How does a second Brexit referendum actually happen? – UK



It was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision, but now the conference season is being dominated by talk of a second referendum or “People’s Vote” on Brexit.

As of Sunday night, the Labour leadership have caved in to pro-European members and officially put the option on the table, if Theresa May’s deal is voted down by Parliament and their preferred option, a general election, isn’t granted.

Aside from whether or not this is a desirable outcome – of course many voters feel they have already had their say and want politicians to get on with making the best of it – could it actually happen and how?

:: Is there time?

We are leaving the EU on 29 March, 2019, barely six months from now.

Mrs May is expected to secure an agreement – or, less likely, to deliver on her threat to walk away without one – at a special EU council meeting in November. Parliament must vote on it by early next year.

Theresa May makes a statement on Brexit negotiations with the European Union at Number 10 Downing Stree
Theresa May has consistently stated she is against another vote

Time, therefore, is short.

A referendum requires legislation through Parliament.

The EU Referendum Act paving the way for the vote in June 2016 took seven months to get through both Houses, after wrangling about the wording of the question, the franchise and the campaign period.

Official campaigns were then designated and the actual vote was held six months after that.

All the campaign groups for a second poll concede that the government would need to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn listens to a speech at the party conference in Liverpool
Jeremy Corbyn is facing calls from Labour members to come out in favour of another vote

A former EU official tells me extra time is much more likely to be granted for a second referendum than, for example, a general election, but the EU would want it “done and dusted” before the European elections in May.

“If it’s longer than that they’ll probably just want us out.”

The Best for Britain and People’s Vote campaign groups insist that the time pressure MPs would be under would force the arrangements to progress quickly, plausibly in as little as four months after Mrs May puts her deal to Parliament.

:: Why should we have it?

The argument supporters make is that a lot has changed since the Vote Leave buses promised £350m a week, and trade secretary Liam Fox claimed a trade deal with the EU would be “the easiest deal in human history”.

(Left to right) David Davis MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and Theresa Villiers MP


David Davis: Brexit negotiations ‘in a cul-de-sac’

Second vote campaigners say the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan, now being attacked by Remainers as well as Leavers, was not on the ballot paper in 2016 and that therefore voters should be given the option to reconsider what is now on offer.

They point to research showing that 100 constituencies which voted Brexit in 2016 now want to remain in the EU.

:: What’s the question?

The Labour leadership have now bowed to demands from the party’s pro-European members to put a second vote on the table, but on what?

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told Sky News on Monday that it would simply be on the terms of the Brexit deal only – without an option to remain in the EU.


Labour would back second referendum vote

This would be fought tooth and nail by pro-EU Labour MPs and members.

Ben Bradshaw MP promptly tweeted that it is Parliament and the party who will decide the question, and that they would insist staying in is an option.

Indeed Lord Kerr, who wrote Article 50, and is now backing another vote, says it should be “a binary choice on the ballot paper, either “no deal versus stay” or “the deal versus stay”.

“In our view, if there is a deal, the most pressing question for the country would be whether that deal is better than the one we have already inside the EU”, he wrote in a recent article.


Corbyn ‘bound’ by members’ decision on Brexit referendum

But to get through Parliament, it needs Conservative backing, and few Tories have publicly backed the idea.

Mrs May has repeatedly ruled out a second referendum but with the outcome of the negotiations still up in the air, could she change course if her deal is voted down by hard Brexiteer MPs, and instead of calling a general election, which could see the Conservatives turfed out of office, decide to put her plan to the country?

Surely her choice would be the deal – or no deal at all.

:: Is it more likely now?

People’s Vote says Labour’s move is significant, although it is not an unequivocal commitment.

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Watson: MPs need a meaningful vote on Brexit

“We have moved their policy, the Labour Party has moved in the direction of supporting us”, a spokesman said.

But for those hoping for a rerun, there are still countless obstacles ahead.

And as any party which has ever promised a referendum knows, you can never predict the outcome, or the unintended consequences.



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