Labour is promising to put equality “centre stage” as it kicks off an annual conference expected to be dominated by squabbles over Brexit and the future of the party.

As activists gather in Liverpool, shadow women and equalities secretary Dawn Butler will unveil plans for a Labour government to establish a standalone department for women and equalities with a minister at the Cabinet table.

The move comes as Jeremy Corbyn seeks to put behind him a difficult summer dominated by a bitter row over anti-Semitism within the party ranks, with accusations that he has been too slow to deal with the issue.

But while the leadership is hoping it can shift the focus on to expected high-profile policy announcements on housing and business, Brexit and party infighting are likely to make the headlines.

LabourJeremy Corbyn faces pressure to back the People’s Vote campaign (John Stillwell/PA)

Mr Corbyn will come under intense pressure to back the People’s Vote campaign for a fresh Brexit referendum, as party members, campaigners and activists are joined by MP David Lammy and GMB union general-secretary Tim Roache for a march in the city on Sunday demonstrating support for a vote on the final deal.

So far the Labour leader has resisted such calls, preferring to press for a general election if – as many MPs expect – Theresa May is unable to get a Brexit deal through Parliament.

Meanwhile, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will meet on Saturday, the day before the main conference begins, to discuss changes to leadership election rules, which left-wing activists claim could keep supporters of Mr Corbyn off the ballot.

At the same time, the grassroots activists group which helped propel Mr Corbyn to the leadership is pushing for another rule change which could make it easier to de-select sitting MPs.

It is likely to revive fears among critics of Mr Corbyn of a left-wing purge of the moderates – including some of his fiercest critics in the row over anti-Semitism.

At the Labour Women’s Conference on Saturday ahead of the main conference, Ms Butler will say equality should no longer be considered an “afterthought”.

She will say: “So far we have seen seven different ministers for equality tagged on to four different departments and a budget that’s nearly been halved.

“This proves the Tories are not taking equalities seriously. By establishing a Department for Women and Equalities, Labour will ensure equalities is the common thread running through its government.

“The next Labour government will put equality centre stage.”

She will also announce plans to introduce a requirement for all employers to have a domestic abuse policy and provide 10 days’ paid leave for victims, if Labour win power.

“Employers have a duty of care to employees experiencing domestic abuse and should put in place a range of workplace policies to help victims,” Ms Butler is expected to say.

“This crucial time will allow women to leave their abusive partners safely, get the help, protection and support they need, knowing their livelihood is secure.

“These 10 days could literally help save the lives of those women.”

And Ms Butler will call for a “localised” approach to tackling domestic abuse, with a “national oversight mechanism to set quality standards for refuge provision and support”.

Labour’s conference, running under the slogan “Rebuilding Britain, for the many, not the few”, will start on Sunday and close on Wednesday with a major speech by Mr Corbyn.

On Saturday the BBC reported that shadow chancellor John McDonnell had suggested the rail industry could be renationalised within five years by finding ways to end private contracts early.

Asked if it would be possible for all of the franchises to be brought back under public control during the first term of a Labour government, he said: “I think that’s possible.

“And if you look at what’s happened over time a number of these franchises have been handed back anyway.”

Mr McDonnell is reportedly considering how a Public Ownership Unit could be created in the Treasury to develop legal and financial plans for renationalsing certain private industries.

“We will have new structures of government,” he said.

“I’ll be ready on day one going into government to be able to bring forward the legislation, to implement the policy.”

On Thursday the Government announced a sweeping review of Britain’s railways following a series of high-profile failures, including the botched timetable change and the collapse of Virgin’s East Coast mainline franchise.