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Second referendum campaign hit after losing key Brexit amendment votes

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LONDON — The campaign for a People’s Vote is struggling to find a route to a second referendum after MPs campaigning to delay Britain’s exit from the EU saw their Brexit amendments defeated by Theresa May’s government on Tuesday.

One Labour MP, who is supporting the People’s Vote campaign, described the mood as seriously “demoralised,” while one of their pro-referendum colleagues said they were “drowning their sorrows” after last night’s votes.

A leading campaigner for a People’s Vote added that the situation was “pretty dire.”

They said that the results cast further doubt on whether a Commons majority for a new referendum was possible, telling BI: “I struggle to see where new numbers come from to be frank.”

They said that the only “saving grace” was that despite the defeat of Cooper’s amendment, there was still a strong possibility that the UK would apply for an extension to Article 50, creating more time for a potential referendum.

The People’s Vote campaign for a new referendum had urged supporters to lobby MPs to back amendments tabled Yvette Cooper and Dominic Grieve, in the belief that they would create the clearest path to holding a new vote.

The amendment tabled by Labour MP Yvette Cooper sought to give the MPs the power to delay Brexit if necessary while Grieve wanted to set aside six days for MPs to discuss Brexit options including a referendum.

A Labour MP who backs the campaign told Business Insider last week that if the Cooper and Grieve amendments didn’t pass, MPs would have few, if any, future opportunities to legislate for a new Brexit referendum.

“There will be other opportunities along the way but not in the hands of the House of Commons,” they said, adding that future opportunities to legislate for a so-called People’s Vote “would be in the gift of the government.”

However, one figure in the campaign for a People’s Vote in the Labour Party insisted that the group’s strategy of knocking down all other options, like a Norway-style Brexit or Labour’s plan, had not been derailed.

“I don’t think this makes Norway, May’s deal plus customs union or any other option more likely,” they said.

“A People’s Vote will have to be the last alternative to no deal standing, but it still could be.”

A backbench Labour MP agreed, telling BI: “With or without the whip, there are many Labour MPs who would rather have another referendum than no-deal. That applies to the shadow frontbench and frontbench too.”

Reuters

The People’s Vote campaign’s long-standing belief has been that the key to unlocking parliamentary support for a referendum is convincing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to back it and whip his MPs to do the same.

However, MPs who support the campaign believe it may have to adopt a new strategy, amid a growing belief that despite pressure from members and parliamentarians, Corbyn is not going to make the switch.

“The campaign needs to tackle this issue of where Corbyn stands, establish it clearly, and work around it if necessary,” a Labour MP who supports the People’s Vote campaign told BI on Wednesday.

Labour’s official policy is to consider backing a new referendum if a general election isn’t possible and the party is unable to make May’s government adopt its alternative Brexit plan of a permanent customs union.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer earlier this month signaled that Labour was close to backing a new referendum, telling party members that Labour was in “phrase three” of its Brexit policy.

However, Corbyn is currently focused on trying to force the prime minister into pursuing a softer Brexit deal, and is set to hold talks with her in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon.

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