May to Keep Alive the Option of Brexit Deal Referendum

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May is in a battle with her own ministers to keep open the possibility of a new referendum, in her search for a Brexit compromise with the U.K. opposition Labour Party, people familiar with the matter said.

The idea of a confirmatory referendum -- in which the public could vote to endorse or reject the exit agreement with the European Union -- is one of a number of options on the table after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn held talks with May aimed at thrashing out a new blueprint for Brexit.

May is facing a backlash from pro-Brexit ministers in her government, who regard the idea of putting the question back to the public with horror, according to the people, speaking on condition of anonymity.

These euro-skeptic ministers are dismayed by the premier’s tactics but are waiting to see what -- if any -- agreement comes from the cross-party talks before deciding how to respond, the people said.

Britain was due to leave the EU on March 29, but Parliament has repeatedly rejected the separation terms May negotiated during two years of talks in Brussels. So far no Plan B option has emerged that can win enough support in the House of Commons, and May is now seeking another delay to the exit day deadline.

Time Short, Risks Mount

She wants to present EU leaders with a compelling proposal for the way forward at an emergency Brexit summit April 10. If she can’t persuade them, Britain risks falling out of the bloc without a deal, an outcome U.K. authorities suggest will cause major economic disruption.

In her effort to get a deal, May offered to hold cross-party talks with Corbyn, her main rival, to seek a policy that will win a majority in Parliament. If they can’t agree a single plan, they could decide to put a menu of options to a vote in the House of Commons.

The prime minister has never liked the idea of a referendum to resolve the U.K.’s Brexit stalemate but after her deal was rejected, she said the proposal needed to be discussed. Following his initial meeting with May on Wednesday, Corbyn said he “raised the option of a public vote to prevent crashing out or leaving on a bad deal.”

Talks are due to continue Friday.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.