Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems have profited from having a simple message on Brexit that appeals to Remain voters.

BRISTOL, England — The U.K.’s self-confessed Brexit “hard-liners” have rediscovered the art of insurgency.

If the polls are correct, the Liberal Democrats are on course to shake off the taint of five years in a coalition government that stripped their vote to its core and left them with enough MPs to fill a camper van.

Like the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage — set to be the runaway success story of the country’s unexpected European election — the Lib Dems have embraced their place at one extreme of the U.K.’s polarized post-Brexit politics.

Their slogan — “Bollocks to Brexit” — is a case in point.

Unequivocally backing a second referendum and remaining in the EU, without the kind of caveats attached to the larger Labour Party’s Brexit policy, the Lib Dems are free to encapsulate their stance in three simple words.

“We’ve got to cooperate. It’s a necessity. And I will continue to make that argument” — Lib Dems leader Vince Cable

And so far, it appears to be working, with the party climbing steadily in the polls. Activists now whisper excitedly of the prospect of getting more votes than the Conservative Party at a national election for the first time since 1906 — and even overtaking Labour.

POLITICO’s latest projections, based on an aggregation of recent polls, bears that out, putting the party at 16 percent, with 12 seats (up from one MEP), just ahead of the Tories on 10 percent with seven seats. The Brexit Party is out in front with 33 percent (26 seats), with Labour on 17 percent (14 seats).

But things could have been even better if the national parties backing a second referendum and Remain — the Greens and new outfit Change UK — had formed an alliance. It is something that veteran party leader Vince Cable, in a message his successor, who will be appointed this summer, says must happen if the party is to turn a good performance at a European election into success at the next general election.

“I think we have to … it would be foolish for the parties that are basically in the same position politically to be fighting each other,” he told POLITICO. “We’ve got to cooperate. It’s a necessity. And I will continue to make that argument.”

Lib Dems leader Vince Cable, Scottish Lib Dems European elections candidate Sheila Ritchie, and MP Christine Jardine unveil a new election poster on May 16, 2019 in South Queensferry, Scotland | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Fragmented Remain vote

Cable, who confirmed that it remains his intention to stand down in the summer to make way for a new leader, made his name as the quintessential serious politician, once dubbed “the politics of substance made flesh.”

So how does he feel about “Bollocks to Brexit”?

“I have looked at the etymology of the expression [“bollocks”] which is from the 18th century. The reference said the word had a ‘long and serious history,’” he said during a campaign visit to Bristol, southwest England. “So I felt rather better about it.”

Last week, the Lib Dems’ status as the apparent winners of the contest to be the most popular pro-Remain party appeared to have been sealed when the lead candidate in Scotland for Change UK, the party formed by 11 rebel Labour and Tory MPs, defected to the party. Another of its candidates, Rachel Johnson, who left the Lib Dems to stand for Change UK, said at the weekend she felt like a rat who had jumped on a “sinking ship.”

Leaked Change UK strategy documents last month showed the new party’s plan to peel off Lib Dem activists and funders, replacing the party as the main pro-EU option. So with Change UK bumping along at 4 percent in the polls, does Cable feel a certain Schadenfreude?

“There is an element of that … but the votes haven’t been counted yet and I don’t want to go around saying we told you so … We are going to have to try to work together.”

The Lib Dems have struggled to shake off the criticism that in coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, they were co-architects of austerity.

According to POLITICO’s projections, the vote of the Lib Dems, the Greens and Change UK combined would amount to 29.5 percent, a share that comes close to rivaling the Brexit Party.

The ambition of Remain parties, said Cable, should be to create a “serious alternative” to what he characterizes as “two potential disasters, a nationalistic Tory government probably hauling Farage on board, or a Corbynite government.”

The new hard-liners

In a new pamphlet — perhaps a valedictory set of lessons for his successor — Cable calls Brexit “a symptom of a deeper political shift involving the politics of identity and the emergence of new alignments that do not fit comfortably into the ‘left-right’ narrative.”

