Philip Hammond says second Brexit referendum 'very likely' to be put before Parliament

Posted On: 
12th April 2019

A second referendum on Brexit is "very likely" to come before Parliament, Philip Hammond has said.

The Chancellor said the Government itself would not back a fresh Brexit poll.

The Chancellor - who was previously rebuked by Downing Street after describing a fresh public vote as "a perfectly credible proposition" - said "all the evidence" pointed to MPs getting another chance to pitch the idea.

But he expressed scepticism that any renewed push for a second referendum could succeed in the six months before Britain's delayed Brexit date arrives on 31 October.

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Asked about a second referendum as he landed in Washington for meetings at the International Monetary Fund, the Cabinet minister said: "It’s a proposition that could, and on all the evidence is, very likely to be put to Parliament at some stage."

However, Mr Hammond stressed that ministers remained opposed to a second referendum - and insisted they would not actively back one taking place.

"The Government’s position has not changed," he said.

"The Government is opposed to a confirmatory referendum and therefore we would not be supporting it."

Campaigners for a fresh poll are hopeful that Labour, which has continued talks with the Government aimed at breaking the UK's Brexit deadlock, could demand a so-called 'confirmatory vote' on any deal it gets behind.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told reporters on Friday that Labour had been using the "constructive" talks to discuss a second referendum.

He said: “It’s always on the table, of course. We raise that at each meeting.”

But Mr Hammond said Labour remained "deeply split" on a fresh vote, adding that Jeremy Corbyn's party would "have to make up its mind where it stands" on the issue.

And the Chancellor struck a sceptical note about whether any bid for a new public vote could make it through the Commons in the face of a "tight" timetable.

"It is unlikely, at a technical level, whether there would be enough time," he said.

"I know some papers have been saying that the EU gave us an October extension so there would be time for a confirmatory referendum but if that had been the motive they would have given us longer.

"It looks tight to me. If in a couple of months time you were putting a bill through Parliament you would be struggling to do it – even if you wanted to – in the time available."

Mr Hammond's comments come after EU leaders granted Theresa May a further delay to Britain's exit from the European Union, with the Article 50 process now extended until 31 October.

However, the Prime Minister - whose deal has been defeated by MPs three times - has said she still hopes to get an agreement through Parliament by 22 May to avoid the UK having to take part in European Parliament elections scheduled for the following day.