Politics This senior Conservative MP believes Theresa May could be forced to call a second Brexit referendum

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'My view is that it may be impossible to resolve this issue without a further public consultation,' he said.

Tory MP and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve play

Tory MP and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve

(Peter Macdiarmid / Getty)
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  • Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, dubbed the "rebel commander" of pro-Remain Tory MPs, said he was "very sympathetic" to the idea of second referendum on the final terms of the Brexit deal.
  • "My view is that it may be impossible to resolve this issue without a further public consultation," he said.
  • Grieve said that there did not currently appear to be parliamentary support for a fresh referendum, but suggested May could be left with few other options if parliament rejects the final deal in or around October this year.


LONDON — The former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve has outlined his support for a second Brexit referendum, suggesting it will be "impossible" to resolve a parliamentary impasse otherwise.

Speaking at an Institute for Government event in London, Grieve said he was "very sympathetic" to the idea of a "consultative vote" on the final terms of the Brexit deal, which the EU and UK hope to have negotiated by October.

"My view is that it may be impossible to resolve this issue without a further public consultation," he said.

"On the face of it, what we're going to be offering the public at the end of 2018 is, on any showing, markedly different from what we were debating in the course of the referendum campaign two years ago."

Grieve has been dubbed the "rebel commander" of pro-Remain Conservative MPs, and helped to inflict a major Commons defeat on Theresa May in December when he backed an amendment to her flagship European Union Withdrawal Bill over parliament's right to a "meaningful vote" on the Brexit deal.

May plans to bring back a deal from Brussels in the autumn, which parliament will then need to approve by a majority vote. May's Conservatives are propped up in parliament by Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist party, but there remains a distinct possibility that an unlikely alliance of hardline Brexiteers and Remainers could oppose the final deal and defeat the prime minister in parliament.

Grieve said that there did not currently appear to be parliamentary support for a fresh referendum, but suggested May could be left with few other options if parliament rejected the deal.

"Maybe in October the deal will look so good and so sensible that everybody in parliament will rally around it and say: 'Well, it may not be exactly what I wanted, but frankly it looks as good as we're going to get,'" he said.

"But if it isn't, and we're going through this process with the possibility of a government being defeated, where are you going? It seems to me that if you end up with a government which presents any deal to parliament, which parliament doesn't like, and doesn't want to approve, you've got a choice.

"Choice one is a general election, which I suspect Jeremy Corbyn favours, and choice two is a further public consultation."

Can Article 50 be extended?

A big stumbling block in calling a second referendum — besides the lack of parliamentary or public support — would be the timeframe.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU in March next year, following the two-year Article 50 withdrawal process which May invoked last year.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has previously ruled out extending Article 50, but Grieve said that the issue could likely be resolved if there was will on the parts of both negotiating teams.

"Every EU interlocutor that I have raised this with thinks that we would get an Article 50 extension if we needed it to hold a further public consultation to approve the deal," he said.