Jeremy Corbyn has challenged the next PM to put their Brexit deal or a no-deal exit to a second referendum, saying Labour would campaign for Remain in those scenarios.
The Labour leader announced the shift following a meeting of his top team, having come under pressure from critics to rectify what they characterised as a lack of clarity from Mr Corbyn on the issue.
Detractors attribute the party’s poor performance in May’s European elections, in which it finished third behind the Brexit Party and Liberal Democrats, to questions surrounding its Brexit stance.
In a letter to party members, Mr Corbyn said: “Whoever becomes the new prime minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or no deal, back to the people in a public vote.
“In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either no-deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs.”
Mr Corbyn added that the country needs a general election, because “after nine years of austerity, too many people in this country cannot find decent secure well-paid work, and have to rely on public services that have been severely cut back”.
He continued: “Our country is ravaged by inequality and rising poverty, huge regional imbalances of investment, and the government is failing to tackle the climate emergency facing us all.
“That is why we need a Labour government to end austerity and rebuild our country for the many not the few.”
But Mr Corbyn’s letter does not address what would happen with Brexit if Labour wins the next election, leaving open the possibility that the party could pledge to negotiate its own set of terms with Brussels and leave on those terms.
His letter says Labour’s alternative plan for Britain’s EU exit – “based around a customs union, a strong single market relationship and protection of environmental regulations and rights at work” – remains a “sensible alternative that could bring the country together”.
In an interview after the move was announced, Mr Corbyn was asked if Labour was now a party of Remain or Leave.
He said: “Labour is a party which says we will take no deal off the table and the people will have a choice in the future as to whether they remain in the European Union or they accept what would be a very, very damaging no deal exit from the EU with the consequences for food prices, for medicines supplies and industrial investment.”
Mr Corbyn rejected suggestions he had bowed to pressure to move towards a more pro-Remain position, saying he wanted to “bring people together” and had “very patiently listened to an awful lot of other people telling me an awful lot of things”.
“We’ve come to a decision this morning which was very well received by the shadow cabinet and I’ve written to every one of our half million members this morning to explain what that position is.
“And the response so far has been very, very positive.”
Asked what Labour’s position would be if it had to fight an election before Britain has left the EU, Mr Corbyn replied: “We have a democratic process, we’ll decide our election position when the election comes.”
Deputy leader Tom Watson, who has been a vocal supporter of the party adopting a Remain position, said: “Our members have been telling us for some time now that they want us to be a Remain party, that they want us to put the new deal to the people, we’re now going to campaign for that and I’m very proud that the shadow cabinet have listened to their concerns.”
Mr Watson added of Labour’s potential Brexit position at an election: “We’ve yet to cross that bridge when it comes to our manifesto.
“But right now we have a very strong pre-election policy that I’m very proud of.”
Mr Corbyn’s move comes after Labour-affiliated trade unions called for the party to back Remain in second referendum if the next PM negotiates a fresh Brexit deal or pursues a no-deal exit.
The discussions also saw an agreement that, in the event of a general election, Labour’s manifesto should include a promise to negotiate their own Brexit deal with the EU.
This should then be put to a referendum, with a choice between Labour’s deal and remaining in the trading bloc.
Labour’s position in this scenario would depend on the deal the party negotiated, the union chiefs agreed, leaving open the possibility that the party would campaign against a deal it concluded with the EU.
Tom Brake, the Lib Dems’ Brexit spokesman, said Labour “are still a party of Brexit” despite Mr Corbyn’s announcement.
“Jeremy Corbyn can pretend all he likes that the Labour Party are finally moving towards backing the Liberal Democrat policy of a People’s Vote, but it is clear it is still his intention to negotiate a damaging Brexit deal if he gets the keys to Number 10,” he said.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are vying to become the next Conservative leader and prime minister – and they have committed to seek changes to Britain’s Brexit deal if they win the race for Number 10.
However, both of them have said they would be prepared to leave without a deal if necessary.
Reacting to Mr Corbyn’s letter, Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter: “Jeremy Corbyn has never believed in Britain. In this country we deliver on the will of the people. We will deliver Brexit and make a success of it.”