reject it.”
Theresa May was defeated in the House of Commons on Wednesday when 11 of her MPs supported an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill aimed at ensuring that the “meaningful” vote on the Brexit deal repeatedly promised by the government must happen before Britain leaves.
Another looming parliamentary showdown appears to have been averted after rebel MPs backed a compromise amendment on the government’s demand that the date of Brexit be enshrined in the bill.
A referendum on the final deal is one of the key demands of the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, as part of what he calls “exit from Brexit”, though the Lib Dems failed to make as much progress as they had hoped in June’s general election with stopping Brexit as their flagship policy.
Offering voters the chance to ratify the Brexit deal in a referendum was one of the clearest dividing lines in last year’s Labour leadership contest in which Jeremy Corbyn defeated the challenger Owen Smith.
Smith is now on Labour’s frontbench as shadow Northern Ireland secretary.
Asked about a claim last week by Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, that Labour would accept “easy movement” of EU citizens into the UK after Brexit, Abbott said the party was keen to reduce the bureaucracy of the system.
“When we leave the single market, freedom of movement will fall. What we will put in its place is fair rules and a reasonable management of migration. A part of that will be moving away from the bureaucracy that bedevils the current system.”
She said the question of whether EU citizens would require a visa to travel into the UK in future would depend on the outcome of the government’s negotiations with the EU27.
This article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Sunday 17th December 2017 12.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010