Brexit: Senior MPs to table legislation for fresh referendum as defeat of May’s deal looms

PM faces a historic revolt against her withdrawal agreement on Tuesday

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 14 January 2019 00:57 GMT
Can Brexit be reversed?

Senior MPs are set to take the first steps in parliament towards a fresh Brexit referendum this week.

As Theresa May faces defeat on her withdrawal agreement on Tuesday, MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have drawn up legislation that would deliver a Final Say on Brexit.

The two bills – to establish the legal framework for a referendum and decide what is on the ballot paper – could be put forward as early as Wednesday, The Independent understands.

The move comes ahead of a critical 48 hours for Ms May, where she will warn MPs that parliament could block Brexit, in a last-ditch bid to get her deal over the line.

It comes as:

* Jeremy Corbyn said he was poised to launch a bid to topple the government if Ms May’s deal is defeated, as part of Labour’s efforts to force a snap general election.

* Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay warned MPs there was a ”growing risk” that parliament could frustrate Brexit completely, after reports emerged of a plot to change Commons rules to enable backbench motions to take precedence over government business.

* Transport secretary Chris Grayling admitted military staff have been sent to Whitehall departments to help them prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

* Former Tory prime minister Sir John Major renewed calls for the government to suspend Brexit and give the public a Final Say referendum.

On Monday cross-party MPs will publish draft plans to break the Brexit impasse, drawn up by a team of experts including former Commons clerk Lord Lisvane.

Tory rebel Dominic Grieve said the move would offer the government an “escape hatch”, as there was no majority in parliament for Ms May’s deal or a no-deal exit.

“This bill provides a legally credible way forward, and a politically credible way forward,” the former attorney general said.

The legislation, which will be tabled in the House of Lords if Ms May is defeated, would allow a referendum to be held before the European elections in May.

More than 1.1 million people have backed The Independent’s campaign for a Final Say vote on Britain’s exit from the EU since it was launched in June, with hundreds of thousands of supporters attending a rally in London.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “This bill puts flesh on the bones of our campaign for a Final Say. Crucially, it shows how quickly a people’s vote can be delivered.”

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said the people deserved a Final Say as Brexit “looks nothing like what was originally promised” during the referendum.

He added: “The government should stop wasting time on a doomed deal, and let the Commons address this real plan for a people’s vote as soon as possible – the principal way for the UK to avoid crashing out with no deal in a few weeks’ time.”

Ms May is widely expected to lose the meaningful vote on her Brexit blueprint on Tuesday, with analysis by Sky and BBC News placing the scale of the defeat at around 200 votes.

If she loses the vote, she will be forced to return to the Commons within three days with a plan B, which would be the window for Labour to intervene.

The Labour leader refused to commit to the exact timing of the challenge, telling The Andrew Marr Show: “We will table a motion of no confidence in the government at a time of our choosing.

“But it’s going to be soon, don’t worry about it.”

It comes after Mr Corbyn appealed to rival parties to back Labour’s confidence motion, admitting his party would need the support of Tory rebels to win.

Mr Corbyn also dashed hopes that he was coming round to supporting a Final Say referendum, saying he would prefer to get a “negotiated deal now” than to pursue a fresh public vote.

Meanwhile, Ms May will make a last-ditch bid to win support for her deal, by warning that MPs are now more likely to block Brexit than leave without a deal.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Addressing workers at a factory in Stoke-on-Trent, she will say: “As we have seen over the last few weeks, there are some in Westminster who would wish to delay or even stop Brexit and who will use every device available to them to do so.”

“I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy.

“Imagine if an anti-devolution House of Commons had said to the people of Scotland or Wales that despite voting in favour of a devolved legislature, parliament knew better and would overrule them. Or else force them to vote again.

“What if we found ourselves in a situation where parliament tried to take the UK out of the EU in opposition to a Remain vote?

“People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in