London mayor calls for second Brexit referendum

London Mayor Sadiq Khan (L) greets Prime Minister Theresa May in the Royal Box on Centre Court prior to the men's singles final of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 15 July 2018. [EPA-EFE/NEIL]

In a departure from his party leader, Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for another vote on Britain’s European Union membership, saying the prime minister’s handling of Brexit negotiations has become “mired in confusion and deadlock.”

Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019. But with discussions ongoing between the two parties, there have been calls for Prime Minister Theresa May to consider offering people a final vote on any prospective deal.

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“Unfortunately we’re at a position now, where the government is embarking on negotiations that are going to lead to one of two things,” Kahn said on Sunday (16 September).

“Either a bad deal, and that includes the possibility of us leaving the EU without knowing the future relationship with the European Union, or ‘no deal.’

“Both those options would be deeply damaging to London and the country. The British public should have a say in the outcome of the negotiations, including the option of staying in the EU.”

May has repeatedly ruled out a second referendum. She says members of parliament will get to vote on whether to accept any final deal.

However, in recent weeks May’s Conservative party has become tarred by controversy and internal conflict, with former foreign minister Boris Johnson describing the terms on which May plans to leave the EU as “constitutional abomination.”

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Speaking on Sunday’s (16 September) edition of The Andrew Marr Show, Kahn said: “Theresa May can’t even negotiate within her own party, let alone the European Union.”

“What needs to happen is this: We defer us leaving the European Union to allow the British public, for the first time, to have a say on the outcome of the negotiations.”

London backed remaining in the EU in the June 2016 referendum that went in favour of leaving, with 59.9% of the boroughs in the capital voting to remain part of the EU.

Writing in Sunday’s Observer newspaper, Kahn blamed the government’s handling of the negotiations and said the threat to living standards, the economy and jobs was too great for voters not to have a say.

“The government’s abject failure, and the huge risk we face of a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit, means that giving people a fresh say is now the right and only – approach left for our country,” he said.

Labour’s international trade spokesman Barry Gardiner said he would prefer a general election rather than a second referendum.

“If this government cannot do what it is supposed to and govern, then we need actually to change the government,” he told Sky News.

Khan said the “sensible thing” would be for the prime minister to call a general election if she did not have support for any Brexit deal.

Environment Minister Michael Gove, a leading figure in the campaign to leave the EU more than two years ago, accused Khan of throwing a spanner in the works during the intense negotiation period between the UK and the EU.

“People voted clearly – 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union – and Sadiq is essentially saying ‘Stop, let’s delay that whole process, let’s throw it into chaos’ and I think that would be a profound mistake,” he told Marr.

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Theresa May said on Sunday she was focused on her plan for a relationship with the EU based on a common rulebook for all goods, and that she was “a little bit irritated” by constant speculation about her position.

“This debate is not about my future; this debate is about the future of the people of the UK and the future of the United Kingdom,” she said in a BBC interview to be published on Monday.

“It’s ensuring that we get that good deal from the European Union which is good for people in the UK, wherever they live in the UK, that’s what’s important for us.”

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