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Former UK civil service chief Bob Kerslake backs second Brexit referendum

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Sir Bob Kerslake
Sir Bob Kerslake
Bob
Kerslake / Twitter


  • Theresa May is urged to call a fresh Brexit referendum
    by the former head of the UK civil service.
  • “A combination of poor negotiations and poor choices
    have left us in an unenviable place, and that’s why we’ve got
    to re-open this question, even at this late stage,” Lord
    Kerslake, who led the civil service between 2012 and 2014,
    tells BI.
  • Kerslake said the option of a no-deal Brexit should be
    taken off the ballot paper in a second vote, because “pursuing
    a no-deal Brexit […] when you know the damage it could do to
    ordinary people is frankly irresponsible.”
  • Downing Street has repeatedly ruled out the prospect of
    a second referendum.

LONDON — Theresa May should call a second Brexit referendum to
avoid the potential “catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit, the
former head of the UK civil service has told Business Insider.

Lord Kerslake, who led the civil service between 2012 and 2014
and now advises Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, told BI that the UK
should be offered a two-choice referendum which includes the
option to remain.

“I’ve changed my view and now back a second referendum,” he told
BI.

He explained that “a combination of poor negotiations and poor
choices have left us in an unenviable place, and that’s why we’ve
got to re-open this question, even at this late stage,” 

Kerslake added that “no one could have imagined” the public would
be facing the “stark choice between a poor deal or the
catastrophe of no deal.”

“Had the negotiating process gone better, we wouldn’t be
having this debate. It’s possible the government will get a deal
and be able to secure support for it in parliament, but that’s
looking pretty difficult to achieve now, as some very intractable
issues like the Irish border have not been resolved.”

Downing Street has repeatedly ruled out the prospect of a second
referendum, with Theresa May suggesting it would be a “gross
betrayal of our democracy
.”

But anti-Brexit campaigners who support a so-called “People’s
Vote” believe that the prime minister could be forced to
legislate for such a scenario if MPs reject her deal in
parliament.

Kerslake said the government should consider seeking an extension
of Article 50 — the two-year EU exit process which will see the
UK leave the EU in March next year — by several months to provide
time for a second referendum.

“Pushing back the exit date is something that must now seriously
be considered,” he said. “If the government is unable to produce
a deal  and secure the vote in parliament, we are definitely
into extension territory.”

In another development, senior EU sources have also told Business
Insider that they now believe the prospect of a second Brexit
referendum is becoming increasingly likely. 

“We were initially sceptical of [the possibility of a referendum]
but it’s looking much more likely than ever before,” an EU
Commission source told BI.

“If the meaningful vote fails in parliament then we believe the
option of a second vote could come into play.”

No-deal would be a ‘catastrophe’


People's Vote Brexit march
A “People’s Vote”
march

Alex McBride /
Getty


Kerslake told BI that May’s government should remove the option
of a “no-deal” scenario from the ballot paper, and offer voters a
simple choice between remaining in the EU and accepting the terms
of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. 

He said that a no-deal Brexit was “not tenable” because it would
wreak havoc on the economy and because the civil service was
unable to prepare for such a radical change in policy at short
notice. 

“Pursuing a no-deal Brexit, or even contemplating it when you
know the damage it could do to ordinary people is frankly
irresponsible,” he said.

“We shouldn’t really consider it as an option, because its
consequences are so enormous,” he said. “The economic shock would
be very significant.”

He branded trade secretary Liam Fox “irresponsible” for
suggesting that leaving the EU would not have a  significant
economic impact, and criticised Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has
repeatedly called for the UK to leave without a deal.

“Those people who are saying “Let’s not worry about it, let’s
crash out of the EU, it’ll be much easier than you think,” are
people of means on the whole,” he said.

“Jacob Rees-Mogg is not going to be proved wrong on this point.
But the vast bulk of the British population are living much
closer to the edge than people like that. They cannot withstand
an economic shock without real consequences to them.”

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