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Move over and call an election, McDonnell warns May

Shadow chancellor warns against second referendum and calls for a general election

JOHN McDONNELL has called on Theresa May to “move over” and call a general election following her humiliation at the hands of EU chiefs in Salzburg.

“The government clearly can't negotiate a deal. They should just move over and let us get on with it,” he told reporters on arrival at the Labour conference in Liverpool today.

He cautioned against the clamour for a second referendum on EU membership from the so-called People’s Vote campaign, which is fronted by figures from Labour’s right wing including Chuka Umunna and Lord Adonis, saying that the Labour leadership remained clear that “we’re accepting the original vote.”

Speaking to the Guardian, he echoed warnings from shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner that forcing people back to the polls on EU membership could lead to a rise in support for the far right.

Opinion polls over the summer have shown a steady increase in support for Ukip, which in a Survation poll by the end of August had overtaken the Liberal Democrats.

“The debate around the next manifesto will go on, but I really worry about another referendum,” the shadow chancellor said. “I’m desperately trying to avoid any rise of xenophobia that happened last time around; I’m desperately trying to avoid giving any opportunity to Ukip or the far right.

“I think there’s the real risk of that. We’re not ruling out a people’s vote, but there’s a real risk.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also confirmed this week that Labour should not try to reverse Brexit, saying: “The referendum made that decision.”

Pressure on Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell to buckle and allow a rerun of 2016’s vote has increased over the last month, with a TUC general council statement backed by most trade unions at its Congress failing to rule out a “people’s vote.” While trade union leaders including Len McCluskey of Unite and GMB’s Tim Roache have said that any such vote would be on the details of an exit deal only, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called openly for the option of remaining in the EU to be put on the ballot paper in a second vote.

Over half the motions submitted to Labour conference are believed to be about Brexit, with many of these calling for some form of second vote. Campaigns such as the People’s Vote and Our Future Our Choice deny being enemies of Labour’s left leadership, though the latter hired billboard trucks to patrol Labour constituencies this summer with anti-Labour messages. It was founded by Felix Marquardt, a French lobbyist whose clients have included energy giant Total and the authoritarian leader of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Opponents of a second vote point to the Leave majority in two-thirds of Labour constituencies, voicing fears that being seen to ignore the public mandate for Brexit would put millions of votes at risk. Others point out that much of Labour’s radical 2017 manifesto, which envisioned sweeping extensions of public ownership in rail, water and energy and strategic intervention in the economy via a regional investment bank, would be banned or open to legal challenge under EU regulations on competition law and state aid.

Advocates claim there is evidence of growing public support for another vote, though this has been questioned by pollster John Curtice, who notes that this depends on how questions are worded — people are more likely to support a “public vote” than another “referendum” and more likely to back a vote on the deal than another Remain-Leave choice.

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