In a surprising change from his long-held position that the United Kingdom (“UK”) should leave the European Union (“EU”), Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn announced on February 25, 2019, that he would support a second referendum to address whether the UK should remain in the EU.
Corbin changed course on this issue after facing significant pressure from members of his party. Among other things, nine Labour MPs abruptly defected to create a new Independent Group, which was shortly joined by former Conservative MPs, to show their support for remaining in the EU. Corbyn’s change of position was an attempt to avoid further defections because of his support for Brexit.
Despite Corbyn’s announcement, it remains likely that Brexit will take place, as most observers currently expect. Prime Minister Theresa May, her government, and most members of the Conservative Party in Parliament oppose a second referendum on the issue. Because of their opposition, Corbyn’s spokesman has asserted that Prime Minister May is “recklessly running down the clock” to try to “force MPs to choose between her botched deal and a disastrous no deal.”
Prime Minister May appears, however, to be willing to delay the Brexit process to some extent. One day after Corbyn’s announcement, the Prime Minister informed the House of Commons that she would commit to holding a vote in the House to delay Brexit if Parliament did not approve her Brexit plan. In the announcement, Prime Minister May stated that she would commit to holding a “meaningful vote” on her Brexit plan by March 12, 2019. If the House of Commons does not approve the plan, as is expected, the Prime Minister stated that she would then hold a March 13, 2019 vote to assess whether the House of Commons “supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.” If both of those votes fail, the Prime Minister stated that she would seek a vote on March 14, 2019, to determine whether the UK should “seek a short, limited extension to Article 50,” the clause in the EU Constitution under which the UK is leaving the EU.
It remains unclear how the debate in Parliament over Brexit will play out over the next month.