Brexit: May says new deal will require vote on second referendum

Prime minster seeks to conclude ‘viable alternative’ to Irish backstop by December 2020

British prime minister Theresa May says she will offer the UK parliament a vote on whether to advance with a second referendum on Brexit. Video: Reuters

 

British prime minister Theresa May has said her “new Brexit deal” will include a requirement for MPs to vote on whether to hold another referendum.

“I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue,” Mrs May said. “The government will therefore include in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at introduction a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum.”

“So to those MPs who want a second referendum to confirm the deal – you need a deal and therefore Withdrawal Agreement Bill to make it happen,” Mrs May said.

She also said the deal would seek to conclude alternative arrangements for the Northern Irish backstop by December 2020.

“Although it’s not possible for [alternative arrangements] to replace the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, we can start the work now to ensure they are a viable alternative.

“So as part of the new Brexit deal we will place the Government under a legal obligation to seek to conclude alternative arrangements by December 2020 so that we can avoid any need for the backstop coming into force.”

She said the Northern Ireland Assembly would have to give consent to new arrangements added to the backstop which aims to avoid a hard border in Ireland if the UK leaves the EU in the absence of a separate agreement.

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The Assembly has been shuttered since January 2017 when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister over the DUP’s handling of a renewable energy scheme.

Mrs May said her new Brexit deal had “listened to unionist concerns” about the backstop. “So the new Brexit deal goes further,” she said. “It will commit that should the backstop come into force the Government will commit to ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland.

“We will prohibit the proposal that a future government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that while the Government did not have a formal view on it as the Bill was not published yet, the deal appeared to be acceptable.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We will of course look seriously at the details of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it is published. But we won’t back a repackaged version of the same old deal – and it’s clear that this weak and disintegrating government is unable deliver on its own commitments.”

Mrs May said the Bill would be published in the next few days.

During her speech at PWC in London, the British prime minister outlined the following 10 changes in her “new Brexit deal”:

  • A legal commitment to conclude alternative arrangements to replace the Northern Ireland backstop by December 2020, so that it never needs to be used.
  • A commitment that, should the backstop come into force, the government will ensure that Great Britain’s border rules stay aligned with Northern Ireland’s.
  • Negotiating objectives and final treaties for the UK’s future relationship with the EU will have to be approved by MPs.
  • A new Workers’ Rights Bill offering protections at least as favourable as those in the EU.
  • No change in the level of environmental protection when the UK leaves the EU.
  • As close to frictionless trade with the EU as is possible once the UK has left the single market but an end to free movement of people.
  • A commitment to align the UK with EU rules for goods and products to protect thousands of jobs dependent on just-in-time supply chains.
  • A commitment to allow MPs to decide on future customs arrangements with the EU.
  • A vote for MPs on whether the deal should be subject to a referendum.
  • A legal duty to secure changes to the current political declaration agreed with Brussels to reflect the new deal.

Cabinet meeting

Earlier on Tuesday, Mrs May endured another difficult cabinet meeting as they attempted to agree what measures to include in the deal. During the two hours spent discussing the Brexit plan, Mrs May’s spokesman acknowledged there were “strong opinions” around the cabinet table but also a “determination” to get a deal through parliament.

The meeting was “characterised by a shared determination to find a way of passing the WAB so that the UK can leave the EU with a deal”, the spokesman said.

Ministers also considered the ongoing preparation for a no-deal Brexit if an agreement has not been ratified by October 31st.

The government is expected to introduce the Bill when parliament returns from its Whitsun recess on June 4th, with a vote on its second reading on June 7th.

If MPs approve the second reading, the Bill can go on to be debated and amendments can be introduced but the government does not yet appear to have enough support to win the vote. – PA/Reuters

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