Jeremy Corbyn has a tough weekend ahead of him as he tries to reconcile competing Brexit positions at Labour’s annual conference.
Pro-remain members have tabled some 61 motions calling for the party to revoke Article 50, and senior figures on the front bench, including Diane Abbott, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, have said that they would campaign for remain in the event of a second referendum.
Meanwhile union bosses — who between them hold 50 per cent of voting rights at conference — have spent the summer attempting to block moves from the shadow cabinet to back a remain stance.
And it’s not just the party that holds contradictory views on Brexit: Mr Corbyn himself has changed his stance on the EU many times over his parliamentary career.
Let’s take a look at what he’s said, and where Labour stands now.
It’s fair to say that for the majority of his political life, Mr Corbyn has been less than enthusiastic about the EU.
In 2015, he told Reuters that he voted against Britain’s membership of the trade bloc’s forerunner, the European Economic Community, when Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson put the question to a public ballot in 1975.
And his scepticism continued as a backbench MP.
In 1993, he described the “great danger to the cause of socialism in this country or any other country of the imposition of a bankers’ Europe on the people of this country”.
Three years later, he railed against “a European bureaucracy totally unaccountable to anybody,” lamenting that “powers have gone from national parliaments”.
Ahead of Ireland’s 2009 referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Corbyn said of the EU’s ties with NATO: “We are creating for ourselves here one massive great Frankenstein that will damage all of us in the long run.”
‘Lukewarm’ referendum campaign?
The Labour leader was criticised by some in the party for what they considered his “lukewarm” campaigning during the 2016 referendum.
Just weeks before the vote, he famously told Channel 4’s The Last Leg that his enthusiasm for EU membership was about “seven, or seven and a half out of 10”.
But in a separate speech at the time, he maintained that despite its deficiencies, there was still an “overwhelming case” for remaining in the trade bloc.
Immediate reaction to Brexit vote
On the day after the referendum, Mr Corbyn said his party would “accept the vote and move on”, and a few weeks later, explicitly ruled out a second referendum, saying “you have to respect the decision people made.”
Pushing ahead with Brexit
Mr Corbyn moved closer to an actively pro-Brexit stance in March 2017, instructing Labour MPs to vote to trigger Article 50 using the strongest tool at his disposal, a three-line whip.
And in the spring, Labour’s election manifesto committed to a “jobs-first Brexit” in which Britain would “keep the benefits” of single market and customs union membership. In other words, the party intended to leave the EU with a deal.
In November 2017, Labour whipped MPs to vote against a parliamentary amendment to keep the UK in the single market and customs union.
Shifting sands on second referendum
Despite supporting a move to leave the single market and customs union (which has been associated with “harder” forms of Brexit), Mr Corbyn seemed to flirt with the remainer-friendly idea of a second ballot in the final months of 2017.
That December, he said “we’ve not made any decision on a second referendum,” which some commentators took to mean a policy announcement was due.
Yet in January 2018, he asserted that Labour was “not supporting or calling for a second referendum.”
But Mr Corbyn re-opened the question again in September 2018 when he told the party faithful that “if Parliament votes down a Tory deal or the government fails to reach any deal at all we would press for a General Election. Failing that, all options are on the table.”
It followed a Labour conference motion, passed by an overwhelming majority of delegates, compelling the party to “support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.”
In April this year, Mr Corbyn took further steps towards a second ballot, whipping MPs to support a motion requiring a “confirmatory” referendum on any Brexit deal.
Is Labour the party of remain?
In July 2019, while the Conservative leadership contest was still underway, Mr Corbyn wrote to Labour members: “Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or No Deal, back to the people in a public vote.”
He continued: “In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either No Deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs.”
In the same letter, he asserted that “we need a general election”, but did not explicitly state whether that should come before a second referendum or not. Given the proposition was to force a Conservative PM to put their deal on the ballot paper, we take it that in July, Mr Corbyn envisaged a second referendum happening before a general election.
But it seems Labour’s position has changed again since then.
On 11 September, Mr Corbyn said “Labour will do everything to stop a no-deal Brexit, that is our priority. After that, we want a General Election … and [voters] will get the chance for a public vote under a Labour government between remain and a credible option, which we will negotiate with the European Union.”
On 17 September, he wrote in the Guardian that “a Labour government would secure a sensible deal”, which would be “put to a public vote alongside remain.” He says he “will pledge to carry out whatever the people decide, as a Labour Prime Minister.”
FactCheck approached Labour to ask about these apparent changes to the party line. We’ve yet to hear back from them and will update this article if we do. Here’s the position as we understand it.
In July, Mr Corbyn wanted an immediate referendum and said he would campaign for remain against a Conservative deal.
Now he says he wants a general election first. While Labour still pledge to hold another referendum, there is no word on the likely timescale, and the promise to campaign for remain has been dropped.
Instead, Labour will try to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU first, and they will implement whatever option the public vote for.
There is one thread of consistency throughout this: Mr Corbyn says stopping a no deal Brexit remains his top priority.
In yesterday’s statement, Mr Corbyn attempts to plough a middle furrow between leave and remain, criticising Boris Johnson’s plan to “crash Britain out of the EU” with no deal and the Lib Dems’ commitment to revoke Article 50 and “overturn the 2016 referendum”.