Second EU referendum would take more than a year to organise, Downing Street tells MPs

Posted On: 
17th January 2019

Organising a second referendum would take more than a year, Downing Street was warned MPs.

Campaigners for a second referendum march through London last year.
Credit: 
PA Images

A paper drawn up by civil servants makes clear the Government's view that having a so-called "People's Vote" before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March would be impossible.

The one-page document was shown to MPs during talks with the Prime Minister and other senior government figures as part of efforts to break the Brexit deadlock.

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A copy of the paper was obtained by ITV and showed that according to the civil servants, it would take seven months for a referendum bill to pass through Parliament.

A further 12 weeks would be needed for the Electoral Commission to test the question, followed by six weeks to pass secondary legislation, six weeks for the designation of campaigns and 10 weeks for them "to use their benefits".

Asked about the document, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister insisted it did not mean the Government is planning for the possibility of another referendum.

She said: "It was a short paper setting out factual detail on the number of months that would be required. It was produced to inform the discussion. We expected this issue to be brough to the meeting. It was illustrative only. Our position is that a second referendum won't be happening."

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts, whose party backs a second referendum, was among those shown the paper.

She said: "The Prime Minister made it clear how much they had already been looking at these issues themselves. We were able to go into some depth about the considerations.

"Then today we went into considerably more detail on what would be the necessary procedure to bring forward a people’s vote – what the House would need to do, what the time requirements would be, what would be necessary for Article 50."

Tory MP Dominic Grieve, of the People's Vote campaign, accused the Government of "misleading" voters.

He said: "The timetable put forward by the Government is simply wrong and they must be aware of it themselves.

"If Parliament wishes to have a referendum and the Government is prepared to facilitate it, it could be carried out swiftly and within a limited time extension of Article 50."

Eloise Todd, boss of the pro-second referendum Best for Britain campaign, said: "It's great to see the Government acknowledging that a referendum is possible. But they are trying to pull the wool over the public's eyes on the timetable, spooked by how much momentum the campaign for a final say has in Parliament and the wider country.

"Brits want to have a vote on Brexit, and the extra months it would take is nothing compared to the decade long negotiation we’re facing should we leave the EU. It’s time to give people the final say on Brexit.”