Labour has been accused of a “sneaky” plot to reverse Brexit after the party’s deputy leader in Brussels was caught massively watering down key lines in amendments to official reports preparing for Britain to leave the European Union (EU).
Changes made by Richard Corbett included removing the promise to “respect” the referendum result, stressing the importance of the 48 per cent who voted Remain, and adding wording which undermines the public’s decision to leave the EU. Today on the BBC’s Sunday Politics the senior Labour MEP suggested the outcome of the vote was illegitimate and said Britain “might want the chance to think again”.
In the EU document, the Eurocrat tried to delete a line which states that the European Parliament “stresses that this wish [to leave the EU] must be respected”. In place of this, the amendment says the bloc simply “notes” the vote to leave, “while taking account of the 48.1 per cent who wished to remain in it”.
Corbett added that the EU “should not stand in the way of any reconsideration by the UK of its intended departure” in another edit to the vital document. The language — if the amendments had been adopted — would have allowed MEPs to officially state Britain could change its mind on leaving the bloc.
In one edit, the senior Labour figure has prefixed the word “decision” with “likely”, in a line which notes “regard to the decision to leave the [EU] resulting from the UK referendum”. In another, a reference to Britain’s “decision to leave the EU resulting from the UK referendum” has been replaced with “the result of the UK referendum”.
In a passage which refers to respecting “the will of the majority of the citizens of the United Kingdom to leave the EU”, the Labour Eurocrat has changed “citizens of the [UK]” to simply “those who voted in the recent referendum”.
Originally proposed in October, the changes were rejected this month by a vote in Brussels’ constitutional affairs committee but will be voted on by all MEPs in February.
Corbett has been Labour’s deputy leader in the European Parliament since 2014 and repeatedly called for the UK to “rethink” Brexit since the referendum. Appearing on the Sunday Politics the MEP suggested the newspapers which covered his changes to the EU report are engaged in a conspiracy to “try and slap down any assertion that Britain might, perhaps, want to rethink its position on Brexit”.
Defending his action, Corbett claimed he receives “lots of letters” which complain that the outcome of the vote was “based on a pack of lies and a questionable mandate”. However, the Labour figure has used this phrasing himself on a number of occasions.
If passed, critics say the amendments will increase the possibility of the Leave vote being reversed. Senior Tory MPs have said the move to undermine British voters’ decision to leave the EU signals Labour are intent on calling a second referendum and sabotaging Brexit.
Iain Duncan Smith said: “Richard Corbett is not only ignoring the will of the British people but he seems to think he speaks for the whole Labour party on Brexit.
“It’s clear from his attempts to amend the legislation that intend to do what we always suspected – and keep demanding more and more referendums until we get the decision he wants.
“Jeremy Corbyn must distance himself from these amendments and reject any further changes, to prove the Labour party accepts the result of the referendum without equivocation.”
Dominic Raab, a former justice minister, went further and suggested the Labour leader was in cahoots with the attempt to betray the Brexit vote.
“The public will be shocked to learn that Labour’s deputy leader in Brussels is telling the EU it doesn’t need to respect the referendum result, and is manoeuvering to engineer its reversal.
“If Jeremy Corbyn wants to backslide on Brexit, he should at least be honest about it, not engage in sneaky wrecking tactics,” he told the Telegraph.