William Hague: We're heading for a second referendum

PUBLISHED: 10:37 22 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:15 22 January 2019

William Hague speaks at The Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict

William Hague speaks at The Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict

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Former foreign secretary William Hague has conceded Britain is heading for a second Brexit referendum, describing its chances as "quite high".

The former Tory leader, now Lord Hague, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to say that MPs who voted down Theresa May’s botched Brexit plan last week “joined together to paralyse the only good government available, make Brexit impossible to deliver on schedule or even at all, and produce in much of the population an utter disgust with their proceedings.”

He added: “Most important of all, wittingly or not, they started the countdown to another referendum.”

Saying that it was now likely that Britain would have to do it all again, Hague said it was with “a heavy heart” as “a second plebiscite on EU membership will be the most bitter and divisive event in our modern history, complete with unbridled anger, accusations of betrayal, harrowing doubt and distraction”.

The former Cabinet minister said a second vote would inevitable produce only a narrow victory for either side, but was coming “unless some extraordinary turn of events prevents it”, adding: “It’s coming by a process of elimination, not because it’s a good idea in itself”.

Rather than Remainers, Hague, who voted to stay in the EU, turned his fire on the Brexiteers in his party. Noting that international trade secretary Liam Fox had complained that MPs were trying to steal Brexit, he said: “They have had it served up to them on a plate through a wide-open window.

“The message that went out from last week’s vote was: ‘If you want to eat our Brexit come and get it.’”

He added: “Added to that now is the feeling that will grow among many Conservative MPs that they will soon have exhausted all other options.

“If you can’t get the deal through, can’t get an improved version of it agreed, can’t sustain a government on a cross-party basis, can’t implement a no-deal Brexit, can’t keep control of the House of Commons, and can’t risk a general election – you have then eliminated all options except one, and you find yourself saying reluctantly: ‘Oh go on then, let’s ask them again’.”

Hague - whose rallying call during his disastrous 2001 general election campaign was that it was the last chance to save the pound - claimed it would be “a tragedy” to hold a second vote.

He added, however: “But it’s not hard, after the events of the last week, to see it coming.”

Hague’s intervention comes as shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said an amendment Labour had tabled did not “in any way” mean the party backed a second referendum.

Labour wants Parliament to be given the option to back a national poll on Brexit when MPs vote on the government’s EU exit stance next week.

Asked about the carefully-worded amendment on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “The amendment is very specifically-worded to allow for the debate of the options.

“It is not stating that the party supports a second referendum in any way and indeed if it was passed, the amendment, and it went to a vote on the specific issues, then that would be a decision for the party to take at the time.

“We are prioritising seeking a deal which provides many of the assurances we have sought from the PM.”

She added that if the amendment was passed and a referendum became a “real prospect” then “certainly a decision would have to be made in relation to the party’s position about whether they supported a) a people’s vote being the only option left or b) whether they were going to allow MPs to vote on an individual basis.”

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