LONDON: One of Theresa May’s most senior Cabinet ministers has raised the prospect of a second referendum to break the Brexit deadlock, as speculation over the future of the beleaguered UK prime minister and her twice-defeated divorce bill reaches fever pitch.
A day after hundreds of thousands marched in central London to demand another public vote, Chancellor Philip Hammond said a second referendum – likely to be one of the options put to lawmakers in the coming days – was a “coherent proposition” that deserves consideration.
His comments signal a clear break from May’s repeated refusal to allow the British public a second poll on Brexit, and mark the first time a senior Cabinet minister has spoken about such a move as a viable possibility.
The Chancellor confirmed parliament would vote on a series of alternative Brexit options this week, and acknowledged that May will be unlikely to salvage her own plan, which lawmakers have already crushed by historic proportions on two occasions.
MPs could vote as soon as Monday on that and a series of other Brexit alternatives, in an attempt to find a route out of the country’s chaotic political standstill before the new April 12 deadline imposed by the European Council on Thursday.
Options are likely to include continued membership of the EU’s single market or customs union, a second vote, a Canada-style free trade agreement and a no-deal exit.
May has not yet confirmed whether she will bring back her Brexit deal for a third time, after the previous votes were defeated by 230 and then 149 votes. She would need to flip 75 MPs for it to succeed, but opposition parties and hardliners on her own backbenchers have so far been firmly opposed to the bill.
If it does pass, the Brexit delay would be extended until May 22 to allow parliament time to enact necessary legislation.
But its anticipated defeat would set Britain on another collision course with the EU, with any alternative other than a no-deal break likely requiring the government to seek a further extension and possibly forcing the UK to take part in European elections in May.
The chances of May being in office to see any Brexit strategy through are increasingly being thrown into question, with several senior Cabinet ministers reportedly preparing to force a coup when they meet the Prime Minister on Monday.