EXCL Brexit Committee chair says fresh EU referendum may be only way to break deadlock
A second EU referendum may be the only way to break the impasse at Westminster, the chair of the Brexit Select Committee has said.
In an article for The House magazine, Hilary Benn joined called for MPs to be given a series of so-called "indicative votes" on the various Brexit outcomes to find a resolution to the crisis.
But he argued that if MPs could not agree on a way forward, then a second referendum would likely follow – with Theresa May’s deal and Remain as the options on the ballot paper.
"The House of Commons has had an obligation to give effect to the result since the June 2016 referendum even though it is increasingly clear that the type of Brexit promised – keep all the good bits and get rid of the rest – simply does not exist," he wrote.
"Those who campaigned to leave reject the Prime Minister's deal but cannot agree amongst themselves what kind of Brexit they do want...
"Parliament’s task is now, therefore, to try to find out whether there is a Brexit agreement that could command support from a majority of MPs. The best way to do this would be to hold a series of votes on the options. This needs to happen as a matter of urgency because there is a very little time left. In any event, it is almost certain that we will have to extend Article 50 to give ourselves some breathing space.
“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. Indeed, it would not surprise me if the Prime Minister were to do this if her deal is defeated in the House of Commons.
“The choice on any ballot paper could be whether the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal is what those who voted leave actually support or whether the British people want to remain in the European Union.”
Mr Benn has previously said it is “hard to see” MPs backing a second plebiscite and last week told the BBC politicians have a “responsibility to give effect to the last referendum”.
His comments come as Mrs May warned MPs that holding a second EU referendum would “break faith with the British people”.
In a statement to the Commons, the Prime Minister said: "Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver.
"Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last.
"And another vote which would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it."
Mr Benn also called on MPs to provide "desperately needed" leadership on Brexit.
“In the last two and a half years, we have learned that the assurances given by those who campaigned to leave the EU – that ‘we will hold all the cards’ and this will be one of the ‘easiest trade deals in history’ – were empty and meaningless. It is now clear that we will never negotiate a trade deal that is as good as the one we currently have and that leaving the EU without an agreement would be a disaster,” he said.
“If there was ever a time for each one of us, whether MPs or citizens, to be honest with ourselves and one another about the real choice we face, then it is now. The Government is divided and so is the country. Time is running out. And this is the moment for Parliament to take back control and provide the leadership that is desperately needed.”