Sunday 15 September 2019

Theresa May's team warned talk of a second referendum is 'insane'

Moment to relax: Theresa May throws a ball for Blitz the border collie after church yesterday.
Moment to relax: Theresa May throws a ball for Blitz the border collie after church yesterday. PHOTO: PA Wire

Jack Maidment

British Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff and her de-facto deputy have been branded "completely insane" by cabinet ministers after allegedly talking up the prospect of a second referendum.

Gavin Barwell and David Lidington, the Cabinet Office Minister, have reportedly been laying the groundwork for a new vote on the UK leaving the European Union.

The revelation prompted fury among senior Conservatives as the pair were accused of "betrayal" and warned such a move would "damage trust in democracy".

Mr Lidington held talks with Labour MPs last week about winning cross-party backing for a second referendum while Mr Barwell told a cabinet minister another national vote was "the only way forward", according to the 'Sunday Times'.

The pair were directly challenged yesterday about their alleged comments by two former ministers on Twitter.

Mr Barwell said he did not want a second referendum, was not planning for one and he was "off to play football". He did not directly address the suggestion he had talked up the prospect of another vote.

Mr Lidington did not deny he had held talks and simply referenced previous comments he had made on the subject when he said a second referendum would be "divisive" and not necessarily "decisive".

One cabinet minister described two senior members of the government talking openly about a second referendum as "completely insane".

Sam Gyimah, the Tory former minister who quit over Mrs May's deal, said: "There are conversations happening about a second referendum and about a number of other options."

Mr Gyimah said Downing Street now recognised the prime minister's deal was "not going to fly" and "people are talking to MPs across the House to work out what the lie of the land is" so that No 10 can decide what to do next.

Priti Patel, the former international development secretary and prominent Brexiteer, said a second referendum would be a "betrayal of the 17.4 million people who voted leave".

"Those behind this have been against Brexit from day one. This is simply an attempt to overturn the will of the people," she said. "The cabinet need to stop looking for excuses and deliver on the referendum mandate."

Robert Halfon, former education minister and chairman of the Education Select Committee, urged Mr Barwell and Mr Lidington to assuage his concerns and deny the report.

Mr Halfon said a second referendum would be a "complete betrayal" of Mrs May's pledge to respect the result of the 2016 vote.

Meanwhile, Tracey Crouch, the former sports minister, told the pair: "It also makes us MPs look ridiculous. We are elected to provide the solution to difficult issues. We can't just throw our arms up and shout it's too hard, let's ask everyone again. It will damage trust in democracy and in Parliament."

Mr Barwell said he was not planning a second referendum. Replying to Mr Halfon, he said: "Happy to confirm I do *not* want a 2nd referendum - both for the reason you give and because it would further divide the country when we should be trying to bring people back together."

He added: "Since there is an unusual level of interest this morning in what I am up to, happy to confirm I am off to play football followed by a few hours work (this will *not* include planning for a 2nd referendum) followed by putting a Christmas tree up."

Mr Lidington said he had set out his view on why a second referendum would be a bad idea during a debate in the House of Commons last week.

He had said he had "come to terms with the decision the people took, although I think the whole House knows that I hugely regretted it at the time".

He felt a second referendum would be divisive and could not guarantee it would end the debate."

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox echoed a chorus of senior Scottish Tory warnings that a second EU referendum would give Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon the leverage for another independence vote.

He questioned how Ms Sturgeon could be denied a rerun of the 2014 Scottish referendum while a second Brexit vote was being organised.


Irish Independent

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