Hopes for second Brexit referendum growing

AFP, LONDON

Mon, Dec 03, 2018 - Page 5

Hopes for a second referendum on EU membership are rising in Britain amid heightened uncertainty over Brexit, but big hurdles remain — from the timing to legal complexities on both sides of the Channel.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to convince British lawmakers to back her Brexit deal — formally signed off by EU leaders last weekend — in a key vote in parliament on Tuesday next week.

If, as widely expected, it is voted down, what happens next remains highly uncertain, but the backers of a so-called “People’s Vote” argue it opens up an opportunity to ask Britons to think again.

“There is a growing momentum behind the campaign for a second referendum,” said Constantine Fraser, an analyst at the research consultancy TS Lombard in London.

“It will become a serious option on the table if, or more likely when, Theresa May’s deal is voted down,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a probability, but it’s a likelihood that’s growing fast.”

In the latest instance of second referendum activism, the pro-EU Best for Britain group on Saturday launched a new advertising campaign on vans targeting the districts of “key MPs like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.”

Support from Labour, which has delivered mixed messages on the issue — arguing for all options to be left on the table — is seen as crucial to force another poll.

Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell fueled hopes the leadership was moving closer to the idea by saying on Tuesday it was “inevitable” the party would support a second poll if it could not force a general election.

The hopes of second referendum advocates were further strengthened by EU President Donald Tusk on Friday.

Speaking at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Tusk said a rejection of the deal by the British parliament would leave just two options — “no deal or no Brexit at all.”

There are significant structural barriers to a second vote, analysts said.

“You would need the government to actually table a proposal, have a vote in favor of it, which would require cross-party support,” said Nick Wright, a fellow in EU politics at University College London.

“It’s not impossible,” Fraser said. “If it becomes clear that there’s political pressure for it in parliament, the government may have no other option politically.”

A cross-party group of lawmakers on Thursday laid down an amendment to May’s EU withdrawal legislation in a bid to stop a no-deal Brexit emerging as the default fallback option.

The proposal would hand power to lawmakers if her plan is rejected in the House of Commons — and could potentially provide a legislative pathway for a referendum.

Labour Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said it had his “full support,” tweeting it was a “great amendment.”

He said yesterday that the Labour Party would press for contempt proceedings against the government if May fails to produce the full legal advice she has received over her Brexit deal.

“In nine days time, parliament has got to take probably the most important decision it has taken for a generation and it’s obviously important that we know the full legal implications of what the prime minister wants us to sign up to,” Starmer told Sky News. “I don’t want to go down this path ... [but] if they don’t produce it tomorrow then we will start contempt proceedings.”

Additional reporting by Reuters