Another Brexit vote would break faith with voters: PM May

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May says she is rescheduling parliament's key vote on her Brexit plan until mid-January, after she cancelled a previous vote knowing she'd lose.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has faced calls for a second referendum but has argued that this would betray the 2016 result.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has faced calls for a second referendum but has argued that this would betray the 2016 result.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

British leader rejects call for new ballot following tumultuous week

LONDON • A second Brexit referendum would do "irreparable damage" to politics and "break faith" with the British people, Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday, rejecting what some see as the only way to break an impasse.

After a tumultuous week in which she survived a no-confidence vote and sought last-minute changes to a Brexit agreement reached with Brussels last month, Mrs May faces deadlock over her deal in a deeply divided British Parliament.

With the European Union offering little in the way of concessions to win lawmakers over, an increasing number of politicians are calling for a second referendum.

But Mrs May and her ministers have repeatedly ruled out a new ballot, saying it would deepen divisions over Britain's biggest decision since World War II and betray voters who narrowly backed leaving the EU at the 2016 referendum.

That raises the risk of Britain leaving without a deal in less than four months, a scenario some businesses fear would be catastrophic for the world's fifth-largest economy.

The political and economic uncertainty over Brexit is having an impact, with data yesterday showing a drop in consumer spending, falling house prices and growing pessimism in household finances.

"Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum," Mrs May told lawmakers yesterday. "Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last."


Business Secretary Greg Clark said a second vote would only increase uncertainty for the country. Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner, said anyone considering a second referendum was "out of their minds".

Mrs May returned to Parliament to update lawmakers on Brexit, after a week in which she cancelled a vote on her deal because it was set to be defeated and survived a bid by some of her own lawmakers to oust her.

The Labour Party, under pressure from smaller opposition parties to propose a motion of no confidence against the government, said on Sunday that it would seek to force Mrs May to bring the deal back to Parliament for a vote before Christmas.

Mrs May used a visit to Brussels last week to call on EU leaders to offer assurances over the so-called Northern Irish "backstop" - an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the British province and EU-member Ireland that its critics fear will tie Britain to the bloc in the long term.

But while EU leaders said they were willing to help Mrs May, they warned that she could not renegotiate the deal, agreed earlier this year.

The idea of a second referendum provoked an extraordinary public clash on Sunday between Mrs May and former prime minister Tony Blair, a leading supporter of continued EU membership for Britain.

Mrs May accused Mr Blair of insulting voters and trying to undermine her government by meeting officials in Brussels. Mr Blair, who was premier between 1997 and 2007, in turn accused the Conservative leader of being "irresponsible".

But campaigners for a referendum said Mrs May's comments yesterday showed the idea was being taken seriously. "A new public vote would be different from the referendum in 2016 because we now know more about what Brexit means," said Labour MP Margaret Beckett. "Any effort to force Brexit over the line without checking that it has the continued consent of the British people will only reinforce divisions."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'Another Brexit vote would break faith with voters: PM May'. Print Edition | Subscribe