Liberal Democrats See May Inching Toward Brexit Referendum

(Bloomberg) -- Is Prime Minister Theresa May mulling a second referendum on Brexit? Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable certainly seems to think so.

Out canvassing for the May 23 European elections in a leafy square in North London, 76-year-old Cable said the party’s message was to stop Brexit. “I think we can,” he said, adding that he held talks with May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, on Thursday.

“It is very clear that the government is looking at the practical details of how a referendum would be conducted,” Cable said of the meeting. “In principle it wouldn’t like one, Theresa May has made that very clear, but if it happens, they’re ready for it and organized for it.”

May has repeatedly said she’s opposed to a second referendum and that it’s incumbent on politicians to deliver on the verdict of the first one in 2016.

“The British people voted to leave the EU in the biggest democratic exercise in our history and the government is focused on delivering that result,” her office said on Friday. “MPs have already voted on a second referendum a number of times and rejected it.”

Cable’s party has been pro-European for 50 years and is standing on what he has described as an “unambiguous” platform to keep the U.K. in the EU, rolling out a campaign manifesto proclaiming “Bollocks to Brexit.”

With May’s effort to strike a compromise with the main opposition Labour Party “struggling,” Cable said the government’s only chance of getting its Brexit deal approved is to pit it against Remain in another referendum.

The Liberal Democrats have a spring in their step following a better-than-expected result in last week’s local elections, in which they gained 703 seats, and Cable was joined on the campaign trail by Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator and arch-enemy of Brexiteers.

But the party faces a tough battle in this month’s EU elections given the potential for the Remain vote to be split with the Greens and Change UK, a breakaway group of lawmakers from the Labour and Conservative parties whose leader, Heidi Allen, joined Cable in the talks with Lidington.

Verhofstadt made clear that, while the focus is on fighting populism and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the upcoming election, he also regards the competition between pro-EU groups as a danger.

“If there is one pro-European party in Britain, it is the Liberal Democrats,” he told reporters. “That’s not new. That has always been the case.”

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