Fresh push for second Brexit vote faces race against time


Britain’s main anti-Brexit party ramped up calls Tuesday for a second referendum — but time could be running out as Britain approaches the last six months before leaving the EU.

“Brexit is not inevitable. It can and must be stopped,” Vince Cable, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, told his party’s conference in Brighton on the southern English coast.

He urged Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to “lead her party and the country by opening her mind to a people’s vote on the final deal”, any departure agreement she reaches with Brussels, before Britain is set to leave on March 29.

Cable said Britain’s future would be decided “for decades to come” in the next few months as May tries to secure a deal with Brussels, with the PM saying the only other option is to leave without any agreement.

“There are huge numbers of people who simply do not accept that we should drift into a messy, costly, divorce; who don’t accept that the country cannot change its mind, or that a narrow decision taken by a majority of one generation should blight the chances of the next,” Cable said.

He said the Lib Dems were “leading a crusade to give the people the final say on our future in Europe”.

The government is opposed to another referendum, while the main opposition Labour Party is not supporting the calls but also not ruling out the prospect.

Supporters of a second referendum are also divided over what the actual question might be, including whether it should include the option of staying in the EU.

“What would a second referendum be about? That’s not clear at all,” said London School of Economics professor Sara Hobolt.

– May: ‘gross betrayal’ –
In the 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership, 52 percent voted to leave and 48 percent wanted to stay.

Hobolt said polls indicate those proportions have reversed, with 52 percent now wanting to stay in the bloc.

She also said polling data showed “a marked increase in people’s support for a second referendum”.

But May said Monday she thinks the only alternative to her blueprint to stay close to the EU on trade would be no deal at all.

She has said a second referendum would be a “gross betrayal” of British democracy.

The main force calling for a second referendum is the cross-party People’s Vote campaign — the successor of the official Remain campaign from the 2016 referendum.

It launched in April this year, but though it has gained traction, a referendum — and what it would ask — seems no closer.

The campaign garnered momentum in July when Conservative former cabinet minister Justine Greening broke ranks, saying only a three-option referendum could break the parliamentary deadlock.

The three choices would be backing any deal negotiated by the government, leaving the EU with no deal or staying in.

– ‘Fix this situation’ –
London Mayor Sadiq Khan this week became the latest big name to call for a vote, joining former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major and celebrities like business tycoon Richard Branson.

At the Liberal Democrat conference, delegates said a new referendum would hinge on whether May finally strikes a deal or not — and a surge of political support.

Theo Butt Philip, 35, a strategic communications consultant from Bridgwater, said there was enough time for a new referendum “if there is the will”.

“The reason there isn’t a clear offer of what we’re voting on is there isn’t a clear offer of what we’re going to get from the government,” he told AFP.

Sarah Classick, 29, a business park manager from Bristol, said a referendum would require a “major shift” within the Conservative party.

“I’m not hugely optimistic but I really hope that something monumental does happen and it does go ahead,” she said.

Alice Hovanessian, 46, a project coordinator from Bath, joined the Lib Dems to combat Brexit after the 2016 referendum.

“We’re doing what we can to stop what we think is going to damage the country and the EU. We want to fix this situation and bring this country back onto the right path,” she said. (AFP)

– Sept. 18, 2018 @ 17:59 GMT |

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