LONDON:Theresa May has pushed back against calls for a second Brexit referendum, warning it would mean unpicking the deal agreed with Brussels. Appearing before senior MPs, the Prime Minister refused to be drawn on what would happen if the Commons votes down the Withdrawal Agreement in the crunch vote on December 11.
However, she insisted a so-called “people’s vote” was not an option as it could not be held before March 29 2019 when Britain leaves the EU. Her warning came as the BBC confirmed that Mrs May had agreed to take part in a televised Brexit debate on Sunday December 9 – two days before the Commons vote.
The Prime Minister told the Commons Liaison Committee that seeking an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal process – to enable a referendum to be held – would mean the agreement would fall and they would have to go back to the negotiating table.
“Any second referendum that would be held, if that were the case, would not be able to be held by March 29 next year. You would have to extend Article 50,” she said.
“To extend Article 50, actually you are then in the business of renegotiating the deal. What is clear is that any extension to Article 50 – anything like that – reopens the negotiations, reopens the deal. At that point, frankly, the deal can go in any direction. We would simply find ourselves in a period of more uncertainty, more division in this country.”
Her warning came amid intense speculation that the Government is heading for defeat in the vote on December 11, with scores of Tory MPs declaring publicly that they intend to oppose the deal.
With Labour and the other opposition parties also opposed to the agreement, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has suggested a second referendum could be “inevitable” unless Mrs May goes back to the country in a general election.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that there was a series of “practical steps” which would have to follow if the Government lost the vote but refused to be drawn further.
My focus is on the vote that will take place on December 11 here in this House. You want to look at all sorts of options and ideas. I think it is important Members of Parliament focus on the nature of this vote.
“This is an important point in our history. It is a vote on which we will be deciding whether we deliver on the decision of the British people. What has been made clear from the European Union is that this is the deal that has been negotiated and this is the deal that people need to focus on when they are looking at the vote,” she added.
Meanwhile, Theresa May has agreed to take part in a BBC debate on her Brexit deal – but Jeremy Corbyn favours ITV, citing the I’m A Celebrity final. The BBC said the political TV event will take place on Sunday December 9, but has not yet announced a time.
Its BBC One evening schedule is packed with big hits such as Doctor Who, the Strictly Come Dancing results show and Sir David Attenborough’s new series, Dynasties.
If the debate aired straight after the Strictly semi-final results show, it would be boosted by the 9.6 million viewers already watching the channel.
An hour-long 8pm slot would also avoid a clash with the I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! final, which airs at 9pm on ITV. The BBC said it hopes “to hear soon from the Labour Party” on whether leader Mr Corbyn will join the TV event.
But Mr Corbyn told TV show This Morning: “The ITV offer seemed a sensible one. “It reaches a wider audience and the timing looked good to me because it’s not inconveniencing people who want to watch other things later in the evening. One should always have respect for the viewers and also we want to get the widest possible audience,” he said.