If the European election, dominated by Brexit, is a test-case for what he calls the “new polarity” then the Lib Dems need to be unashamed of their status at one extreme.

“On this issue we are not centrists. We are hard-liners,” he said.

But in a general election, issues other than Brexit will come to the fore. In their battle with Labour in particular, the Lib Dems have struggled to shake off the criticism that in coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, they were co-architects of austerity. They argue the policies were necessary to rescue an economy smashed by the financial crisis. Labour pledges to reverse many of the spending cuts that have angered and exhausted voters.

MP Jo Swinson is the favorite to succeed Cable as party leader of the Lib Dems | Leon Neal/Getty Images

Cable, who served as business secretary in that government, defends much of what the coalition did as necessary to avert economic calamity. “You can’t and shouldn’t wipe out history. Many of the things we did were good and I’m proud of them,” he said.

“There were some negatives for sure,” he conceded, but rejected the idea that the Lib Dems need to make a clean break with the coalition years. “Where we’re getting to is a combination of insurgency with a credibility that comes from having been in government both local and national,” he said.

Leadership election

The party entered the European election off the back of impressive local election results, in which they gained more than 700 councillors. Should they do well this week, their momentum could carry on into the summer with the election of a new leader.

The favorite is deputy leader Jo Swinson, the 39-year-old MP for East Dunbartonshire in Scotland. Cable is 76 and on his visit to Bristol, joked with a student activist about his senior citizens’ bus pass and being an “old codger.” Swinson gives speeches at anti-Brexit marches carrying her 10-month old son Gabriel in a baby carrier.

Speaking to POLITICO in her Westminster office, she has none of Cable’s polite reservations about uttering the new Lib Dem slogan.

“I’ll say it absolutely: ‘Bollocks,’” she said with gusto. “Maybe it’s because I’m from Glasgow, I don’t know, but it doesn’t strike me as a particularly dreadful word.”

Swinson is slightly more circumspect than Cable about the coalition government, which she too served in, as a junior minister.

Lib Dem supporters wait for the arrival of MPs Jo Swinson and Ed Davey for a photocall on May 14, 2019 in London | Leon Neal/Getty Images

“I think there is something to learn [from Brexit],” she said. “There’s too many people who find that things are too hard and a decade of wage stagnation has clearly made that more difficult. My view, with the benefit of hindsight, is that before the financial crash the economy was broken in terms of whether it was working for everybody in society … what we found with the financial crash was that all that difficulty came to the fore.”

And she said “those small ‘L’ liberals on the progressive side of politics,” including those in the coalition, did not have a strong enough answer about what needed to change.

“It was a crisis. The economy was collapsing … [but] those who have had a nationalist agenda to push have been able to pour into that situation their view that the problem is the EU, or immigrants.”

Swinson is yet to formally declare her intention to run for the leadership, but sets out her stall as one who would be open to the Lib Dems being “open-minded to radical ideas” like, for instance, building on the party’s long-standing environmentalism, by considering a U.K. version of the Green New Deal.

“The time for incrementalist policies is not now. Things are more fundamentally broken,” she said. She rejected the idea that a European election in the time of Brexit is a special case, and that the Lib Dem revival might be a flash in the pan.

“Because it’s such a totemic issue I think it does carry beyond … people will remember where the parties were on Brexit for quite some time,” she predicted.

Theresa May to bring her Brexit deal back to parliament in June

Downing Street says fresh talks with Labour were ‘useful and constructive.’

LONDON — Theresa May will bring her Brexit deal back to parliament in the first week of June, Downing Street said, despite talks with Labour so far failing to guarantee the opposition’s support.

The prime minister met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Westminster on Tuesday evening. But while Downing Street said the fresh talks were “useful and constructive,” neither side indicated that a breakthrough had been achieved.

Nevertheless, May now intends to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — the legislation required to implement her Brexit deal — to the House of Commons in the week commencing June 3. This timetable, a Downing Street spokesperson said, would give MPs the chance to pass the bill and allow the U.K. to leave the EU before they depart for their summer break. Passing the deal in July would allow the U.K. to leave on August 1.

