In Brief

Theresa May's Brexit deal puts second referendum on the table

Prime Minister promises MPs major concession in return for approving her Withdrawal Agreement

Theresa May has offered MPs a chance to vote on a second referendum, in return for passing her Brexit withdrawal deal through Parliament.

In what Politico describes as “a major concession to MPs who oppose Brexit”, the prime minister announced that the government's Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) would include a guarantee that MPs be allowed to vote on whether to hold a second referendum.

Announcing the plan yesterday, May said: “To those MPs who want a second referendum to confirm the deal: you need a deal and therefore a Withdrawal Agreement Bill to make it happen. So let it have its second reading and then make your case to parliament.”

The concession forms part of what she calls her “ten-point offer to everyone to parliament”, but what The Independent described as “a last-gasp bid to rescue her deal”.

As well as the promise of a temporary customs union, “efforts to tempt Labour MPs to back the plan...[include] laws to guarantee workers’ rights and ensuring environmental protections remain at least as strong as their EU equivalents”, reports The Guardian.

Meanwhile, the paper says “ideas aimed at Tory Brexiters included a legal pledge to find ways to prevent the backstop solution for the Northern Irish border ever coming into force, and a guarantee that if it did there would be no divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”.

The government is expected to bring forward the bill before MPs next month, despite virtually no one in Westminster expecting it to pass.

With opposition to the deal hardening on the Tory right, Downing Street has pinned its hopes on persuading enough Labour MPs in Brexit-supporting constituencies to back the prime minister.

Yet despite the concessions May announced yesterday, “in six weeks of cross-party talks that ended on Friday, the opposition party and government failed to come to an agreement on concessions that would allow the Labour leadership to back her deal,” says Politico.

Even the promise of a second referendum vote appears unlikely to win over Remain holdsouts, as May still refused to commit to holding a fresh Brexit referendum if MPs were to pass the WAB and then vote for it.

“What the House of Commons will be saying is what they want to see in the final bill,” May said after her speech, “declining to say she would legislate for a new referendum” reports the Independent. Number 10 has also indicted there will be no requirement in the bill for Remain to be an option on the ballot paper.

Labour MPs immediately protested that the “compromise” proposal fell far short of their demand for a cast-iron commitment on the face of the bill.

“It’s like the PM really does think we are all daft,” tweeted Labour MPs Stella Creasy, while Labour MP Hilary Benn, warned: “The government will have to commit to support a confirmatory referendum if they want to get the Bill through. Otherwise, all the signs are that it won’t pass.”

The move may also have backfired among her own MPs, making the chance of getting her deal through even less likely than it was before she made her announcement.

The Daily Telegraph says her speech has “already provoked outcry among Tory Brexiteers”, who claimed that May's deal offered “nothing new”.

They included Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, who described the plan as a “bad buffet of non Brexit options”, adding: “I can’t see that we’ve taken back control over anything. The backstop is still there, it’s a customs union in all but name and it puts Brussels firmly in control of our destiny.”

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said the proposals were still “fundamentally flawed” while on the other side of the debate the SNP and Change UK have also indicated they will vote against the bill.

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