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Brexit referendum on final deal possible, Foreign Office minister says

Sir Alan Duncan is a minister of state at Boris Johnson's Foreign office

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Thursday 07 June 2018 17:34 BST
What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

A minister at Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office had said a second EU referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May would be “possible”, but that he does not think one will be held.

Speaking in Berlin Sir Alan Duncan, minister of state at the department, said voters would not be allowed to reverse the original decision to leave the EU under such a plebiscite, but would get “the choice would be between the exit deal on offer or having no deal at all”.

The Government has repeatedly refused to offer a second referendum on the issue, and only relented on giving MPs themselves a “meaningful” vote on the Brexit deal after being defeated in the House of Lords. That vote is due in October.

But while Sir Alan said the notions that Brexit might not happen or that there would be second referendum on the UK's membership of the EU were "myths", he appeared to suggest a public vote on whether to accept the final deal reached with the bloc was feasible.

“It would, I suppose, just be possible to ask the people in a referendum if they liked the exit deal or not,” Sir Alan told the WDR Europaforum conference on Thursday.

“But that would mean the choice would be between the exit deal on offer or having no deal at all.

“It would not in reality offer people the option of reversing the original decision to leave the EU and so remain inside it.”

After the event, Mr Duncan, who campaigned for Remain during the EU referendum, added: “I gave a clear message ... in Berlin that we will definitely be leaving the EU but want the best possible economic and security partnership after we have done so.”

In his address he argued that such a referendum would be “illogical” and that “the national mood is to accept the referendum and get on with it”. He added: “Another referendum is not going to happen.”

Last year the minister told an audience in the US that Brexit had happened because blue-collar workers had been “stirred up by an image of immigration, which made them angry and throw a bit of a tantrum”. At the time he said labour shortages after leaving the EU “could cause us a lot of damage”.

The Liberal Democrats have called for a second referendum on the final deal, while Labour has not ruled one out. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said in April that the party was “not opposed to any form of democratic engagement”, and that “we’ve not ruled anything out”. But the close Jeremy Corbyn ally added: “My preference is not another referendum, but a general election.”

All eye are currently on the MPs’ vote scheduled for October. Labour has set six tests it says the deal will need to meet in order for them to back it, including it delivering “the exact same benefits” as membership of the single market and customs union.

Alan Duncan made the comments at an event in Berlin (Getty)

Darren Jones, a Labour MP and supporter of the Best for Britain campaign to stay in the EU said:

“Alan Duncan has joined the growing tide of MPs who have recognised that the momentous decision to leave the EU on the government’s terms – after months of back-and-forth, uncertainty, and indecision – must be put the people.

“And though Mr Duncan has tried to shut the door on that vote giving people the option to remain, the floodgates are now well and truly open.

“The public don’t want or deserve a false choice, gamed by the government. They want a real say. That is why, once the Prime Minister has agreed a deal with Brussels and we finally know what Brexit will look like, that deal must be put to the people.”

An FCO spokesperson said: “As the minister said several times in his speech in Berlin, we are leaving the EU and there will be no second referendum.”

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