However, with no deal with Labour yet secured, and with large factions in both parties implacably opposed to the deal, it remains unclear how May hopes to win a majority in the Commons to achieve this goal.

A Downing Street spokesperson said May had told Corbyn of her  “determination to bring the talks to a conclusion and deliver on the referendum result to leave the EU.”

“We will therefore be bringing forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week beginning the 3rd June,” the spokesperson said. “It is imperative we do so then if the U.K. is to leave the EU before the summer Parliamentary recess.”

Labour officials insisted there had been no agreement to support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in a vote in the Commons. A party spokesperson said that Corbyn had set out concerns that even were a deal secured, May might not be able to deliver on it.

“In particular he raised doubts over the credibility of government commitments, following statements by Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers seeking to replace the prime minister,” the spokesperson said.

“Jeremy Corbyn made clear the need for further movement from the government, including on entrenchment of any commitments.”

Talks between the government and Labour officials will continue on Wednesday. Despite progress in some areas, the two sides, which have been in talks for nearly six weeks, are yet to find agreement on customs policy post-Brexit, while Labour is also under pressure from backbench MPs and some shadow Cabinet ministers to make any deal conditional on a second referendum.

May’s decision to reach out to Labour has been blamed by many Conservative MPs for the party’s plummeting poll rating ahead of European election on May 23.

Yaxley-Lennon faces fresh contempt of court proceedings

MEP candidate was jailed last year for filming people outside court.

LONDON — Anti-Islam activist and MEP candidate Stephen Yaxley-Lennon will face fresh legal proceedings over contempt of court allegations, judges in the U.K. ordered.

The former leader of the English Defence League, known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, is accused of filming people involved in a criminal trial last year and broadcasting the footage on social media.

The case will be heard at the Old Bailey in London on July 4 and 5, days after the formation of the new European Parliament of which Yaxley-Lennon is standing to be a member.

Yaxley-Lennon, an independent European election candidate in the North West England region, was jailed last year for filming people outside court in Leeds, but the contempt finding against him was quashed by the Court of Appeal in August.

However, two High Court judges on Tuesday ruled a new case should be brought, following an application from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who said in March there were “strong grounds” for fresh proceedings.

Protesters gathered outside the High Court in London in support of Yaxley-Lennon, and were met by counter-demonstrations organized by the Stand Up to Racism group.

As well as standing as an independent in the European election, Yaxley-Lennon has been appointed by UKIP leader Gerard Batten as an “adviser” on grooming gangs.

Verhofstadt backs Lib Dems on the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ tour

Vince Cable’s Lib Dems are the ‘natural’ home for Remainers, says ALDE leader.

LONDON — Remain-backing voters in the U.K. should vote for the Liberal Democrats as “the most pro-European” party, Guy Verhofstadt said on a campaign visit to London.

The Lib Dems face a challenge in the European election from new party Change UK and the Greens, which both share their policy of a second referendum on EU membership.

But Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), said that Vince Cable’s Lib Dems were the “natural” home for Remainers.

“If there is one pro-European party in Britain, it [is] the Lib Dems,” he said. “That has always been the case.”

Speaking alongside Verhofstadt at a campaign rally in north London, Lib Dem leader Cable said his party was going into the European election with “momentum” following positive local election results last week which saw them gain more than 700 council seats across England.

Referring to the party’s new “Bollocks to Brexit” election slogan, he added: “We have a very clear, simple, unambiguous, honest slogan, which is ‘Stop Brexit.’ There’s a slightly cruder version … which you may have seen.”

Lib Dem MEPs, he said, would contribute to a “powerful liberal force in Europe to stand up to the ugly populism that is now happening in Britain and the rest of Europe.”

Asked about reports that the U.K.’s lead Brexit official, Olly Robbins, had asked him about becoming a Belgian citizen, Verhofstadt replied: “It was a joke … where is your British sense of humor? I hope in Brexit that you don’t lose that.”

