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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

No second referendum on Brexit at ‘this stage’ says former PM

Gordon Brown urges British pro-Europeans to act next summer if the government fails to secure a good deal in negotiations with Europe

Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has not called for a second referendum, unlike his predecessor Tony Blair. Christopher Pike/The National
Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has not called for a second referendum, unlike his predecessor Tony Blair. Christopher Pike/The National

Gordon Brown, Britain’s former prime minister, said on Friday a Brexit crisis point would be reached next summer when it became clear that the government would fail to secure its four key goals in negotiations to leave the European Union.

Mr Brown said the moment would mark an opportunity for pro-Europeans to present an alternative to leaving the EU after accepting that the so-called ‘Remain’ camp had failed to make the case for the advantages of membership in last year’s referendum.

Mr Brown – who was prime minister for Labour from 2007 to 2010 – did not openly call for a second referendum, a stance taken by his predecessor Tony Blair, but did not rule one out at a later date.

“I’m not calling for a second referendum at this stage,” he told a meeting of the left-wing thinktank The Fabian Society in central London. “This isn’t the right moment, we haven’t done the groundwork to persuade Leave voters to change their mind. There’s a long way to go to persuade people.”

He said the critical point would come next summer if it became clear that Theresa May, the prime minister, was unable to secure acceptable deals with Europe over finances, trade, securing borders and returning power to UK courts.

If she reported back that those four measures have not been met, pro-European campaigners “should have ready an alternative … for positive membership of the EU.”

He added: “I’m not giving up on this and no-one who is pro-Europe should give up on this argument.”

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Theresa May on Thursday sought through legislation to commit Britain to formally leaving the EU on March 29, 2019 amid suggestions that Britain’s vote to leave the EU could be revisited. She wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph on Friday that she would not “tolerate attempts” to delay or derail the process.

Mr Blair in September said that it was “common sense” for the British public to make a final, irrevocable decision, possibly in a referendum, once negotiations had concluded and it was clear what a future outside of the EU would look like.

Mr Brown was prime minister during the 2008/09 financial crisis. He lost power in 2010 after he failed to win the case with the public that emerging from economic crisis would require debt-based spending to trigger growth.

The Conservative party has been in power since 2010 after promoting a programme of financial austerity and balancing the books.

The policy has contributed to an improvement in fortunes for the Labour party, which is currently is currently leading opinion polls but with the next national elections not due to be held until 2022.

However, a disastrous decision to call early elections in 2017 and a series of crises that have led to two ministerial resignations in the last week has left Mrs May’s hold on power looking increasing precarious.