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Have We Really Reached A Tipping Point On Support For A Second Referendum?

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It’s been a great week for anti-Brexit campaigners. 

As the UK basked in record-breaking summer temperatures, activists lobbying for a public vote on Theresa May’s final EU exit deal managed to net themselves a big name, with Match Of The Day pundit and crisp-fan Gary Lineker pledging to support their cause

Less than 48 hours later they received another major boost, as a Times/YouGov poll suggested the majority of voters (42%) would back a second referendum for the first time. 

It’s an undeniably bright start to a planned ‘summer of action’ for the People’s Vote campaign – the organisation supported by Lineker – which is holding a series of grassroots rallies in the coming weeks to increase pressure on ministers to offer the public another say on Brexit.

And its political supporters, along with young people’s group For our Future’s Sake, were quick to seize the moment on Friday, confidently asserting momentum (small ‘m’) around the debate is “only in one direction”.

Labour MP Gareth Thomas said: “A month ago, supporters of a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal were 7% behind, now we are 2% ahead.

“The Brexiters are in deep intellectual and political trouble. They have run out of ideas and offer nothing positive to the people of Britain.”

Thomas said the prime minister’s Brexit white paper had been “torn to shreds” by ministers and backbenchers and that Parliament was no longer able to back a “coherent option”.

Eloise Todd, chief executive officer of pro-Remain campaign group Best For Britain, agreed.

“We are fast approaching a Brexit tipping point as the public see the squabbling, the infighting and the rubbish deal Theresa May is delivering,” she told HuffPost UK. 

“Britain is heading for a bad Brexit deal, but it’s definitely not a done deal.

“Everyone who cares about our country and our future should now channel their anger and frustration into demanding our MPs and political leaders reject this botched Brexit process and let every British citizen have the democratic right for a People’s Vote on the final deal.” 

But Remainers should proceed with caution.  YouGov’s poll surveyed less than 1,700 voting adults, 40% of whom maintained there should be no second vote.

And the overall view of the majority of voters has not changed – 45% said if the 2016 referendum were repeated tomorrow they would vote Remain, 42% said Leave, 4% would not vote and 9% didn’t know. 

The numbers largely matched results delivered by opinion polls in the run-up to the vote two years ago, which resulted in a 52% victory for Leave. 

Jayne Adye, director of cross-party pro-Brexit group Get Britain Out, said the arguments for a second vote were “deeply misleading” and were being made “by those who have never accepted the 2016 result”.

“David Cameron promised the outcome of the EU referendum – whatever the result – would be delivered by the government,” she added.

“Failure to do this would create further public distrust with politicians.

“The EU have done this with the French, the Dutch and the Irish – a vote must keep happening until the EU gets the result they want.”

Adye said YouGov had a “questionable track record” on gauging people’s attitudes toward Brexit and accused the pollster of being “wide of the mark” before the people went to the ballot box two years ago. 

She added: “As the Article 50 process continues, a second referendum would be a needless distraction from the important job of preparing for our post-EU future. Business and the great British public need stability going forward, and for our reputation on the world stage.

“Holding a second referendum would be music to the ears of EU negotiators, and would be a signal for them to demand even more concessions in the negotiations. We need to get Britain out of the EU as soon as possible, with or without a trade deal.”

Despite Brexiteers sticking firmly to their guns, and despite any realistic prospect of a People’s Vote lying very firmly in the government’s hands, insiders are quietly confident of a significant shift in mood. 

“It took the Cabinet two years to agree even this mess, and in doing so they focused on maintaining the façade of government unity and not the national interest,” one senior source told HuffPost UK.

“More than two years after the referendum, Britain has only just agreed its opening salvo in negotiations, but hard Brexiteers will not countenance any further negotiation or concessions – saying that it must be the government’s final offer. That leaves Britain facing a no-deal scenario which will wreak untold damage on our economy, health service and national security.

“It is the polar opposite of taking back control. Britain would be trapped and the whole thing looks less like a soft Brexit than a national humiliation. Not only would it fail to secure all the trade we have presently, but it would severely compromise our ability to negotiate future trade agreements with other countries.

“This will satisfy nobody, and that is why Theresa May cannot command support for her plan in Britain or in Brussels.”

A People’s Vote is the only way out of the current “political stalemate”, the source said, arguing that both Labour and the Conservatives had “boxed themselves into a corner” through their own internal divisions. 

They added: “A majority of Labour members want a People’s Vote, but are being denied one by a Labour leadership wedded to their six tests – which can never be fulfilled – and the opposition of their biggest trade unions who support Brexit – albeit a so-called ‘jobs first’ Brexit.

“As those positions become increasingly untenable within their own parties, the argument becomes clearer that there needs to be a delay in Article 50 and then the final deal needs to be put back to the public.”

Experts say a shift in public opinion could be disastrous for May, who faced a battle before Parliament rose for summer recess to get her Chequers Brexit plan through the Commons.

Tony Hughes, CEO of global negotiation specialist firm Huthwaite International, said: “With many accrediting the UK’s change of heart to frustration around the political deadlock in Brussels, she has limited time to change the tide on Brexit.

“There are two priorities for May to avoid a second referendum. Take back control or re-establish a sense of power. To achieve the former, May must harness her famed attention to detail to establish areas of ‘wiggle room’ within the negotiations.”

Hughes said the PM had taken the correct approach in terms of creating a sense of power by positioning herself as the lead negotiator with the EU, rather than her newly-appointed Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.

He added: “But is it too little too late? That remains to be seen. There are however important lessons that should be heeded – namely, failing to plan, really is planning to fail.”

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