Jeremy Corbyn has said he will back a second Brexit referendum if it is supported by the Labour Party conference.
As activists assembled in Liverpool for their annual gathering, the Labour leader said he would still prefer to force a general election by defeating Theresa May’s Brexit plan in the Commons.
But in an interview with the Sunday Mirror, he said that he would accept a vote by conference for a second referendum.
“What comes out of conference I will adhere to. But I’m not calling for a second referendum. I hope we will agree that the best way of resolving this is a general election,” he said.
“But I was elected to empower the members of the party. So if conference makes a decision I will not walk away from it and I will act accordingly.”
His comments came as a poll for The Observer found 86% of Labour members think voters should have the final say on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, and 90% would now vote to remain in the EU.
Meanwhile The Sunday Times reported that Mrs May’s aides have begun contingency planning for a snap general election to save her premiership after EU leaders rebuffed the Chequers blueprint for Brexit.
Two senior members of her political team responded to her humiliation last week in Salzburg by “wargaming” an autumn vote to win public backing for her plan, the paper said.
While Labour has never taken the option of a second referendum off the table, Mr Corbyn is facing intense pressure at the conference to fully back the idea.
MPs and union leaders are expected to join a march on the opening day of the conference on Sunday to demand a so-called “People’s Vote”.
Deputy leader Tom Watson has also come out in support of the campaign, while more than 100 constituency parties have submitted motions calling for the issue to be put to a vote.
Many activists believe that with Mrs May’s plans in disarray following the rejection of her Chequers proposals by EU leaders in Salzburg, the time is now right for Labour to throw its weight behind a fresh ballot.
The YouGov survey of more than 1,000 Labour members found 86% support a referendum on the outcome of Brexit talks, against just 8% who oppose it.
Even in the North and Midlands, where many Labour constituencies voted Leave in 2016, there was overwhelming support – 86% and 88% respectively – for a second vote.
Some 81% believe their standard of living would get worse after Brexit and 89% said it would be bad for jobs.
Mr Watson told The Observer: “Jeremy and I were elected in 2015 to give the Labour Party back to its members.”
“So if the people’s party decide they want the people to have a final say on the deal, we have to respect the view of our members and we will go out and argue for it.”
But shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned on Saturday that a second referendum could stoke racial tensions and far-right populism.
“I really worry about another referendum,” said Mr McDonnell.”
“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, and I think people need to take that into account when we’re arguing for one.”
Former foreign secretary David Miliband said it was an “absolute dereliction of duty” for Labour not to say that the deal obtained by the Prime Minister must be put to the people.
Mr Corbyn told an eve-of-conference rally in Liverpool: “If this Government can’t deliver, then I say to Theresa May: the best way to settle this is to have a general election.”
The rally was punctuated by cries of “stop Brexit” from the audience, but most speakers steered clear of the topic, ahead of a conference which Labour wants to focus on housing and workplace rights.