Second Brexit referendum looms as talks with EU stall

Some of British Prime Minister Theresa May's closest advisors and several Tory MP's have begun seriously considering holding a second referendum on whether Great Britain should leave the EU.


David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and May's de facto deputy, and Gavin Barwell, May's chief of staff, have discussed holding a second referendum with both Labour MPs and other Cabinet ministers, the Sunday Times reported. The Guardian also said that other Conservative lawmakers were urging the embattled prime minister to offer MPs a so-called "free vote" on holding another plebiscite, or the right for politicians to vote how they believed rather than along party lines.

The reports, although unconfirmed, will ratchet up pressure on May, who has so far failed to garner meaningful concessions from other European Union leaders over changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. The U.K. leader adamantly opposes a second Brexit referendum, but the British media reports suggest that she could be willing to entertain that possibility if she cannot secure a majority for her proposals in the British parliament.

In a statement to the Sunday Times, May said those seeking a second referendum were hoping to "subvert the process for their own political interests."

British officials are currently drawing up potential options surrounding a second nationwide vote, including offering voters the choice between May's Brexit plan and a no deal, the Sunday Times reported. As part of the plans, British lawmakers could be offered a vote on a series of options, including May's plan, a no deal, the so-called Norway option, and a second referendum.

There are several barriers to Great Britain exiting the European Union, among them, institutional roadblocks put into place when the EU was formed. The "leave" option has required May to navigate several mine fields in trade, travel, and the financial services industry - any one of which could derail the whole thing.

Brexit supporters underestimated these built-in traps set by EU members who have sought to make leaving the union nearly impossible to do without enormous disruptions.

May sought concessions from EU leaders, but was rebuffed:


Specifically, May asked for "legal assurances" to help change a perception that the U.K. would potentially be locked forever into a customs union with the EU via a "backstop" provision intended to prevent the recreation of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the absence of a broader deal on a future trading relationship.

In response, the leaders of the remaining EU countries issued a bare-bones statement reiterating that the backstop was intended never to come into effect, that if it were activated it would "apply temporarily," and that "the Union would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop."

But they flatly rejected the idea of any legal guarantees, repeated yet again that the Withdrawal Treaty was not open for renegotiation, and then turned the tables on May, demanding that she and the U.K. provide clarifications as to what exactly would win ratification of the Brexit deal and what precisely London wants in a future relationship.

That's why a second Brexit referendum is becoming an attractive option for May. The EU is responding to the clear lack of support for May's Brexit plan. But a successful second vote would give May some political capitol and backing at home. A  "no deal" Brexit might still be messy, but the Tories would survive it - even if May herself was not party leader.

No one could predict the outcome of a second referendum on leaving the EU. But recall that no one gave the "leave" forces any chance at all of success in the months leading up to the first vote. If it happens, it will be close. But nothing has really changed in Great Britain's relationship with the EU, leading to the conclusion that a second vote has a good chance of succeeding as well.

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