Support For Another Brexit Referendum Grows

Dec 17, 2018
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Not so long ago, staging another Brexit referendum seemed almost unthinkable. In recent weeks, though, calls have been growing. Today in Britain's parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May tried to knock down the idea of a new vote on whether to leave the European Union.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum.

UNIDENTIFIED PARLIAMENT MEMBERS: Hear.

KELLY: May also said Parliament would hold a vote on her unpopular Brexit deal during the second week of January. NPR's Frank Langfitt has the latest from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Last week, former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair said the British should have another say on Brexit if there are no other viable options. Blair's call comes after the exit process has proven far more difficult than advertised and plunged British politics into chaos.

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TONY BLAIR: When we've had 30 months of brutal education of reality, when our knowledge of the consequence is a world greater than it was when we took the decision, in what other circumstances would we refuse the right to reconsider - indeed, regard discussion of such a change as somehow a betrayal of principle?

LANGFITT: But today in Britain's House of Commons, May countered that that is exactly what it would be.

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MAY: 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.

LANGFITT: More and more political analysts, though, say a second referendum is no longer a complete long shot. Eurasia Group, which provides political risk analysis, now estimates a 40 percent probability of a second vote. Mujtaba Rahman is the firm's managing director for Europe.

MUJTABA RAHMAN: I do think Parliament is ultimately moving to a second referendum. I think the process to get there is going to be painful. There will be multiple mini crises, leadership contests. But I think - ultimately, I think that's where this is going.

LANGFITT: The reason? There isn't a majority in Parliament for the two other obvious options. Dominic Grieve is a conservative member of Parliament who supports a second referendum. He says May's Brexit deal faces heavy opposition from both leavers and remainers.

DOMINIC GRIEVE: The deal is not, from the point of view of people who voted leave, what they ever expected to get. They thought they'd get something very much better, freeing the U.K. up and giving us a bright future. And from the point of view of those of us who supported remain, you look at this deal, and you think, why on Earth are we leaving?

LANGFITT: And there's no majority in Parliament for the default option, walking away from the EU with no deal and paying the economic price. Again, Dominic Grieve.

GRIEVE: And so you can see how the arguments start to crystallize round the referendum because a referendum offers a way of trying to break this logjam.

GEORGE PARKER: I can imagine it, but I think it would be very damaging, dangerous.

LANGFITT: George Parker is the political editor of the Financial Times. He says a second referendum is possible but could cause even more division and disillusionment.

PARKER: It would - basically a sort of vote of no confidence in the British political system. You know, the parliamentarians voted to give the people a vote on Brexit. The people said, we want to leave the EU. What you are basically saying there is that after two and a half years of MPs talking about this, they throw their hands up in despair and say, it's all a bit too complicated for us. We're going to ask you, the people, again to see whether you might change your mind. It's a pretty grim prospect.

LANGFITT: And it would be distasteful to most members of Parliament. There is talk of polling Parliament on additional options if the prime minister's deal fails next month. That could include a softer kind of Brexit, similar to the deal Norway has with the EU. But if Parliament can't agree on anything, some members may call for taking the decision back to the people. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

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