Is Britain heading for another referendum over Brexit?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

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Chequers is the country resort of the prime ministers of the United Kingdom, and the place where the Cabinet retreats to resolve its most difficult issues, usually producing a consensus and emerging as a united front.

Last weekend the Cabinet met to trash out long-postponed political and technical but divisive issues on how to proceed with the Brexit process. There was no consensus and the disagreements were so unbridgeable that it has precipitated a political crisis that could be Prime Minister Theresa May's sternest test.

Mr David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union from July 2016 to July 2018 — in other words, the chief Brexit negotiator — as well as his deputy, has resigned. And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resigned, saying that the Brexit dream is dying.

Mr Johnson appears to be conceding that the Brexit which he helped to sell to the British electorate was a dream, wishful thinking which has now crashed and is about to burn. The concessions which now constitute what is euphemistically “Soft Brexit” bears little relationship to the optimistic goals of the original referendum campaign.

What is clear is that the people of the United Kingdom, the Parliament, and the ruling Conservative party are divided over Brexit, even before the more complex issue of what kind of Brexit is determined.

The irony is that public opinion is now leaning against Brexit, but both the Conservative and Labour parties feel bound by the results of the referendum of June 2016, and the Theresa May-led Conservative Government does not want to risk another referendum on the terms that may eventually emerge from the negotiations which must end in time to exit on March 29, 2019.

The Conservative Government is treading murky waters, despite the grim determination of Mrs May to hold things together and avoid an unmanageable loss of confidence in her Administration.

Prime Minister May seems to be conscious of the possibility of a backlash to her Chequers proposal that could result in a challenge to the leadership of the Tory Party sooner rather than later.

Among the challengers would be Mr Boris Johnson, whose lack of diplomacy, clumsiness and “gaffes” made him a figure of amusement and derision — although he still remains popular. Some 64 per cent of Britons said in a Sky poll that they do not trust the prime minister to get the best deal possible.

If Mrs May has to relinquish the post of party leader and prime minister there would almost certainly be another general election and a divided Conservative Party would not be expected to gain enough seats to have a majority in the Commons.

A new Government would likely be a Labour-led coalition which would feel obliged to postpone or abandon Brexit. That decision would require a new referendum.

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