Theresa May on Tuesday offered MPs a chance to vote for a second Brexit referendum, in return for allowing her proposed Brexit withdrawal deal through to the next stage of the legislative process.
In a major concession to MPs who oppose Brexit, the UK prime minister announced that in the government’s proposed “Withdrawal Agreement Bill” — her latest and final attempt to enact Brexit — there would be a requirement for MPs to vote on whether to hold a second referendum.
“Let it have its second reading and then make your case to parliament,” she said in a dramatic plea to Labour MPs who have so far blocked three previous attempts to pass the divorce deal she agreed with Brussels in November.
The government will bring forward the bill — the so-called WAB — next month. Despite the concessions, the Labour party has so far shown no willingness to support the legislation necessary to bring the Withdrawal Agreement into UK law.
The Labour party has demanded a permanent customs union, close alignment with the single market and protections for the environment and workers rights. But in six weeks of cross-party talks that ended on Friday, the opposition party and government failed to come to an agreement on concessions that would allow the Labour leadership to back her deal.
May said the “most difficult” issue was customs. “As part of the cross-party discussions the government offered a compromise option of a temporary customs union on goods only, including a UK say in relevant EU trade policy and an ability to change the arrangement, so a future government could move it in its preferred direction,” she said.
That proposal was ultimately rejected by the Labour leadership, but the prime minister still hopes to appeal to enough Labour MPs to get the bill through. “The government will commit in law to let parliament decide this issue, and to reflect the outcome of this process in legislation,” she said.
In an uncharacteristically personal speech in Westminster, May admitted that Brexit had proved “harder than I anticipated” and admitted it was “slipping away.” However, she said MPs had “once last chance” to get it through parliament.
The prime minister set out a series of offers to ease the concerns of MPs opposed to her proposed Withdrawal Agreement. She said there would be a legal requirement for the government to come up with “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop by 2020 so that it did not have to come into force.
“I have compromised. Now I ask you to compromise too,” she implored MPs.