By Thomas Penny / Bloomberg
December 16, 2018

(Bloomberg) — Theresa May’s team pushed back against reports they are warming to a second referendum on Brexit as the U.K. prime minister prepares to face Parliament on Monday.

David Lidington, May’s effective deputy, and Chief-of-Staff Gavin Barwell said they don’t favor another plebiscite after newspapers reported they’d held talks on the issue. May herself launched a broadside at former Prime Minister Tony Blair for championing a “People’s Vote.”

“For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating for a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served,” May said in comments released by her office. “We cannot, as he would, abdicate responsibility for this decision.”

Speculation has intensified about a second referendum on leaving the European Union since May withdrew a House of Common vote on her divorce deal with Brussels when it became clear it was headed for defeat. May then survived a bid by her own lawmakers to unseat her as leader of the Conservative Party. She is running out of options as time runs short for clinching a deal with the EU.

Hostile Parliament

The premier will face a hostile House of Commons — and further calls for another referendum — on Monday after her appeals for help from the bloc’s leaders were rebuffed at a summit in Brussels on Friday.

The idea of a national vote is gaining traction with both those who hope it would stop the U.K. leaving the bloc and those who see it as a threat that will bring Brexiteers behind May’s plan. One cabinet member said he wants it on the table to convince them that no Brexit at all is a real possibility.

After a Sunday Times report on plans for a new referendum, Barwell posted on Twitter that “I am not planning a 2nd referendum with political opponents or anyone else,” adding it would “further divide the country when we should be trying to bring people back together.” Lidington tweeted that he has made “plain” his opposition to a repeat vote and posted an extract from a speech in which he said it would threaten faith in democracy.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox also ruled out a second referendum, but said he would be willing to have lawmakers play a greater role in sifting alternatives to May’s deal if it is unable to win enough votes in Parliament.

Indicative Votes

Some of his cabinet colleagues have been pushing for “indicative votes” to gauge support. They argue that May’s deal will be easier to accept once it is clear there is no majority for any other available option. Fox said it hadn’t been discussed by the full cabinet “yet,” but he “wouldn’t have a huge problem” with backing such a move.

“It wasn’t the government given an instruction in the referendum, it was Parliament, they gave us an instruction and its time Parliament carried it out,” he told BBC TV. “When you look at the options that we have, we’ve got to recognize there are a limited number of real-world options here.”

The opposition Labour Party said it will press for May’s deal to face a vote in Parliament before Christmas and is still considering the best time to submit a no-confidence motion against the government to enhance its chances of winning a majority in the House of Commons.

“We’ve been assessing on a daily basis the time we would achieve a successful outcome,” Rebecca Long-Bailey, the party’s business spokesman, told Sky News. “What we want is an outcome rather than it just being a bit of Parliamentary drama.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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