Red lines harden over second Brexit referendum
Tories and Labour split over People’s Vote as Theresa May urged to ditch cross-party talks
Labour and Conservative positions on a possible second EU referendum to break the Brexit impasse appear to be hardening, with MPs on both sides calling on their leaders to break off cross-party talks after more than seven weeks of negotiations.
“Both Labour and government sources have suggested the two sides will need to take stock on the likely progress of the talks this week, and the effectiveness of continuing discussions is likely to be discussed at cabinet on Tuesday morning,” says The Guardian.
The prime minister “is under pressure from cabinet ministers to scrap formal Brexit talks with Labour,” The Times reports, “and launch a final attempt to secure a compromise in parliament” through a series of indicative votes by MPs after the European elections.
May is due to meet the executive of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs on Thursday, and has been told that she must set a timetable for her departure if she cannot get a Brexit deal passed by parliament.
“The committee is still split, however, on when and if to change the rules to allow another no-confidence vote if May fails to set a firm date” writes Oliver Wright in the Times, adding “some favour an early challenge, before the European elections, in an attempt to show voters that the party is listening to their concerns”.
Following comments by Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary it appears the issue of a second referendum could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
In an interview with The Guardian, Sir Keir Starmer said a cross-party deal would be unlikely to pass without a referendum as part of the package, with up to 150 Labour MPs prepared to vote against an agreement without one.
Yet Downing Street responded by saying the prime minister remains opposed to any form of referendum being attached to a Brexit deal.
Yesterday, two cabinet ministers further ramped up pressure on May by making clear their opposition to a fresh poll. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, said a confirmatory referendum would be “taking us in a different direction”, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said another plebiscite on Brexit would be a “betrayal of what people voted for” in 2016.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, whose party is in a confidence-and-supply agreement with the government, said a confirmatory Brexit referendum would place democracy at risk.
While both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May remain opposed to a second vote - at least for now - experts at King’s College London have suggested the results at next week’s European elections may provide some useful intelligence about how a second EU referendum would go.
Professor Anand Menon and Dr Alan Wager, who are part of the UK in a Changing Europe project, believe that the turnout figures could reveal how people would vote.
They point out that relative turnout was key in the 2016 referendum, and the levels of enthusiasm in different parts of the country during the European elections might suggest a shift in mood.
Both leaders of Britain’s main parties would like to see the back of Brexit, “but the prime minister doesn't want to put a huge compromise on the table, she doesn't want another referendum. Jeremy Corbyn doesn't want to help out the government unless he can get genuine changes,” says BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
“If neither of them feel they can really budge, well, the talks are not going to be able to succeed, and the government will then have to try to move on to votes in Parliament, the next part of the process,” she writes.