May to warn against second Brexit poll

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Theresa May will condemn calls for a second Brexit referendum, as Cabinet tensions on EU withdrawal continue to break into the open.

The Prime Minister will use an address to the Commons on Monday to say a new national poll would do “irreparable damage” to the integrity of British politics.

The move comes after close allies of Mrs May distanced themselves from reports that they were manoeuvring to bring about a fresh referendum.

And Solicitor General Robert Buckland became the latest senior Tory to float the idea of a free vote in the Commons on Brexit.

Mrs May will use a statement to Parliament following last week’s bruising EU summit to claim another referendum would further divide the UK.

The PM will say: “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.”

But Business Secretary Greg Clark suggested Parliament should be “invited to say what it would agree with” if MPs vote down the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

Asked whether he was tempted to give MPs a range of options to vote on, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think, obviously, it’s important once the Prime Minister has finished her negotiations with other European leaders and the Commission that Parliament votes on that.

“If that were not to be successful, we do need to have agreement – we can’t just have continuing uncertainty and I think Parliament should be invited to say what it would agree with, and that’s something that I think businesses up and down the country would expect elected members to take responsibility, rather than just be critics.”

Mrs May’s official spokesman later told a Westminster media briefing that there were “no plans” to stage an indicative vote on a range of Brexit options, but did not definitively rule the option out.

He said that all Cabinet ministers who have spoken publicly on Brexit in recent days had made clear their commitment to getting the Prime Minister’s deal through Parliament, which remains the Government’s priority.

Talks by officials were continuing “at all levels” to seek further clarification and assurances on the terms of the existing deal – and particularly the nature of the proposed backstop – as agreed at the European Council last week, he said.

The spokesman added: “The Prime Minister is very clear that we will not be holding a second referendum.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He told a press conference in Brussels: “The deal that is on the table is the best and the only deal possible – we will not reopen it, it will not be renegotiated. As President Tusk said, the European Council has given the clarifications that were possible at this stage so no further meetings with the United Kingdom are foreseen.”

He added that talk of a second referendum was an “internal” matter for the UK.

Mr Clark also cautioned against a second referendum, saying it would “continue the uncertainty for many more months”.

And Mrs May faces a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday following a frantic few days when key ministers have jockeyed for attention and staked  out strong Brexit positions.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain would “prosper” even if it quit the EU with no deal, while Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd argued firmly against  leaving the bloc without an agreement.

And International Trade Secretary Liam Fox indicated he could support MPs being given a free vote on Brexit options.

Prominent Brexiteers like International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt also look set to make their views known.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“If we are going to do it, I think everybody needs to do it – cross-party.

“I think if all the parties agreed to it then it is something that might well work.

“But, I think it would be imbalanced if one party did it and the other one did not.”

Prominent Brexiteer and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson railed against the idea of a second referendum.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “A second referendum would provoke instant, deep and ineradicable feelings of betrayal.”

Mr Johnson said the idea that the Government would hold a fresh Brexit poll was “sickening”.

Labour is insisting that Mrs May puts her Brexit deal to a vote in the Commons before Parliament rises for Christmas on Thursday.

However, the party has made it clear it will not table a motion of no confidence in the Government until such a vote has been held.

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