Tom Watson has said that Labour can form a united front to fight against the Tories in the General Election as confusion reigned over the party’s policy on Brexit.
Labour’s deputy leader insisted his party was capable of maintaining its supremacy in Black Country wards targeted by the Conservatives in the June 8 poll.
He said Labour was ‘in the right place’ over its Brexit policy, but refused to rule out the party campaigning for a second referendum.
His comments came as speculation mounted that Labour could promise a public vote on the EU deal in a bid to hold onto disenchanted Remain voters.
But just hours later a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn poured cold water on the issue by confirming that a second referendum would not be included in the manifesto.
Mr Watson was in the Black Country at the launch of Dudley North MP Ian Austin’s election campaign.
Speaking exclusively to the Express & Star at Dudley College, the West Bromwich East MP, said: “We have said that we want Parliament to have a say on what the deal is, and I don’t think that is unreasonable given that it is the most important decision facing the country in my lifetime.
“But we also said we respect the decision to trigger Article 50, and we took a lot of flack for that. I think we did the right thing by respecting the decision of the people...that’s what you do in a democracy.”
When asked whether he was in favour of putting the final Brexit deal to a referendum, Mr Watson said: “I think we need to see what the deal is and I think you have to wait for our manifesto for me to confirm that either way. My view is the people have spoken, we have triggered Article 50, we will come out of the EU, but we have to fight for the best deal we can.”
Yesterday morning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had also suggested that calling a second referendum was a possibility.
But a spokesman for Mr Corbyn announced later: “A second referendum is not our policy and it won’t be in our manifesto.”
The party has been rife with division over the past two years, with Mr Corbyn comfortably winning two leadership elections despite widespread opposition from the bulk of his own MPs.
But Mr Watson said Labour would defy its low ratings in the polls and unite in opposition to the Tory Government.
Theresa May had ‘misled’ people with her intentions by calling the election, he said resulting in Brexit negotiations being put ‘on hold’ for the next two months.
“I don’t think that’s for the good of the country,” he said, before adding that the Tories had deceived the country on National Insurance.
They said in their last manifesto they would not tax small businesses.
They are not going to say it in this one.
“Labour is going to focus on Theresa May’s record and on the Tory plan for Britain.
“It’s not going to help the Black Country. It’s not going to help businesses or families and we are united in getting that message across.”
Wolverhampton South West MP Rob Marris, Gisela Stuart and Fiona Mactaggart have all said they will not defend their seats at the June 8 poll.
Mr Watson said he was ‘very disappointed to lose Mr Marris, who he described as ‘a great MP for Wolverhampton’. “You always lose MPs at elections,” he said.
“They have only had 48 hours to make their decision. I’m not surprised they are going. We have to make sure we get bright, young talented people to replace them.”
The Conservatives have targeted several Black Country constituencies in the election, with Wolverhampton South West, Walsall North and Dudley North said to be particular points of focus.
But Mr Watson said he believed Labour could hold onto all three seats.
Ian Austin has vowed to put the people of Dudley first as he launched his General Election campaign in the town centre.
The Labour MP for Dudley North said he planned to fight the upcoming election ‘on purely local issues’ and pledged to continue to fight for people in the borough who are ‘struggling to get by’.
Mr Austin has been a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn, and heckled him in the Commons last year over the Labour leader’s opposition to the Iraq war.
He said that issues that matter to the people of Dudley would be a the top of his campaign agenda.
“I will be fighting the Dudley North election campaign on local issues, including police funding, town centre investment and Russells Hall Hospital,” he said.
“My job is to stand up for people in Dudley, who in many cases are working hard and struggling to get by.”
Mr Austin, who has held the seat since 2005, also pledged to continue to represent Dudley people on Brexit in the House of Commons.
“I’m fighting for the best deal for local businesses and to protect jobs in Dudley and to attract more jobs to the Black Country,” he added.Subscribe to our Newsletter