UK confirms participation in European election

David Lidington says he hopes a deal will be struck that avoids new UK MEPs having to take their seats.

LONDON — The U.K. will take part in the European election on May 23, Theresa May’s de facto deputy David Lidington said, confirming that efforts to reach a cross-party compromise and ratify a Brexit deal would not be concluded in time to avoid the vote.

Cabinet Office Minister Lidington said the government was under a legal obligation to hold the election. Under European law, as long as it is an EU member, the U.K. must have representation in the European Parliament.

“We very much hoped that we would be able to get our exit sorted and have the treaty concluded so that those elections did not have to take place. But legally, they do have to take place — unless our withdrawal has been given legal effect — so those will now go ahead,” he said.

He said MPs had rejected several opportunities to leave the EU with an “orderly deal,” and that ministers and the Labour opposition were now working on a new approach that could command “maximum possible support amongst politicians of all political parties.”

“But what this now means, given how little time there is, is that it is regrettably not going to be possible to finish that process before the date that is legally due for European Parliamentary elections,” he added.

Talks between the government and Labour were due to continue Tuesday. Lidington said that while the deadline for avoiding the election had passed, he still hoped to reach an agreement and ratify a deal in the House of Commons soon enough to prevent any U.K. MEPs from taking their seats when the new Parliament meets in early July, or failing that by the end of July.

“Ideally we’d like to be in a situation where those MEPs never actually have to take their seat at European Parliament, certainly to get this done and dusted by the [U.K. parliament] summer recess,” he said.

Theresa May heckled at post-election speech

The prime minister was commiserating with councillors who had lost their seats ‘through no fault of their own.’

LONDON — The loss of more than 500 council seats in town hall elections across England was a “symptom” of the Conservative party’s struggles over Brexit, Theresa May said.

Speaking at Welsh Conservative party’s spring conference in Llangollen, north Wales, the prime minister was heckled before her speech by one party activist who asked: “Why don’t you resign?”

With results still coming in from elections to 248 local councils in England and 11 in Northern Ireland, May acknowledged a “difficult” night for the Tories. With just over half of councils so far declared, the party had lost majorities on 18 local authorities and seen 516 councillors lose their seats, amid a surge in support for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

“Those elections were very difficult for our party … councillors who have given years of hard work in their local communities have lost through no fault of their own,” May said. “… This is a difficult time for our party and these election results are a symptom of that.”

The opposition Labour party, with whom May is pursuing a cross-party compromise deal on Brexit also had a disappointing night, losing more than 70 council seats. May said that election results carried a “simple message” for both parties: “Just get on and deliver Brexit.”

Speaking earlier in Greater Manchester, Corbyn said he wanted Labour do better but dismissed suggestions that the party’s equivocal stance on Brexit stance should change, saying his goal was to “bring people together.”

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, meanwhile, hailed what he called “spectacularly good” results. The party, which at a nadir in its support the last time these council seats were contested, has so far won more than 340 council seats and overall control of eight local authorities. He attributed the success to public dissatisfaction with Tory and Labour policy on Brexit, but also hailed the party’s local campaigners.

“People have been writing us off in the past and we’ve demonstrated today that we are very much part of three-party politics,” he said from Chelmsford in Essex, a surprise gain for the party in a city that voted in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum. Local Lib Dems gained 26 seats on the council, while the Tories lost 31.

British voters go the ballot box again on May 23 to vote in European elections, with the result promising to be even worse for the Conservatives as two new parties — Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and pro-EU group Change UK — contest an election for the first time.

Theresa May’s electoral damage limitation exercise

Local elections in England and Northern Ireland are the first major national political test for 12 months.

LONDON — It is not a question of will it hurt, but how much.

Thursday is the first major electoral test for Theresa May since she signed her Brexit deal — and it’s likely to be an exercise in damage limitation for her divided Conservative Party.

