London, United Kingdom | AFP | Hopes for a second referendum on EU membership are rising in Britain amid heightened uncertainty over Brexit, but big hurdles remain — from the timing to legal complexities on both sides of the Channel.
Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to convince British lawmakers to back her Brexit deal — formally signed off by EU leaders last weekend — in a key vote in parliament on December 11.
If, as widely expected, it is voted down, what happens next remains highly uncertain. But the backers of a so-called “People’s Vote” argue it opens up an opportunity to ask Britons to think again.
“There is a growing momentum behind the campaign for a second referendum,” said Constantine Fraser, an analyst research consultancy TS Lombard.
“It will become a serious option on the table if, or more likely when, Theresa May’s deal is voted down.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a probability, but it’s a likelihood that’s growing fast.”
– Second referendum call ‘inevitable’ –
In the latest instance of second referendum activism, the pro-EU Best for Britain group on Saturday launched a new advertising campaign on vans targeting the districts of “key MPs like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn”.
The support of the opposition party, which has delivered mixed messages on the issue — arguing for all options to be left on the table — is seen as crucial to force another poll.
John McDonnell, Labour’s finance spokesman, fuelled hopes the leadership was moving closer to the idea by saying Tuesday it was “inevitable” the party would support a second poll if it could not force a general election.
The hopes of second referendum advocates were further strengthened by EU President Donald Tusk on Friday.
Speaking at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Tusk said a rejection of the deal by the British parliament would leave just two options — “no deal or no Brexit at all”.
– ‘It’s not impossible’ –
There are significant structural barriers to a second vote, according to analysts.
“You would need the government to actually table a proposal, have a vote in favour of it, which would require cross-party support,” Nick Wright, a fellow in EU politics at University College London, told AFP.
May has repeatedly ruled out halting Brexit or holding another vote, and it would be hard without her support.
“It’s not impossible,” noted Fraser.
“If it becomes clear that there’s political pressure for it in parliament, the government may have no other option politically.”
A cross-party group of MPs on Thursday laid down an amendment to May’s EU withdrawal legislation in a bid to stop a no-deal Brexit emerging as the default fallback option.
The proposed amendment would hand power to lawmakers if her plan is rejected in the House of Commons — and could potentially provide a legislative pathway for a referendum.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said it had his “full support”, tweeting it was a “great amendment”.