Theresa May claims second EU referendum could 'damage social cohesion' in the UK

Posted On: 
21st January 2019

Theresa May has claimed that holding a second EU referendum could "damage social cohesion" in the UK.

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

In comments which suggested she feared the prospect of violence on the streets by pro-Brexit supporters, the Prime Minister said failing to implement the result of the original vote in 2016 could "undermine faith in our democracy" among voters.

She also said it could "strengthen the hand of those campaigning to break up our United Kingdom".

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That was a clear reference to the SNP, whose members want a second Scottish independence referendum.

Mrs May spoke out as she set out to MPs how she plans to get her Brexit blueprint through Parliament despite last week's humiliating 230-vote defeat.

Rejecting calls by the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens for a so-called "People's Vote" on her deal, she said: "I've set out many times my deep concerns about returning to the British people for a second referendum.

"Our duty is to implement to decision of the first one. I fear a second referendum would set a difficult precedent that could have significant implications for how we handle referendums in this country, not least strenghthening the hand of those campaigning to break up our United Kingdom.

"It would require an extension of Article 50, we would very likely need to return a new set of MEPs to the European Parliament in May and I also believe that there has not yet been enough recognition for the way a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister later failed to explain precisely what Mrs May meant, and insisted she was not necessarily talking about an outbreak of violence similar to the riots which broke out in London in 2011.

He said: "The act of the first referendum was the biggest exercise in democracy that this country has ever seen and that comes with it an article of faith in which some people, a pretty significant proportion of whom will have done it perhaps for the first time in their lives, participated in a process and expect the Government to deliver on the Government's side of the bargain in terms of fulfilling it.

"I'm not sure that she's pointing to specific examples but there is a covenant of trust between the electorate and the Government of the day and the PM's firm belief is that it's the Government's duty to act on the clearly expressed wishes of the electorate and were that not to happen she's saying that wouldn't be and shouldn't be without consequence."

Elsewhere in her statement, Mrs May confirmed that the Government had ditched plans to charge EU citizens £65 when applying for "settled status" in the UK.

She also rejected calls for the Article 50 process to be extended, and confirmed that she now wants the EU to make concessions on the Irish backstop in an attempt to win over Tory rebels and the DUP.