UK PM rebuffs growing calls for second Brexit referendum

By AFP
Published: December 17, 2018
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May is struggling to get parliament to accept a divorce agreement she struck last month. PHOTO: AFP

May is struggling to get parliament to accept a divorce agreement she struck last month. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May will on Monday warn MPs against supporting a second Brexit referendum, as calls mount for a public vote to break the political impasse over the deal she struck with the EU.

“Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum,” she will tell parliament, according to extracts from her speech released by Downing Street.

“Anther vote… would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics,” she will say, adding that a second vote “would likely leave us no further forward”.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner, also said that anyone considering a second referendum was “out of their minds”.

“A second referendum would provoke instant, deep and ineradicable feelings of betrayal,” he wrote on Monday in his weekly column in the Daily Telegraph.

Britain voted to leave the European Union in a shock referendum in 2016 and is set to leave on March 29 next year, although May is struggling to persuade parliament to accept a divorce agreement she struck last month.

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EU leaders have ruled out any renegotiation of the deal agreed after tortuous negotiations with London.

May last week survived a confidence vote initiated by members of her own Conservative Party because of her Brexit strategy but she is badly weakened after a third of her parliamentary party voted to be rid of her.

In the face of calls for a second referendum to resolve the impasse, she has argued that this would betray the 2016 result and undermine public confidence in politics.

The issue provoked an extraordinary public clash on Sunday between May and former prime minister Tony Blair, a leading supporter of continued EU membership for Britain.

May accused Blair of insulting voters and trying to undermine her government by meeting officials in Brussels.

Blair, who was premier between 1997 and 2007, in turn accused the Conservative leader of being “irresponsible”.

But campaigners for a referendum said May’s comments on Monday showed that the idea was being taken seriously.

“A new public vote would be different from the referendum in 2016 because we now know more about what Brexit means,” said Margaret Beckett, an MP from the main opposition Labour Party and “People’s Vote” supporter.

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“Any effort to force Brexit over the line without checking that it has the continued consent of the British people will only reinforce divisions,” she said.

May has delayed a crucial vote by MPs on the draft Brexit deal until next month, leaving the political scene in limbo.

If parliament fails to approve the text, Britain will crash out of the European Union regardless — a prospect that experts warn could lead to serious trade disruption and trigger a financial crisis.

Dozens of MPs from all sides support a second referendum and there have been reports that officials are considering the possibility of giving the public a vote.

Another proposal being put forward if May’s deal does not pass parliament is for MPs to be asked to vote on different options to try and work out what steps to take next.

Business Secretary Greg Clark told BBC radio that “parliament should be invited to say what it would agree with” instead of just criticising May’s deal.

Other cabinet ministers are also reported to favour a scenario of asking MPs to vote on options, which could include a no-deal Brexit, a second referendum, and a “Norway option” to keep closer economic ties with the EU.

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