With the U.K.’s exit now delayed, the party’s support in national polls has finally started to slip. They are now consistently polling below 30 percent nationally, behind Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Few expect that even a bad result for the Tories on Friday will make May’s already precarious position very much worse. Her MPs are already in more or less open revolt and awaiting a timetable for her departure. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

But the rapid double-punch of town hall polls this week followed by the European election on May 23 — in which the Tories are also projected to lose ground — could embolden MPs who think a more full-blooded approach to Brexit is needed.

The fear among Tories is that supporters frustrated and angry at the Brexit paralysis will withhold their votes.

The saving grace for the prime minister this week could be that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, the main beneficiary of Brexit voters’ anger, is not standing in this local election.

But as the results from 248 local councils across England and 11 councils in Northern Ireland begin to filter through in the early hours of Friday morning, Downing Street will be scouring the numbers for a positive narrative. With both Labour and the Liberal Democrats eyeing significant gains, that looks a vain hope.

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to what to look out for in the results:

Tory story

The fear among Tories is that supporters frustrated and angry at the Brexit paralysis will withhold their votes.

Pro-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London on January 8, 2019 | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

“Clearly Brexit is having an impact, but there is still a lot of sympathy [among Tory voters] for the prime minster personally,” said one Tory MP and former Cabinet minister. “I think a lot of our voters may stay at home and if they vote they’ll vote for us through gritted teeth.”

However, there are signs that it might not be the disaster some predict.

The absence of the Brexit Party, which according to POLITICO’s aggregation of recent national polls is leading the pack (together with Labour) and is 11 percentage points ahead of the Tories, is key. The party was only set up in February and at the moment is solely a protest movement, with no appetite for running councils.

Meanwhile, UKIP, the other political force that could benefit from Tory disillusion, is a shadow of its former self and is fighting only one in six of the more than 8,400 seats to be contested in England.

“It may not be as bad as people are presuming because of the fact that many disappointed Tory Leave voters won’t have anywhere else to go other than to stay at home,” said John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and one of the U.K.’s leading polling experts.

However, the absence of their main rival means that even if the Tories do exceed expectations, the result may “flatter to deceive,” Curtice said.

“The breaking point for many Conservatives was when Theresa started talking to Labour [in pursuit of a Brexit compromise]” — Richard Kellaway, chairman, Maidenhead Conservative Association

One pattern to look out for on Friday morning, he added, will be whether Tories in wards without a UKIP candidate do better than wards where UKIP are standing. That could be a good indicator of how significant the Tory flight to hard Brexit parties will be in the European election.

May’s home patch

The prime minister’s local council, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, is one of those being contested.

Dominated by the Tories for 12 years, it is highly unlikely to change hands, but May’s party could lose seats; a disappointing outcome in an area where May still regularly campaigns on the doorstep personally for the local party.

The mood among the electorate is “quite volatile,” said chairman of Maidenhead Conservative Association Richard Kellaway, 73, who is standing down from his council seat ahead of the election (not out of protest, but “purely because of age”).

“The breaking point for many Conservatives was when Theresa started talking to Labour [in pursuit of a Brexit compromise]. It was a bit of a red rag to the bull. There’s been a lot more anger since then,” Kellaway said.

For a truly good set of results, the Labour Party will be looking to take at least 35 percent of the national vote.

Turnout could be low. “I suspect [Conservative supporters] will just not vote … I think I’m more concerned about the apathy than the anger,” he said.

The Conservatives’ dominance on the local council has already been hit by the resignations of several councillors who now sit as independents or with a new hyper-local party, Borough First. The Liberal Democrats, who ran the Council before 2007, hope to make gains.

But Kellaway remains confident May’s local council will weather the Brexit storm and stay blue.

“There is deep anger in the country against the whole of parliament, but bear in mind in this constituency there is huge regard for Theresa May,” he said. “She has been walking the streets [canvassing] for 22 years. She knows everyone, she works incredibly hard, she still canvasses at least twice a month … that tempers the anger. I suppose they feel: ‘Would anyone else have done it any better?’”

Results are expected at around 4 a.m., local time, on Friday morning.

