Brexit: Second referendum would further divide UK, May to tell Commons

Some cabinet ministers believe MPs should have ‘indicative vote’ on alternative options

UK trade minister Liam Fox says talks with the EU to secure "assurances" for parliament on Theresa May's Brexit deal will take time, with a decision expected in the New Year.

 

A second referendum on Brexit would divide Britain further and damage beyond repair the integrity of its politics, Theresa May will tell the House of Commons on Tuesday. But with no majority for the prime minister’s Brexit deal, a number of cabinet ministers have suggested that MPs should have an “indicative vote” on alternative options.

Downing Street on Sunday dismissed reports that some of Mrs May’s most senior aides were consulting with opposition MPs on the prospect of a second referendum. And in a statement on Monday about last week’s EU summit, the prime minister will argue that a second vote would betray the 2016 referendum.

“Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum. Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last. And another vote which would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it,” she will say.

Backstop

EU leaders last week rejected Mrs May’s request for a legally binding assurance about the temporary nature of the Northern Ireland backstop. They said the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which includes the backstop, cannot be renegotiated but left open the option of a further clarification of its meaning.

The prime minister last week postponed a vote on the Brexit deal because it faced certain defeat as Conservative Brexiteers and the DUP have said they will join opposition MPs to vote against it. International trade secretary Liam Fox on Sunday became the first Brexiteer in Mrs May’s cabinet to endorse an indicative vote by MPs on a range of Brexit options.

“Personally I wouldn’t have a huge problem with parliament as a whole having a say on what the options were. When you look at the options that we have, we have got to recognise that there are a limited number of real world options here,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

‘Flushing out’

Education secretary Damian Hinds said he was open to “flushing out” different options in Parliament, a proposal that has the support of a number of Remainer cabinet ministers. The alternatives to Mrs May’s deal most discussed at Westminster are “Norway-plus”, which would keep Britain in the single market and the customs union; a second referendum; or leaving the EU without a deal.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who campaigned against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, said on Sunday that Britain would flourish even if it left with no deal. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he said he would like to succeed Mrs May as prime minister after she has navigated Brexit through the next few months.

“I think every MP has a corner of their heart that says they would like to have a crack at the top job. I’m no different. But I think the first thing is to get us through this challenging next few months and I passionately believe Theresa May is the right person to do that,” he said.

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