EU leaders openly called for the UK to have another Brexit referendum today, as talks over future relations with Britain entered a critical stage.
The prime ministers of the Czech Republic and of Malta both said they would prefer the British public to have a final say on the outcome of negotiations once they are complete and people can clearly see the “options”.
It comes just a day after a minister admitted that a new referendum was a possibility, contradicting Ms May’s assertion in a speech given to leaders in Austria that there would be no second public vote.
Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat said: “My experience so far within the context of the European Council is that irrespective of one’s political allegiances, there is a lot of respect [for the UK’s decision].
“Having said that there is a unanimous or almost unanimous point of view around the table that we would like the almost impossible to happen that the UK has another referendum.”
The leader said he was unsure what the result would be or if it would be different from the 2016 result.
But he went on: “I think most of us would welcome a situation where there is the possibility of the British people putting things into perspective, seeing what has been negotiated, seeing the options and then deciding once and for all.”
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš argued that people in the UK could have changed their view since the last referendum.
He added: “I’m very unhappy that UK is leaving, so it would be better maybe to make another referendum.”
At the gathering in Austria, Ms May used a ten minute address to the leaders to insist there would be no delay to the UK’s March 2019 departure and no new vote, in a bid to put the onus on the continent’s leaders to compromise in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
She said: “I want to be absolutely clear, this government will never accept a second referendum.
“The British people voted to leave the European Union and we will be leaving on March 29, 2019.”
But the approach, which Brexiteers see as necessary to prevent the EU offering the UK poor terms in any withdrawal agreement, was undermined by one of her ministers in the UK.
In an interview financial secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride acknowledged: “There is a danger of [another vote] happening if Chequers doesn’t prevail”.
The minister also said “we could end up not leaving the EU altogether”, suggesting the ballot paper for any further referendum might give voters the option to remain in the EU.
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