Brexit: Business leaders urge Theresa May to call fresh referendum and accept her deal is dead

‘If parliament cannot agree on any form of Brexit urgently, we, as entrepreneurs, call on the prime minister to take her deal to the British people’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 18 December 2018 10:02
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Theresa May confirms date for meaningful vote on Brexit deal for 2019

Dozens of senior business leaders have added to growing calls for a Final Say referendum on the Brexit outcome, telling Theresa May her deal is dead.

The group of 53 business leaders urges the prime minister to “take her deal to the British people” if, as expected, MPs refuse to back it when the “meaningful vote” is finally held next month.

A letter has been signed by Sir Richard Sykes, the chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Michael Rake, a former chair of BT, Michael Eavis, founder of the Glastonbury music festival, Alex Chesterman, founder of property search engine Zoopla, and Arnaud Massenet, founder of fashion outlet Net-a-Porter.

“If parliament cannot agree on any form of Brexit urgently, we, as entrepreneurs writing in a personal capacity, call on the prime minister to take her deal to the British people,” they write.

The call comes as a poll of 2,000 voters offered fresh evidence of rising support for another public vote.

The survey for anti-Brexit lobby group Best for Britain found that 65 per cent of people back the public having “the final say on the Brexit deal” – with Conservative voters split almost 50-50 and Labour supporters strongly in favour.

Furthermore, asked how they would vote if offered a choice between staying in the EU and the government’s deal, Remain would win by 56 per cent to 44 per cent.

In the Commons on Monday, the prime minister again tried to quash talk of another public vote, insisting the UK had “accepted the decision we have taken” after previous referendums.

But, in the letter to The Daily Telegraph, the City bosses write: “The government’s own figures show that the prime minister’s deal would be bad for the economy, jobs and business.

“It puts us in a weak position to negotiate a future trade pact with the EU and continues the uncertainty that has already made our economy weaker. Government figures also show that every version of Brexit will make us worse off.

“By contrast, our current deal inside the EU is good for enterprise and good for jobs – and means we are at the table making the rules. It also means we can generate the prosperity needed to pay for public services such as the NHS.”

The letter argues Ms May had “abandoned the most important vote in the House of Commons for a generation because she knew she could not secure a parliamentary majority for her deal”.

“The significant rebellion against her leadership underlines the impossibility of resuscitating it,” it adds.

The pressure was applied after Jeremy Corbyn faced criticism for appearing to step back from tabling a vote of no confidence in the government.

Critics said the Labour leader was sitting on his hands to avoid moving to the next stage of the party’s Brexit policy – supporting a new referendum – if the no-confidence vote failed to trigger a general election.

However, one senior referendum sceptic – Hilary Benn, the Labour chair of the Commons Brexit committee – has acknowledged it may now be the only way forward.

“If it turns out that there is no alternative deal that can win a majority in the House of Commons, then I think it is increasingly likely that the only way we will resolve this is to go back to the British people,” Mr Benn told The House magazine.

“Indeed, it would not surprise me if the prime minister were to do this if her deal is defeated in the House of Commons.”

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