By Paul Waugh
Theresa May has categorically ruled out ever allowing a second Brexit referendum as long as she is Prime Minister.
In a clear bid to win round Tory backbench Brexiteers, the PM made plain that she would rather resign than introduce any legislation for what campaigners have called a ‘People’s Vote’.
Bombarded with questions from Labour and Conservative MPs on the issue, May said a fresh plebiscite would represent a “gross betrayal” of the 17 million people who voted to leave the EU.
Asked directly by HuffPost UK if it was safe to say that as long as May was Prime Minister there will not be second referendum, the PM’s official spokesman said: “Yes.”
Her tougher stance means that if the Commons votes by a majority for a referendum, May would either have to resign or risk being ousted if she tried to ignore the will of Parliament.
Backbencher Andrew Percy was typical of the Tory loyalists who urged May to harden her stance on a referendum in the Commons on Thursday.
Percy said that his constituents were “sick and tired” of talk of a fresh vote, which would be an “establishment stitch-up that might please some in Metropolitan elite and their wealthy overseas backers but it would be a gross act against democracy”.
Percy then asked May directly: “Can my Honourable Friend assure this House that this Government would put forward no legislation for a second referendum in any way?”
She replied: “I’m very happy to give my Honourable Friend that commitment. He’s absolutely right. Any second referendum would not be a People’s Vote, it would be a politicians’ vote.”
May also told Tory MP Neil O’Brien: “If this House were to stop Brexit, the British people would feel it was a gross betrayal of the trust that we had shown in them and they had shown in us.
“I believe it’s a matter of our integrity as politicians that we deliver on the vote that we gave the British people and they told us in no uncertain terms to leave the European Union.”
While May’s clearest statement yet will appeal to Brexiteers, it runs the risk that Tory ‘Remainer’ MPs may now see her removal from No.10 as the only way to get a referendum.
So far, pro-EU Tories have held back from submitting letters to their backbench 1922 Committee chairman demanding a no confidence vote in their leader. Almost all of the 26 MPs who have publicly admitted writing such letters have been Brexiteers. A total of 48 letters is needed to trigger a vote.
Up to 20 Tory MPs are believed to be supporters of another referendum on May’s deal, claiming that the 2016 referendum didn’t give any detail of what kind of Brexit would emerge.
Labour significantly shifted its position too at its recent party conference, vowing to ‘campaign for a public vote’ if it can’t achieve a general election or if May’s deal fails any of its six ‘tests’.
A poll for campaign group Best for Britain claimed in October that 3.3 million Leave voters now backed the idea of a ‘People’s Vote’ on the actual deal.
Labour MP Ian Murray, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, told HuffPost: “The Prime Minister has claimed there will be no People’s Vote, but in 2017 she told the country there wouldn’t be a snap general election either.
“The truth is even before the ink has properly dried on this dodgy Brexit deal, what’s already clear is it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. The outcome of these negotiations is going to be a miserable one for Britain.
“It’s much worse than the deal we’ve already got inside the EU and, if approved, means Brexit will go on for ever because the biggest questions are still unresolved.
“A choice between this deal and no deal is no choice at all. The British public deserve a real choice in a People’s Vote between leaving the EU on these terms or sticking with the deal we’ve got inside the EU.”
Meanwhile, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said he “would vote to Remain” if there was another referendum. Jeremy Corbyn refused to directly answer the question last weekend, pointing out it was unclear whether the referendum would go ahead.