Rejection of Theresa May's Brexit plan could trigger second referendum, admits Treasury minister

Mel Stride undermines Theresa May's public strategy, by saying: 'We could have a second referendum and we could end up not leaving the EU altogether'

Treasury minister Mel Stride suggests there could be another referendum if the prime minister's Chequers proposals are rejected by the Commons

A Treasury minister has admitted that Theresa May could be forced to bow to mounting pressure for a fresh Brexit referendum if her plan is rejected – with the option to halt EU withdrawal “altogether”.

Mel Stride delivered a huge boost to the campaign for a “People’s Vote” when he acknowledged: “There is a danger of that 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 would have to give voters the option to remain in the EU.

Supporters leapt on the comments, claiming Mr Stride had “let the cat out of the bag” by admitting what the prime minister has repeatedly denied.

“This is one small step for the minister but a giant stride for our campaign to deliver a people's vote,” said Tulip Siddiq MP, a Labour supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group.

And Alison McGovern MP, for the People’s Vote campaign, said: “This has changed everything. A minister has had the courage to tell the truth about the mess the government are in over Brexit and let the cat out of the bag.”

The gaffe came as the EU, as leaders gathered in Salzburg, delivered a blow to the prime minister’s hopes for her Chequers proposals when it warned they needed to be “reworked”.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said major stumbling blocks remained, including avoiding a hard border in Ireland and the future trading relationship between with the EU.

“Today there is perhaps more hope, but there is surely less and less time,” he warned, as he confirmed he would propose a mid-November summit to try to break the deadlock.

Earlier, in a hardline stance ahead of arriving in Austria, Ms May laid bare the gulf between the two sides when she said EU plans for the Irish border after Brexit remained “totally unacceptable”.

The prime minister has tried to stamp on the People’s Vote campaign by insisting “it’s my deal or no deal” – but Mr Stride’s comments blew that strategy out of the water.

He told Sky News: “I suspect those to the right of the party, the pro Brexit wing, will be very concerned that - if that deal doesn’t prevail - they’ll end up in a situation where we could have a second referendum and we could end up not leaving the EU altogether.

“There is a danger of that happening if Chequers doesn’t prevail”.

The comments made Mr Stride the first government minister to admit that a fresh Brexit referendum is on the cards, if the prime minister’s deal is thrown out.

They appeared to be an attempt to put pressure on pro-Brexit Tories to accept the Chequers proposals – or risk seeing their dream of leaving the EU disappear completely.

However, the comments are a gift to MPs and campaigners who have insisted it is false to claim the UK faces a “binary” choice of Ms May’s deal or the damage from crashing out with no agreement at all.

Furthermore, they were a huge embarrassment to Ms May ahead of her landing in Salzburg and her attempt to ram home the message that the EU must compromise to avoid a no-deal.

Just hours earlier, in a newspaper article, the prime minister again tried to kill the People’s Vote campaign, insisting it would “destroy trust in politicians” to stage another referendum.

The Independent has launched its Final Say campaign, to give the British people the crucial decision on any Brexit deal, which is supported by more than 810,000 people who have signed our petition.

Mr Stride’s intervention was seen as undermining Ms May’s efforts to convince the EU that her no-deal threat is real, when most have already dismissed it as a bluff.

Most diplomats and officials are convinced it would “be bad for everyone, but it would be so much worse for Britain,” as one put it this week.

Ms McGovern added: “The Brexit elite are desperate to deny the people a voice on Brexit but there is no stopping an idea whose time has come.”

The government’s strategy, usually kept for private conversations, is to twist the arms of Brexiteers with the risk of Brexit being stopped – and the arms of pro-EU Tories with the threat of a no-deal.

It was let slip by Mr Stride who also referred to MPs on the “other end of the spectrum”, warning Britain “could end up in a no-deal situation”.

Meanwhile, Wales's first minister said a general election should be called if the government’s deal was rejected by either the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.

Wales voted to leave the EU by a margin of 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent in the 2016 referendum, but recent polls have suggested it has “flipped” to Remain.

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