Second Brexit referendum is possible, claims article 50 author

‘Until UK has left EU, article 50 letter can be withdrawn,’ says John Kerr in new report

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has ruled out a second referendum but Lord John Kerr’s report says it is possible. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has ruled out a second referendum but Lord John Kerr’s report says it is possible. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga


MPs will be able to legislate for a second referendum on Brexit even if Theresa May’s government opposes it, according to a new report by John Kerr, the British diplomat who helped to draft article 50 of the EU treaty. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab this week ruled out a second referendum, which requires legislation in parliament, where Ms May’s government controls the legislative agenda.

Lord Kerr’s report, which is published by the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, argues that MPs could table amendments to enable legislation for Brexit to demand another referendum. It says that the EU would almost certainly agree to an extension of the article 50 deadline and that the EU treaty allows Britain to withdraw its notification of Brexit.

“The die is not irrevocably cast, there is still time and, until the UK has left the EU, the article 50 letter can be withdrawn. If there is a majority in parliament for a People’s Vote, there are multiple routes to securing one and, as the process unfolds, more opportunities for the House of Commons to assert its will may emerge. Should the UK need more time for a People’s Vote, there is little doubt that the other 27 member states would agree the necessary extension of the article 50 timetable,” Lord Kerr said.

‘Meaningful vote’

The report, which draws on the expertise of constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve and other parliamentarians and academics, identifies a number of opportunities for MPs to trigger a second referendum. They could amend the “meaningful vote” on any deal Ms May brings to parliament and, if that fails, they could try again when a Bill comes before them to implement the withdrawal agreement.

If the prime minister fails to secure a deal by January 21st, 2019, she is obliged to report to parliament on how the government intends to proceed. MPs will vote on this in the form of a motion, which the speaker can choose to make amendable. 

YouGov polls

Recent polls have shown a rise in support for a referendum on the Brexit deal, with YouGov reporting last month that 45 per cent of voters backed the idea against 35 per cent who oppose it. If Ms May fails to secure a deal and Britain faces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, support for a second referendum rises to 50 per cent, with 25 per cent opposing it.

Business groups in Britain reacted with alarm on Tuesday after the body that advises the government on migration said low-skilled immigration should be curbed after Brexit and EU citizens should not be treated differently from others. The Migration Advisory Committee said there should be no cap on high-skilled immigration but low-skilled workers from the EU should face the same, tough restrictions as those from other countries.

The committee said that any special treatment for EU citizens after Brexit would only be justified if it was part of a free-trade agreement.