Ministers will not be able to ignore demands by MPs for a second EU referendum if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down in the Commons, pro-Remain campaigners have warned.
A report drawn up by the cross-party People’s Vote campaign said that if a majority of MPs were prepared to vote for a fresh referendum, they could force the Government’s hand.
The warning comes amid widespread expectations the Government is heading for defeat in next week’s “meaningful vote” on the deal, with opposition from both pro-Leave and pro-Remain Tories.
While it acknowledged there was not yet a majority in the Commons for another referendum, the report said support was growing, with MPs from all parties having rejected a no-deal Brexit.
Under the terms of the EU (Withdrawal) Act, if the deal is rejected MPs will then vote on a further motion setting out how the Government intends to proceed, most likely in mid February.
This, the report said, would be the point at which an amendment calling for a second referendum – including an option to remain in the EU – would have the “optimal chance” of success.
Although it acknowledged such an amendment would not be legally binding, the report said it would “in practice be politically binding on the Government”.
In the “unlikely event” ministers tried to ignore such a vote and and force a “last-minute capitulation” by MPs or leave the EU without a deal, the report said MPs would have a range of mechanisms to make them back down.
These could include tabling further amendments to other bills needed in preparation for Brexit, blocking new regulations and staging votes of confidence in individual ministers.
“So, far from the Government being able to resist pressure for a People’s Vote, the reality is that if a majority of MPs are prepared to vote for it, they will have a series of opportunities to encourage or even force the Government to produce the necessary legislation,” the report said.
The report was backed by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a former head of the diplomatic service who helped draft the Article 50 withdrawal process, who said he believed the EU would “willingly” agree to a postponement of the March 29 Brexit date to allow a fresh referendum.
“There now is a withdrawal deal on the table and it hasn’t been well received. Parliament has made it clear that it will intervene to prevent a no-deal Brexit,” he said.
“There is a viable third option: we could retain the deal we already have as a full member of the EU. Parliament can step in to insist that the people should have the right to decide.
“If the UK now seeks the necessary postponement of the March 29 deadline in order to hold a People’s Vote, the EU27 would willingly agree.
“These are facts MPs of all parties might wish to keep in mind as they consider the options the Government is now offering.”