Can Theresa May Be Forced to Hold a Second Brexit Vote?

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There are those in the Conservative Party so against Brexit that they are willing to gang up with the opposition to vote down Theresa May’s deal in order to secure a second referendum.

That a handful of Tories are talking openly about a fresh public vote is significant, but the obstacles to holding one are formidable. For a start, there isn’t time before Britain leaves the European Union. Even if the entire House of Commons agreed to rush through the necessary legislation, starting next week -- something that isn’t going to happen -- the minimum timetabling of a referendum would take Britain past March 29, 2019, when it is due to leave.

This means that to have any chance of a referendum affecting the outcome of Brexit, Britain would need to extend the Article 50 process that governs its departure, something that would require both the EU’s agreement and fresh legislation in Parliament. That, like the referendum bill, would face guerrilla attacks from Brexiteers, many of them experts on parliamentary procedure.

Nevertheless, the idea is being talked about. There will be a march in London in support of another vote on Saturday. And lawmakers are looking for ways to force the issue onto the parliamentary agenda.

‘Rising Support’

“The idea of making support for the prime minister’s deal dependent on a people’s vote is one of a number of ideas being discussed at the moment,’’ opposition Labour lawmaker Ben Bradshaw said in an interview. “Support for a people’s vote is rising particularly among undeclared Tories -- even those with Leave constituencies.’’

Can Theresa May Be Forced to Hold a Second Brexit Vote?

Many in the government are dismissive of the campaign. The prime minister has repeatedly opposed another referendum, and couldn’t change position without provoking outrage from Brexiteers on her own side. And as long as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn prefers the idea of another general election, there’s no majority in Parliament for a referendum.

But that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t a problem for May.

Two high-profile Tory lawmakers confirmed to Bloomberg that they would be willing to vote against the deal that May is negotiating in Brussels at the moment, with the goal of forcing a second referendum onto the agenda.

Her government insists rejection of her plan would mean the U.K. crashing out of the European Union next March without a deal. But both lawmakers rejected that idea.

Bradshaw said backing among Tory lawmakers is increasing because the deal May secures is unlikely to be very good, meaning they will be able to justify supporting a fresh referendum even in areas that were strongly pro-Brexit during the original 2016 referendum.

This fledgling rebellion raises a hair-raising nightmare for May’s whip: those who oppose May’s plans because they want to stay close to the EU voting alongside Brexit believers, such as Boris Johnson, who want a clean break.

Other Tory Brexit opponents are genuinely torn about it, worrying that a second vote would exacerbate the country’s divisions and would be an admission by Parliament is broken. They haven’t made up their mind -- and might not until the last minute.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.