A senior British government minister has raised the possibility of a second Brexit referendum, drawing jubilation from pro-EU campaigners and derision from Eurosceptics.
Work and pensions minister Amber Rudd said there could be a “plausible argument” for holding another referendum if MPs reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal and cannot agree on an alternative strategy.
“I don’t want a ‘people’s vote’, or a referendum in general,” she told ITV television on Wednesday evening.
“But if parliament absolutely failed to reach a consensus, I could see there would be a plausible argument for it.”
Rudd, who opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, conceded that many of her colleagues in the governing Conservative Party were opposed to another vote.
She emphasised it was “incumbent on MPs to find the centre ground in parliament and to try to find whether the majority is there”.
“If it fails to do so, then I can see the argument for taking it back to the people again, much as it would distress many of my colleagues,” she said.
May has repeatedly ruled out a second referendum, saying it would only cause more division and may not resolve the question.
But as Brexit looms on 29 March, Britain has yet to clarify on what terms it will leave the EU.
May postponed this month’s planned vote in the House of Commons on the deal she struck with the European Union, as she faced certain defeat, scheduling it instead for the week of 14 January.
The main opposition Labour Party has accused her of “running down the clock” to try to force MPs to back her deal rather than risk Britain leaving the EU with no arrangements in place.
Labour MP Owen Smith, who supports the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said Rudd’s comments were a “massive moment for our campaign”.
“Amber Rudd may be the first Tory cabinet member to say she’d rather have a ‘people’s vote’ than allow a catastrophic no-deal to unfold, but she won’t be the last,” he said.
However, eurosceptic Conservative MP Marcus Fysh tweeted that Rudd had “poor judgement”, adding that it was “not appropriate for her to be in the government”.