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Farage's call for second Brexit vote greeted with glee by remainers

Nigel Farage’s surprise call for Britain to prepare for a second EU referendum has ignited hopes among anti-Brexit campaigners that both sides of the debate will back a poll on Theresa May’s final deal.

The former Ukip leader shocked his colleagues on Thursday by suggesting another Brexit vote should be held, arguing it would lead to a more decisive victory for the leave campaign and silence remain supporters for a generation.

On Friday, he said he was calling on the leave side to prepare for a second vote because of the likelihood that one would be brought about when, as he expected, parliament rejected the deal eventually struck with the EU.

His intervention was seized on by those who believe another referendum is the best way of overturning the result, including the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Labour peer Andrew Adonis, as it was seen as a sign that political pressure is building for a poll on the final deal.

Although the prime minister has insisted she will not allow another referendum, Farage said on Friday he had accepted the possibility of one being held.

“Of course I don’t want one, we won a referendum and that should have been that. But I do not trust the sheer dishonesty of our political class,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Farage said his recent meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had convinced him a “decent deal” would not be offered and parliament would reject it.

“The idea that, in that circumstance, we’ll just crash out on WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules, I don’t believe our political class will accept.

“So, I’m out of denial. I was in denial. I was saying: ‘We’ve won, it’s all over.’ I have now got myself mentally ready for the possibility – as happened in Denmark and Ireland and other countries - that they’ll make us vote again and we must be prepared.”

Despite Theresa May’s position, the bookmakers Coral and Betfair slashed the odds on another poll being held before the end of 2019 to 5-1.

Some suggested it could make it easier for Labour to shift its position to supporting another referendum on May’s final Brexit deal, joining the Lib Dems, who have already called for a second poll.

But it could also fuel divisions within Labour. The party leadership currently maintains that there is no need for another popular vote – in contrast to some of its pro-EU backbenchers.

Chuka Umunna, a former shadow cabinet minister, said Farage was for the “first time in his life” making a valid point and the British people have “every right to keep an open mind about Brexit”.

On Friday, he told Today that new facts had emerged and the costs of the Brexit process were beginning to crystallise. “Ultimately, the debate in 2016 was hypothetical. This is now a factual thing,” he said.

The most natural time for a second EU referendum would be a poll on whether to accept any deal that May negotiates with Brussels before the date of Brexit in March 2019, or whether the UK should leave without an agreement if she fails to secure one.

If parliament was to vote against May’s deal with the EU, it could provoke another referendum on the issue or a general election in which Brexit was the central issue.

Recent data suggests the public is still fairly evenly split on the issue but a poll by YouGov showed 53% of people would like a final vote on the deal.

Farage first floated the idea on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff on Thursday: “My mind is actually changing on all this. What is for certain is that the Cleggs, the Blairs, the Adonises will never, ever, ever give up. They will go on whingeing and whining and moaning all the way through this process.

“So maybe, just maybe, I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership … I think that if we had a second referendum on EU membership, we would kill it off for a generation.”

Farage later backtracked from the notion that he actively wanted another referendum, but said leave supporters must “face this potential threat” and start organising for another campaign.

“We must ready ourselves for the possibility of one last dramatic battle,” he wrote in the Telegraph.

“It may not be what we want, but it could be unavoidable. In the next few months, committed leavers must prepare for a second poll and get ready to start campaigning.”

Farage’s readiness to accept a second EU referendum quickly became a cause for celebration among pro-EU campaigners, who hold out hope that public opinion is turning away from leaving the EU, as a result of its economic risks.

Clegg, the former deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader, tweeted: “I agree with Nigel.” Adonis added: “Farage wants a referendum on Mrs May’s Brexit deal. I agree. Bring it on!”

Mark Malloch Brown, a peer who chairs the Best for Britain campaign, said another referendum was “something that the country needs”.

However, the idea infuriated Farage’s own party and Conservative ministers responsible for carrying out Brexit, as they have argued relentlessly since the referendum that the result must be respected.

Leave-supporting Tory MPs suggested Farage was simply seeking attention at a time when Ukip has lost its purpose and slumped in the polls. MP Andrew Bridgen said: “The moment the public voted to leave the EU, and a Conservative government are enacting that, then unfortunately for Ukip, they are superfluous. I think that’s what it’s about.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We will not be having a second referendum.”

This article titled "Farage's call for second Brexit vote greeted with glee by remainers" was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for The Guardian on Friday 12 January 2018 09.21am

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