Labour Party refuses to rule out another referendum on Brexit, says John McDonnell

John McDonnell says Labour is keeping the option of another Brexit referendum on the table (Picture: PA)

The Labour Party will not rule out another Brexit referendum if it opposes the terms of withdrawal from the EU, the shadow chancellor has said.

John McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we can’t get a general election, we are keeping the option of a people’s vote on the table and keeping all options on the table.

“I think the way in which things are going, I think the way in which the Conservative Party are ripping themselves apart, there isn’t a deal that I can see being brought back that will achieve the support of the Conservative Party or parliament.

“In that instance, I’d rather this government shifts to one side and let’s us negotiate.”

Meanwhile, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier says a Brexit deal with the UK is possible by early November.

He said there could be an accord within six to eight weeks if both sides are “realistic”.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says a deal can be done within the next two months (Picture: PA)

He told a conference in Slovenia: “If we are realistic, I want to reach an agreement on the first stage of the negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within six or eight weeks.

“The treaty is clear, we have two years to reach an agreement before they leave… in March 2019.

“That means that taking into account the time necessary for the ratification process in the House of Commons on one side, the European Parliament and the Council on the other side, we must reach an agreement before the beginning of November.

“I think it is possible.”

Mr Barnier’s comments had a positive effect on the markets, with the pound jumping to a six-week high.

Prime minister Theresa May is under pressure as it is claimed up to 80 of her own MPs will reject her Brexit plan (Picture: PA)

Sterling was up nearly 1% versus the dollar at 1.302 and gained 0.4% against the euro to end the session on 1.122.

“If one person can shift sterling at the moment it is Michel Barnier,” said Connor Campbell, financial analyst at SpreadEx.

“The currency is desperate for any signs of good news from the EU’s chief negotiator, often making the most of some pretty tepid statements.

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The pound – which has taken a hammering in recent weeks as fears mount that Britain is set to leave the EU without a deal – was also spurred on by better-than-expected figures for the UK economy.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has defended Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint after a warning that continuing with it could cause a “catastrophic split” in the Conservative Party.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said he was “gravely concerned” about a potential schism in Tory ranks if the prime minister did not change direction.

Mr Baker, a leading figure in the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, said the party’s annual conference in Birmingham, starting on September 30, could prove a decisive moment as Mrs May is forced to acknowledge the scale of grassroots opposition to her proposals.

“If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid,” he told the Press Association.

But Number 10 said critics of the plan had yet to come forward with a credible alternative which would avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“Chequers is the only plan on the table which will deliver on the will of the British people while avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

“The prime minister is working hard to secure a deal and hopes all MPs will be able to support it.”

Justice secretary David Gauke said “an overwhelming majority within the Conservative Party” backed the government’s approach, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “There isn’t an alternative credible plan out there.”

Number 10 said Mrs May would be chairing a special meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday to discuss the preparations for a no-deal Brexit if Britain fails to secure an agreement with Brussels.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith says Downing Street should engage with Tory Brexiteers (Picture: PA)

Mr Baker’s intervention came amid continuing anger over former foreign minister Boris Johnson’s claim that the Chequers plan, which would see Britain maintain a “common rule book” with the EU for trade in goods and agriculture, was tantamount to wrapping a “suicide vest” around the British constitution.

After his comments in a Sunday newspaper article were widely condemned by ministers, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “This is not language the prime minister would choose to use.

“Beyond that I don’t propose to give this article any further oxygen.”

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Newsnight that Downing Street should seek to “thrash out” its differences with its Brexit opponents rather than setting up a unit to “accuse and attack them”.