Demand for a second Brexit referendum on the final deal negotiated by Theresa May is “growing” as the damaging impact of leaving the European Union becomes clearer, Labour’s leader in Brussels has said.
Richard Corbett, who leads the party’s group of MEPs in the European Parliament, said a referendum could be called if the House of Commons voted down the withdrawal agreement, a state of affairs he said would lead to a “ratification crisis”.
The Labour chief’s comments come a week after John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said Labour had not ruled out a second referendum, or “any form of democratic engagement” on Brexit – though he said his preference was for a general election.
Brexit Secretary David Davis himself admitted that MPs are likely to reject the Brexit deal in the autumn unless an agreement on future trade with the EU has also been secured.
“There is a demand that seems to be growing in Britain for a referendum on the actual deal once a deal is made on the withdrawal agreement, assuming one is made. Opinion polls show growing support for that,” Mr Corbett said at a sitting of the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee.
The top Labour MEP said he had met with former supporters of Brexit who “regret it and are demanding the right of people to reconsider”, stating that “it is by no means certain … that the public would vote again for Brexit”.
“Opinion has not done what one would have intuitively expected,” he told MEPs. “You would have expected public opinion to rally behind the result of the referendum we had two years ago – that’s clearly not happening.”
He added that demand was growing for a vote “because the emerging Brexit is clearly very, very different from what was promised by the Leave campaign” and that leaving the EU was “turning out to be a very costly exercise” that “clearly has damaged the British economy”.
“Who knows, there may well be a rejection of the deal by the House of Commons, in which case there will be a ratification crisis, in which case a referendum is one of the possible options that will no doubt be considered. We will see. The feeling that it is not entirely a done deal is a growing one.”
Labour has so far shied away from backing a second plebiscite and has voted with the government to begin the Brexit process. The party has, however, set a number of tests that it says must be met to secure its support for the final deal Theresa May comes back from Brussels with.
The government’s narrow majority with the support of the DUP means only a small rebellion by pro-EU Conservatives would be needed to bring down the deal. The government has previously been defeated in the Commons on Brexit issues with the combined support of Labour, the Lib Dems, SNP and other parties.
The government insists that if the final deal is voted down then it will take Britain out of the EU without a deal and quit the bloc on default World Trade Organisation terms – which practically all economists agree would be the most damaging Brexit scenario. The European Council and European Commission presidents have, however, both said Britain could, if it wanted, stop the Brexit process.
Speaking at the House of Commons Brexit committee during the same time as Mr Corbett, the Brexit Secretary David Davis said MPs would want something “substantive” from Brexit talks, suggesting he would have “the hardest time” in October convincing them.
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