Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has expressed his support for a second Brexit referendum.
Speaking to POLITICO, Sánchez said if he were UK Prime Minister Theresa May he would instigate a second Brexit referendum, or possibly a vote on rejoining the EU once the UK has left. The prime minister, who is strongly pro-European, said the UK was a “marvellous country”, but that it had fallen into “self-absorption, which isn’t going to be good either for the UK or for Europe. I believe it’s a great loss for both and I hope it can be reconsidered in the future.”
In speaking out in support of a second Brexit referendum, Sánchez becomes the most prominent EU leader to push for a people’s vote. While other EU heads of state have expressed concern about Brexit in the abstract, only Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš have specifically expressed support for another vote.
A People’s Vote demonstration in London last month in support of a second Brexit referendum, which had been predicted to attract around 100,000 protesters, had a final turnout closer to 700,000 people.
It was reported today that Theresa May’s cabinet has expressed misgivings about her proposals for Brexit, with aspects of the Chequers deal described as “concerning” and “disappointing” by ministers in July. This weekend, cabinet members described the plan as “self-harming” and suggested it would be unlikely to receive a majority vote in Parliament.
Jo Johnson MP resigned from his post as Minister for Transport on Friday in protest over the government’s failure to reach a functional deal for Brexit; and added his voice to calls for a second Brexit referendum. Johnson accused Theresa May of offering British citizens a choice between “vassalage and chaos”, a position he reiterated over the weekend, saying the UK needed to “pause and reflect” before doing something “irrevocably stupid”.
Former Education Minister Justine Greening told the BBC today that Parliament would vote down May’s Brexit deal in order to give the public a chance at a new referendum.
Theresa May’s spokespeople have said there will not be a second Brexit referendum “under any circumstances”, a position supported by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who takes the view that having spoken once, the people now have no need to speak again. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer rejected Corbyn’s position on Friday, saying: “Brexit can be stopped, but the real question is what are the decisions we are going to face over the next few weeks and months.”
Meanwhile representatives of business and trade in the UK have called for a bailout for UK businesses in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Many businesses do not have the resources to establish contingency funds or to prepare fully for a no-deal Brexit, with minimal to no guidance and funding currently being made available by the government; and small to medium enterprises in particular may not survive. A second Brexit referendum could theoretically contain three options: remaining in the EU, a no-deal Brexit; and whatever deal the government is eventually able to strike with the EU.
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, compared the situation to the UK’s bailout of banks after the 2008 financial crash, saying: “You were prepared to fund the banks who brought the crisis on themselves…but you’re not prepared to support British business which is completely innocent of any fault in the current circumstances? Very few businesses in the UK asked for this to happen. This is a crisis entirely created by politicians.”