Theresa May ‘war games’ second referendum

But Labour and Tories warn against cross-party concessions to secure quick Brexit deal

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May
(Image credit: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

Theresa May has held secret talks over a possible second EU referendum ahead of crunch talks with Labour this week, which offer the last chance to secure a cross-party Brexit deal before European elections at the end of May.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the prime minister and her advisers have “war gamed” the possibility of giving voters a choice of her deal, no deal and remain, “though government sources insisted it would only become relevant if talks with Labour collapse and Parliament forces a vote on a second referendum”.

May has publicly opposed holding a second referendum but has said that if talks with Labour fail, parliament will be asked to vote on series of “indicative” options on how to break the impasse

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Last week’s local election results saw both main parties take a drubbing, increasing the pressure on their leaders to deliver Brexit quickly. Both will be hoping a last-minute deal can avoid the need to hold European elections at the end of the month in which Remain and pro-Brexit parties are expected to perform well.

The Times reports that May will take “a final desperate gamble” to deliver Brexit this week by offering the Labour leader three major concessions in a bid to force MPs to back a new deal.

This will include a temporary customs union with the EU lasting until the next general election scheduled for 2022. Her team will also agree to align Britain with a wider range of EU single market regulations on goods, as well as enshrining in law that the UK will mirror all EU legislation on workers’ rights.

“The only question that matters is whether Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are really prepared to cut a cross-party compromise deal/cynical Westminster stitch-up (delete as appropriate) to pull Britain out of the EU by the end of next month,” says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.

An agreement between the two negotiating teams looks within touching distance “but both leaders face enormous pressure from their own parties not to cut a deal with the enemy — and nobody really knows how this is going to pan out”, he writes.

The Financial Times reports that “some allies of Corbyn are anxious about ending up in a ‘national government in all but name’ but without any ministerial posts — sharing the blame for any Brexit fallout with the Tories”.

Others think the only way to avoid being held partly responsible for facilitating a “Tory Brexit” would be to put a deal back to the people.

More than 100 opposition MPs from Labour, the SNP, Change UK and Plaid Cymru wrote to the prime minister on Sunday insisting they will not back a “Westminster stitch-up” unless she guarantees a second referendum.

The Guardian cites “senior Labour figures”, who said Corbyn will not be able to get enough of his MPs to back a Brexit deal without the promise of a second referendum.

“Senior party sources said they believe two-thirds of Labour MPs, including several shadow cabinet ministers and many more frontbenchers, would refuse to back a deal without a people’s vote attached,” the paper reports.

There would also be stiff opposition among Tory MPs to any cross-party deal that could scupper the prime minister’s plans.

One Conservative MP told the Telegraph “80 to 90%” of backbenchers were against a cross-party deal, suggesting May would struggle to get a deal through Parliament.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said: “We have always worked on the principle that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit for government, but with one bound we would be saying he must be fit to govern because we have allowed him to steer this deal.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.