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Theresa May returns from tense EU summit to growing talk of second referendum



Theresa May has returned from Brussels to increased talk of a potential second referendum on Brexit after a tense summit with EU leaders failed to boost her hopes of getting her withdrawal agreement through parliament.

The prime minister headed for the Belgian capital in search of “legal assurances” on her troubled deal, which has yet to go before the House of Commons due to the assumption that it will be voted down by MPs.

Her final day at the summit was dominated by a dispute with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who she accused of calling her “nebulous”.

It has been another difficult week of Brexit tension for Theresa May
It has been another difficult week of Brexit tension for Theresa May

Mr Juncker said his use of the word during a midnight news conference hours before was instead related to the “overall state of the debate in Britain”, with Mrs May struggling to form enough of a consensus within her own party despite winning a confidence vote in her leadership earlier in the week.

With little sign of an imminent breakthrough, senior figures on both sides of the Brexit debate have declared that the prospect of another referendum on the issue is becoming more likely.

Just hours after former prime minister Tony Blair urged EU leaders and Mrs May to extend Article 50 to allow for a public vote to resolve the Brexit deadlock, Nigel Farage said he believes the UK may face a second referendum.

Tony Blair


Blair on May, Brexit and second referendum

Speaking at the Leave Means Leave rally at the QEII Centre in London, the former UKIP leader said Leave campaigners need to “get ready for every situation”.

He said that while he did not want another referendum, it would be wrong of him and fellow Brexiteers “not to be prepared for a worse case scenario”.

Nigel Farage appeared at a Leave Means Leave rally alongside Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kate Hoey
Nigel Farage appeared at a Leave Means Leave rally alongside Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kate Hoey

According to The Times, a number of cabinet ministers are also said to be reluctantly considering the prospect of a so-called People’s Vote to settle the debate, which is hung up on the issue of the Northern Irish backstop.

Many Tory Brexiteers, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that Mrs May depends upon for a Commons majority, have rejected the backstop proposals.

The backstop would see the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland, avoided by the UK remaining under EU customs rules, if no trade agreement is struck with the EU after a Brexit transition period.

The Northern Ireland backstop is fast becoming the most famous part of the Withdrawal Agreement - and for good reason.


The backstop is one of the most contentious parts of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. But what is it?

David Lidington, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond and Greg Clarke are named by The Times as those who have stepped up talks over whether a People’s Vote should happen and what the question might be.

Meanwhile, other senior Tories – including former chancellor Ken Clarke – have urged Mrs May to reach out to Labour backbenchers in a bid to find common ground to move forward.

His call has been echoed by Work and Pensions Secretary Ms Rudd, who wrote in the Daily Mail to urge fellow Tories to be prepared to reach across the aisle to avoid the UK “crashing onto the rocks” without a deal.

The prime minister will address the House of Commons on Monday to give an update on the Brussels summit, which came after she cancelled a vote on her Brexit deal that had been scheduled for last Tuesday.

MPs will likely now have to wait until mid-January to have their say, by which time Labour could already have forced a vote of no-confidence in her leadership.

The opposition has said it will only strike when it considers the government to be at its most vulnerable.

One shadow cabinet minister told The Guardian that the timing was dependent on whether the party was confident that the motion would be backed by the DUP.

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