Jeremy Corbyn will whip Labour MPs to support a Brexit referendum in the indicative votes – but could face a wave of resignations from frontbenchers determined not to back it.
The Guardian understands a delegation of shadow ministers, including known second referendum sceptics Ian Lavery, Jon Trickett and Richard Burgon, held a meeting lasting more than two hours on Tuesday evening with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor.
One shadow minister warned Labour would face “a very significant rebellion” if it tried to force MPs to back the motion, and another said: “If we whip for it, we won’t have a shadow cabinet by the end of the day.”
The motion, tabled by Dame Margaret Beckett, suggests parliament should not ratify any Brexit deal “unless and until” it has been approved in a “confirmatory public vote”.
One shadow cabinet source suggested the amendment went beyond what had been agreed by Corbyn in calling for a referendum on any deal passed by the house, which some believe undermines efforts to reach a compromise Brexit deal that Labour has pursued over recent weeks.
However, there was also a furious backlash on Wednesday morning from the pro-referendum wing of the party against an interview by the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, in which he said Labour was “not a remain party now” and it could have difficulty supporting a motion for a referendum on any Brexit deal.
Gardiner also suggested Labour was concerned that the motion could suggest the party would allow Theresa May’s deal to pass if it led to a referendum.
“It would be saying we could accept what we have always said is a very bad deal. Therefore it looks as if the attempt to have a public vote on it is simply a way of trying to remain because nobody likes this deal,” Gardiner told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“To put that up as the only alternative in a public vote and say we will let it go through looks as though you believe that, at the end of it, remain would be the result. It is not where our policy has been.
“Our policy is clearly that we would support a public vote to stop no deal or to stop a bad deal, but not that we would allow a bad deal as long as the public had the opportunity to reject Brexit altogether.”
He said Labour could not be portrayed as a party that wanted remain at any price. “The Labour party is not a remain…