Labour gains

The official opposition, despite leading the Tories for weeks in national polls, have had relatively disappointing showings in recent local elections, Curtice said.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to party members in the Red Lion pub, during local election canvassing on April 16, 2019 in Winsford, England | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

For a truly good set of results, the party will be looking to take at least 35 percent of the national vote, pull well ahead of the Tories, and to win overall control of a batch of new councils.

Narrow Tory-Labour marginals like Dudley in the West Midlands and Gravesham in Kent should be safe bets. Taking councils where a bigger swing is required, such as Walsall in the West Midlands and Amber Valley in Derbyshire, will be a clearer sign of a good night for Labour, Curtice said.

The elections in 2015, when most of the council seats up for grabs were last contested, was bad for Labour: They lost more than 200 seats, so they have ground to make up. Their vote share in the European Parliament election in three weeks’ time is likely to be less affected by the fact that the Brexit Party is on the ballot paper because Labour voters are roughly two to one Remainers. So their performance in this vote is likely to be a more accurate indicator of how they will do in that election than it will be for the Tories.

Lib Dem revival

Like the Tories, the Liberal Democrats go into this election with the advantage that a major new rival is not on the ballot paper. New pro-EU party Change UK, formed by rebel Labour and Conservative MPs, has a near-identical stance on Brexit to the Lib Dems and is fishing in the same pool of Remain voters perplexed by Labour’s equivocal backing for a second referendum.

In theory, that should leave room for the Lib Dems, who typically do better in local elections than national ones, to have a good election. The district of Bath and North East Somerset is a major council target.

In truth, they can’t do much worse than in 2015 when most of these seats were last contested; after five years of a coalition government with the Conservatives, their support base was then hollowed out and they took just 11 percent of the vote, losing more than 400 seats in the process.

The new Change UK will potentially draw support from the Lib Dems  | Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

From that low bar, we could see significant Lib Dem gains. “Given that they’re going to get the challenge of Change UK in three weeks’ time, they do need to demonstrate that they are making progress,” Curtice said.

The party will soon begin the process of choosing a new leader, with incumbent Vince Cable planning to make this month’s elections his last at the helm.

Greens and hyper-local parties

The Green Party, which typically takes a respectable share of council seats nationwide, will be one to watch at this election as the only firmly pro-second referendum rival to the Lib Dems. They may also benefit from a pre-election news cycle dominated by the Extinction Rebellion climate protests and the visit last week of Swedish school girl and climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Elections in Brighton, one of their city strongholds, could yield more seats for the party.

Also notable will be the success or otherwise of the numerous hyper-local parties standing in the election.

While not a new phenomenon in British politics, the formation of new parties rejecting Westminster-centric party politics and focusing purely on local issues — a manifestation of wider malaise with the Westminster system — has been an increasing trend in many areas.

According to Electoral Commission figures, 27 new parties registered last year, and 17 have done so already in 2019. The fortunes of recent startups like the Andover Alliance in Test Valley, Hampshire, Best for Middlesbrough and others could be an interesting indicator of whether the hyper-local trend is here to stay.

British MP removed from office by petition, triggering by-election

Fiona Onasanya had already been expelled from Labour party after being jailed for lying about a speeding ticket.

LONDON — Former Labour politician Fiona Onasanya lost her parliamentary seat Wednesday after a successful recall petition, triggering a by-election and making her the first British MP to be removed from office by this process.

Onasanya, who was jailed in January for lying to police about a speeding ticket, was subject to a recall petition — a legal process by which constituents can remove an MP convicted of a crime — which was backed by 27 percent of the electorate, above the 10 percent threshold required to remove an MP from office. Her constituency in Peterborough will now hold a by-election.

She had already been expelled from the Labour party following her conviction and the party had encouraged her to resign.

“The people of Peterborough clearly agree that Fiona Onasanya is not fit to be their MP and we’re delighted they will now have the chance to vote for a Labour MP in our excellent candidate, Lisa Forbes,” said Labour party chair Ian Lavery.

