Jeremy Corbyn has seen off an attempt by grassroots activists to force Labour to adopt an out-and-out remain position ahead of a general election.
Amid chaotic scenes at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, delegates rejected a composite motion, hammered out in a late-night meeting on Sunday, that would have seen Labour pledge to campaign for remain.
Corbyn had made clear that he would prefer to defer the decision about how Labour will campaign in a referendum, until after a general election.
That approach, as set out in a statement from the national executive committee (NEC), was agreed on the conference floor with a show of hands – and “composite 13”, calling for a remain stance, was defeated.
A string of speakers throughout the debate at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton urged their colleagues to fall in behind Corbyn’s stance.
With just months, or perhaps even weeks to go before a general election, there were fears that a show of disunity would harm the Labour leadership.
When the remain motion fell, many stood and cheered, and broke into a chorus of “oh, Jeremy Corbyn”.
The chair, Wendy Nichols, initially appeared to say the motion had been carried – but then said it had lost, after a conversation with Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, who was sitting alongside her on the conference stage.
Nichols then rejected calls for a full card-vote – which would mean formally counting delegates’ votes – to be held.
Frontbenchers including Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis have called for their party to declare its allegiance before a general election.
But Labour strategists fear an out-and-out remain position would jeopardise the party’s chances of holding onto leave constituencies.
Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, whose speech wound up the debate, did not explicitly call on Labour members to support the remain motion.
“We need to ask the public whether they are prepared to leave with the best deal that can be secured. Or whether they wouldn’t rather remain in the EU. The people must have the final say.
“A referendum in which ‘remain’ should – and will – be on the ballot paper. Along with the best leave deal that can be secured. We owe it to those who want to leave to secure that leave deal and put it to them in a referendum.
Starmer chaired the late-night meeting on Sunday that resulted in two motions being drafted. Only the one which closely echoed the NEC’s statement was passed.
Earlier, Momentum founder Jon Lansman had urged members to vote with their conscience, complaining that the NEC, of which he is a member, had not had the opportunity to scrutinise the wording of the statement properly. “There was no meeting, no discussion, no consultation with the membership,” he said.
Disappointed remain campaigners pointed out that Labour in Wales and Scotland have already adopted an anti-Brexit stance – and key members of the frontbench are on their side.