By David Hughes, Press Association Chief Political Correspondent
The best way to unite a country bitterly divided over Brexit is to call a general election, John McDonnell claimed.
The shadow chancellor set out Labour’s policy of preferring a general election to a second referendum on the Brexit issue, saying “we are trying to bring the whole country together”.
Labour is keeping open the option of backing a second referendum if there is no election, but Mr McDonnell refused to be drawn on whether remaining in the European Union would be on the ballot, insisting Parliament would decide the question.
After lengthy wrangling, Labour’s party conference in September voted overwhelmingly to keep the option of a new vote “on the table”.
And shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer won a standing ovation from delegates when he said “nobody is ruling out Remain as an option” in a referendum.
But asked whether Remain would be on the ballot, Mr McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We need to respect the original decision of the referendum … we have got to respect that decision, but Parliament will decide on the question that will be put to the people and we are keeping all options on the table. That’s what we have agreed, our party at conference.”
He added: “We are trying to bring the whole country together, the country is still divided right down the middle so we have got to get to a situation where in these coming weeks and months we bring the country together.
“I think the best way of doing that, to be frank, (is) have a general election.”
Today’s presenter John Humphrys was criticised by pro-EU MPs for asking Mr McDonnell “let’s assume we have what is called – ludicrously, according to many people – a People’s Vote”.
Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said Mr Humphrys was “totally out of control” and asked what BBC bosses were doing “to ensure producer guidelines are adhered to”.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “Describing the #PeoplesVote as ‘the ludicrously called People’s Vote’ is hardly an example of the impartial coverage the BBC is renowned for.”