Onasanya was released in February after serving four weeks of a three-month sentence, and has actively voted in the House of Commons since her release. She was the first sitting MP in nearly three decades to be jailed. Onasanya has claimed someone else was driving her car when it was seen speeding in July 2017.

Peterborough is a marginal constituency which Labour won from the Conservatives by just 607 votes in June 2017. The by-election is likely to be hard-fought, and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party has indicated it will also run a candidate in the vote.

Labour rejects broader backing for second Brexit vote

For EU campaign, party sticks to policy of referendum as last resort.

LONDON — Labour’s European election manifesto will include a pledge of support for a second referendum on Brexit, but only if the party cannot secure a general election or force the government to change its deal with the EU.

A meeting of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee on Tuesday agreed that the manifesto should follow the party’s existing official policy of pursuing a public vote on Brexit only as a last resort. Several leading figures in the party, including Deputy Leader Tom Watson and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry have voiced support for a referendum on any kind of Brexit deal.

However, party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his allies have not backed a second referendum without conditions and Tuesday’s NEC decision appears to be a victory for the current policy, as agreed at the party’s conference in September last year.

A party official said after the meeting that the manifesto, which will be published shortly, “will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy; to support Labour’s alternative plan, and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a general election, to back the option of a public vote.”

The meeting, which ran for nearly six hours, followed reports that drafts of a party campaign leaflet did not contain any mention of a public vote under any circumstances. Some firmly pro-second referendum MPs therefore welcomed the decision.

“Glad the NEC has made the right call and confirmed that a public vote will be in our manifesto for the European elections,” tweeted Labour MP and second referendum supporter Wes Streeting. “We’re a Party for remain and it’s right that everyone — leavers and remainers — should be given the #finalsay on our Brexit future.”

However, the decision leaves the party’s overall position unchanged.

“Labour’s European elections manifesto was agreed at the NEC today and it will be published soon,” a party spokesperson said. “Labour is the only party which represents both people who supported Leave and Remain.”

Labour is currently in talks with the government seeking a compromise on changes to Theresa May’s Brexit plan that could see Corbyn’s party backing her deal in the House of Commons.

Negotiations on Monday evening were more positive than in previous days, government officials reported. One of the key sticking points, according to officials on both sides, is over Labour’s demand for the government to agree a customs union with the EU — something that would likely enrage many Conservative MPs.

The prime minister’s spokesman said Tuesday that talks with Labour had been “serious and constructive” and that further negotiations were being scheduled “in order to bring the process toward a conclusion.”

Corbyn snubs Trump dinner at Buckingham Palace

Labour leader said he was opposed to the president receiving the ‘red carpet’ treatment.

LONDON — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn declined to attend a state dinner at Buckingham Palace in honor of Donald Trump.

The U.S. president will make a state visit to the U.K. in June, which will include a banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth. But Corbyn, an outspoken critic of Trump, said he was opposed to the president receiving the “red carpet” treatment and would not be attending the dinner.

He did say he would welcome a meeting with Trump “to discuss all matters of interest.”

“Theresa May should not be rolling out the red carpet for a state visit to honour a President who rips up vital international treaties, backs climate change denial and uses racist and misogynist rhetoric,” Corbyn said in a statement. A state visit is one in which the queen, on the advice of the U.K. government, issues the invitation.

“Maintaining an important relationship with the United States does not require the pomp and ceremony of a State Visit. It is disappointing that the Prime Minister has again opted to kowtow to this US administration.”

Corbyn is the second U.K. political leader to decline an invitation to the state dinner. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable announced on Thursday that he would not be attending, saying that he believed the extension of full state visit honors had been granted “inappropriately” by Theresa May’s government.

Trump will visit the U.K. from June 3-5, meeting the queen, holding discussions with May at Downing Street and accompanying the prime minister at a major commemoration event to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The state visit was first offered by May in 2017 when she became the first foreign leader to visit Trump at the White House. Amid concerns about major planned protests, the trip was initially put on hold, with Trump making a more low-key visit without full state honors in July last year.