The seven Yorkshire MPs who back a People's Vote on Brexit
As Brexit day looms with little sign of a resolution, campaigners say a second referendum could provide the answer. But do Yorkshire's MPs agree? Liz Bates and Rob Parsons report.
With Brexit uncertainty showing no signs of abating, this week Labour’s top team has once again found itself under pressure over its backing - or not - for a second EU referendum.
The party has struggled with its position on the issue, as it tries to retain support in its Brexit-backing heartlands while also pleasing its overwhelmingly pro-EU membership.
The official campaign for another poll - known as the People’s Vote - has gained some unexpected traction as politicians look for a way out of the Brexit deadlock that has gripped Westminster.
In Yorkshire, however, it is still falling flat, with only seven of the region’s 54 MPs prepared to get behind it publicly. The rest are either steadfastly against or take the Labour party line that frames the idea as one of many options still on the table. This would seem to put the MPs in sync with the region’s voters, who firmly opted to leave in the 2016 vote.
But new polling commissioned by second referendum campaigners suggests the region might be keen to go back to the ballot box, with 59 per cent of those asked in favour of a so-called People’s Vote.
According to the survey, 52 out of 54 Yorkshire constituencies would back the plan, on the condition that parliament failed to agree a deal. The highest results - all over 70 per cent in favour - were found in Leeds North West, Sheffield Central and Sheffield Hallam, with the views of two local MPs encapsulating Labour’s divisions.
Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel has thrown his weight firmly behind the People’s Vote drive, telling The Yorkshire Post: “The Government have had over two years to sort out the Brexit mess and it is becoming increasingly clear that no form of Brexit currently commands majority support in Westminster or across the country.
“With Parliament gridlocked, it’s clear the people of Yorkshire now want the chance to be brought back into the Brexit process after being locked out since 2016.”
But in Sheffield Central, shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield is more reserved. He said: “We want to explore all the options for a better deal without the Government’s red lines. But if that can’t be achieved, we recognise the support for a further public vote.
“That’s why our amendment to the Government’s motion last week called for no deal to be ruled out, for a close economic relationship with the EU, and for legislation to provide for a further public vote. Unfortunately this was voted down but we will continue to make the case.”
They spoke before the announcement by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell today that Labour would support a fresh referendum on Brexit if Theresa May is unable to get a compromise exit deal through Parliament.
All the public supporters of a second vote in Yorkshire are Labour MPs with majority backing for the plan in their areas - including John Grogan in Keighley, Angela Smith in Penistone and Stocksbridge, Mary Creagh in Wakefield and Barry Sheerman in Huddersfield, Alex Sobel in Leeds North West and Rachel Reeves in Leeds West. Jared O'Mara, the independent MP for Sheffield Hallam, also backs a People's Vote.
The two constituencies opposed to the idea are Tory seats, namely Chief Whip Julian Smith’s patch of Skipton and Ripon and Kevin Hollinrake in Thirsk and Malton.
Other Tory MPs in the region are equally dismissive of the idea, but are also joined in their strong opposition by a handful of Labour MPs including Rother Valley’s Sir Kevin Barron.
Mr Hollinrake said: “I agree with the majority of my constituents who took part in the survey that there should be no second referendum.
“Throughout the process I have supported the Prime Minister because, in my view, her deal gives Parliament control over immigration, our laws and our money whilst protecting businesses and jobs.”
Conservative Julian Sturdy, representing York Outer, described the polling as “disingenuous”. He said: “I respect those who want a second referendum, but I do not think this would be in the national interest.”
Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew, a Conservative, confirmed he would not support a second referendum while Alec Shelbrooke told the YEP that a second referendum would not deliver on the decision of the British people or provide certainty for businesses and investors.
He said: "With Jeremy Corbyn resisting pressure from his own party members who want a second referendum, the right thing to do now is for all parliamentarians from all parties to support the Prime Minister and the deal she is seeking to achieve."
According to Professor Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe research initiative, there is not enough support in Parliament to get a second referendum through.
He told an audience in Leeds that it was unclear whether there was a public appetite for it as survey results differed depending on whether they were asked about a ‘People’s Vote’ or ‘second referendum’.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves spoke at an event organised by the People’s Vote campaign in Leeds on Thursday. Though the panel and the audience were in favour of a second vote, the topic that caused the most debate was what the question on the ballot paper should be.