Labour still mulling ways to force a second referendum

Catherine Neilan
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If Labour defeats the government's bill on a final deal, it could force a second referendum (Source: Getty)

Labour MPs are still plotting to defeat the government's bill on a final Brexit deal in the hope it could force a second referendum.

The party had proposed plans to defeat the government over its EU Withdrawal Bill, with shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer saying last April that Labour would not walk away from the European Union without any agreement, saying it “will not accept ‘no deal’ as a viable option”.

In the end the bill passed through the Commons with just one defeat - secured by Tory rebel Dominic Grieve - that MPs will have the right to a "meaningful vote" on a final deal. It is currently making its way through the Lords.

However, Labour MPs and an MEP have told City A.M. there is still a widespread view that Parliament will reject the bill on a deal - despite threats from Brexit secretary David Davis that this would result in the UK leaving the EU with no deal.

"If that happens, you have Labour, SNP, Lib Dems and some Tory pro-European rebels - none of those people support leaving without a deal," said one Labour MEP. "You cannot construe that as the will of Parliament.

"In that case it can mean one of only two things - that the government will have to go and negotiate something else, with all the time constraints that there are, or it must mean 'my goodness we will need to reconsider Brexit'."

Other MPs pointed to the lack of detail available as to a reason for little faith that enough could be agreed by the time a vote is expected, around October of this year. At best you could expect "a pig in a poke deal, that doesn't settle anything and leaves everything for the transitional phase so you have to vote for Brexit without knowing how any of the key issues are going to be settled," said one.

Many within the party have called for a second referendum publicly. However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly ruled this option out.

And business would be nervous about reopening the issue, with many seeing it as merely prolonging the uncertainty triggered by the first referendum.

Indeed, a recent note by analysts at Berenberg suggested no Brexit was the least likely option at this stage, with just a five per cent chance, while a "semi-soft Brexit" - in which the UK stays close enough to the EU to avoid a hard border and mutual recognition for trade in most goods and some services - was the most likely outcome, at 45 per cent.

A no deal/hard Brexit option carried a 20 per cent chance of happening.

Today, Theresa May is hosting an 11th-hour away day at sumptuous grace-and-favour mansion Chequers with some of her most senior colleagues, in the hope of thrashing out a position on the future relationship. She is expected to give a speech in the coming days in which she will set out the country's stance.

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