Sec­ond ref­er­en­dum ‘would lead to the col­lapse of Brexit’

Western Morning News - - Uk And World News - BY GAVIN COR­DON AND ALAIN TOLHURST

Theresa May has pushed back against calls for a sec­ond Brexit ref­er­en­dum, warn­ing it would mean un­pick­ing the deal agreed with Brus­sels.

Ap­pear­ing before se­nior MPs, the Prime Min­is­ter re­fused to be drawn on what would hap­pen if the Com­mons votes down the With­drawal Agree­ment in the crunch vote on De­cem­ber 11.

How­ever, she in­sisted a so­called “peo­ple’s vote” was not an op­tion as it could not be held before March 29, 2019, when Bri­tain leaves the EU.

Her warn­ing came as the BBC con­firmed that Mrs May had agreed to take part in a tele­vised Brexit de­bate on Sun­day De­cem­ber 9 – two days before the Com­mons vote.

The Prime Min­is­ter told the Com­mons Li­ai­son Com­mit­tee that seek­ing an ex­ten­sion to the Ar­ti­cle 50 with­drawal process – to en­able a ref­er­en­dum to be held – would mean the agree­ment would fall and they would have to go back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

“Any sec­ond ref­er­en­dum that would be held, if that were the case, would not be able to be held by March 29 next year. You would have to ex­tend Ar­ti­cle 50,” she said. “To ex­tend Ar­ti­cle 50, ac­tu­ally you are then in the busi­ness of rene­go­ti­at­ing the deal.

“What is clear is that any ex­ten­sion to Ar­ti­cle 50 – any­thing like that – re­opens the ne­go­ti­a­tions, re­opens the deal. At that point, frankly, the deal can go in any di­rec­tion. We would sim­ply find our­selves in a pe­riod of more un­cer­tainty, more di­vi­sion in this coun­try.”

Her warn­ing came amid in­tense spec­u­la­tion that the Govern­ment is head­ing for de­feat in the vote on De­cem­ber 11, with scores of Tory MPs declaring pub­licly that they in­tend to op­pose the deal.

With Labour and the other op­po­si­tion par­ties also op­posed to the agree­ment, shadow chan­cel­lor John McDon­nell has sug­gested a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum could be “in­evitable” un­less Mrs May goes back to the coun­try in a gen­eral elec­tion.

The Prime Min­is­ter ac­knowl­edged that there was a se­ries of “prac­ti­cal steps” which would have to fol­low if the Govern­ment lost the vote.

“My fo­cus is on the vote that will take place on De­cem­ber 11 here in this House,” she said.

“You want to look at all sorts of op­tions and ideas. I think it is im­por­tant Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment fo­cus on the na­ture of this vote.”

In Brus­sels, the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier, said the time for ne­go­ti­a­tions was over and that the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment needed to de­cide whether to rat­ify the agree­ment.

“Given the dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances of this ne­go­ti­a­tion, and given the ex­treme com­plex­ity of all the sub­jects re­lated to the UK’s with­drawal, the deal that is on the ta­ble ... this deal is the only and the best deal pos­si­ble,” he said to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May gives ev­i­dence before the Li­ai­son Com­mit­tee on mat­ters re­lat­ing to Brexit at Portcullis House in Lon­don yes­ter­dayPICTURE: PA

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