Jeremy Corbyn has said he will “obviously be bound” by what Labour members decide on a second Brexit referendum, amid growing calls for him to back the idea.
The debate on whether the party should come out in favour of a vote on the terms of the exit deal Britain manages to strike with the European Union is set to dominate its annual conference in Liverpool.
Mr Corbyn has been coming under increased pressure to throw his weight behind the idea – and on the eve of the annual gathering he gave his strongest indication yet that this could happen.
According to a poll published this weekend, 86% of Labour members think voters should get the final say on the Brexit negotiations, and 90% would now vote to remain in the EU.
Pro-EU activists have staged a rally in the city in a bid to put further pressure on the Labour leadership to support a “people’s vote”.
But one member of his shadow cabinet told Sky News she had “reservations” about another referendum.
In a wide-ranging television interview as conference got under way, Mr Corbyn was asked if he would feel obliged to respect a vote by delegates to support another plebiscite.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Let’s see what comes out of conference. Obviously I’m bound by the democracy of our party.”
Mr Corbyn said there would be a vote on the issue at conference, but added he was not sure exactly what question will be put to delegates.
The Labour leader declined to say which way he would vote in a second referendum, saying there was “conjecture” as to what the question would be.
He also made clear that his preference was for an early general election.
Mr Corbyn said Labour would “put our case to Parliament” for an early poll, remarks which will fuel speculation the party will table a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May if the Brexit negotiations fail.
Deputy leader Tom Watson told Sky News the party would almost certainly include a pledge to hold another Brexit vote in its manifesto if members voted in favour of the idea.
He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “It seems to me inconceivable that if the Labour Party conference decides that it wants a manifesto pledge on a people’s vote that we would defy that decision.”
Mr Watson acknowledged there was “always a danger” that the resolution could be a fudge but “when it comes to a second referendum I’m sure there will be words on offer that will allow the party to come to a fixed view on that”.
He stressed it was not yet party policy to have a second vote, saying: “That is not the view Jeremy and I take, what we have said and still want the conference to support is that there is a meaningful vote in Parliament on the Brexit deal and if we can’t get a meaningful vote then there should be a general election.”
Mr Watson voted Remain in the 2016 referendum – and said it was “highly likely” he would vote the same way again.
“But I would look at what the question is on offer and I would want to know what the deal is that comes out of the negotiations, if that happens,” he added.
But in contrast to warm words from Labour’s leader and deputy leader, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey warned people would be “concerned” by a second EU referendum.
She said she would prefer for there to be an election in the event Mrs May failed to get her Brexit deal through parliament.
But Ms Long-Bailey added: “Jeremy (Corbyn) was elected to democratise the Labour Party and, although it’s not our position policy-wise, if members decided at this conference that they wanted to have a people’s vote or second referendum of course we would respect the membership.”
Ms Long-Bailey said she had concerns about another vote, because the government “might be able to skew it in particular directions to secure the result they wanted”.
While she declined to go as far as shadow cabinet colleague Barry Gardiner, who suggested another referendum could spark “civil disobedience”, Ms Long-Bailey said “people would find it quite concerning and it needs to be looked at very carefully”.
Labour’s David Lammy addressed the People’s Vote rally, asking: “Are you listening Jeremy Corbyn?”
The Tottenham MP said people from across the UK had gathered, adding: “They are saying squarely to the leadership of the Labour Party ‘listen to us, hear us, give us a people’s vote’.
“When we have that people’s vote, let us ensure that the option to remain in the EU is on the ballot paper.”