A senior Conservative minister ran a survey on his website asking constituents whether they want a new referendum on Brexit.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt asked both if people backed a fresh referendum and what options should be covered on the ballot paper.
He was later forced to clarify that he was not supporting another public vote on Brexit, which would constitute a major break from Theresa May’s official stance, but was merely using the survey to discover what voters in his constituency thought.
It comes as polls show fast increasing support for a new referendum, amid deepening Tory divisions over withdrawal, doubts that Ms May can secure parliamentary backing for her plans and meagre public support for her approach.
The Independent has launched its own campaign for a new referendum which would give the British public the Final Say on whatever Brexit outcome emerges.
After asking constituents in the survey whether they backed a “further vote”, Mr Burt, an advocate of Remain in 2016, asked which options should be on the ballot paper of a new referendum including, a vote on the final deal, a re-run of the original or a three-way vote – soft Brexit, hard Brexit or remaining in.
He later said: “I don’t support a second referendum as any constituents who have written to me about it know.
“But how am I to know who thinks what unless I ask?”
Ms May has been adamant that there will not be a further referendum on Brexit, despite the growing tide of opinion in favour of one, meaning ministers wanting to publically back one would likely have to resign their posts.
In a further statement on his website, Mr Burt said the survey had now been taken down, highlighted his previous opposition to a new referendum, said there is “no going back” on the first referendum and underlined that he is fully behind the prime minister’s efforts to find a Brexit deal.
But the move still provoked some anger from Brexit-backing MPs, with one telling The Independent he was not convinced by Mr Burt’s explanation that he was merely canvassing public opinion.
North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen said: “I’m a bit puzzled because as a member of the government he is bound by collective responsibility.
“I wasn’t aware it was government policy to canvass people on another referendum, especially as we haven’t fulfilled the will of the people on the first referendum yet.”
If he did back a new vote on Brexit, Mr Burt would not be the first senior Conservative to do so, with ex-cabinet ministers Justine Greening and Dominic Grieve both having written for The Independent in support of one.
The Final Say campaign petition now has some 615,000 signatures after being launched just three weeks ago.
An exclusive poll carried out by BMG Research this week found that 48 per cent of the public would now back a vote on any deal struck between the UK and the EU – up from 44 per cent just four weeks ago.
Just 24 per cent opposed the idea, down three points over the same period. Only 14 per cent of the 1,500 people surveyed supported Ms May’s chequers deal given a choice.
It comes as members of the Brexit-backing Tory backbench organisation, the European Research Group, is said to be drawing up its alternative to Ms May’s proposals, highlighting the benefits of a no-deal Brexit.
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