With exactly 100 days to go to the scheduled date of Brexit, leading voices on both sides of the debate have warned of crisis unless the correct path is found through the current uncertainty.
Conservative MP Steve Baker warned that Theresa May’s Government would fall if it tried to halt or delay Brexit, or called a second referendum, which required an extension of the two-year Article 50 process of negotiating withdrawal.
But Labour’s David Lammy said the Prime Minister was heading for “disaster” from which neither she nor her party would recover if she tried to dodge growing pressure for a so-called People’s Vote, and allowed the clock to run down to a no-deal Brexit on March 29 2019.
Their comments to the Press Association came as campaigners released new analysis of polling which they said showed support for a second referendum in every part of the country – including the constituencies of the Prime Minister and leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson.
Best for Britain said its data modelling suggested that support for remaining in the EU was running as high as 56% against 44% for leaving – a larger margin than has been seen in any mainstream poll since the 2016 referendum.
Mr Lammy, a supporter of Best for Britain, told the Press Association that Mrs May had to confront the fact that there was no majority in Parliament for the deal she has negotiated with Brussels, or for any other proposed deal, such as Norway-style single market membership or a Canada-plus free trade agreement.
If there was no second referendum, the next most likely outcome was departure without a deal – even though there is “certainly” no majority in Parliament for that – he said.
“The political confusion amounts to a constitutional crisis,” said Mr Lammy.
He said it would be “futile” for MPs to express their preferences on alternative deals in an “indicative vote”, as this would simply eat up more time without producing a decisive result.
“I believe that politics is stuck and when politics and the political establishment is stuck, in our system the only way to unlock it is to go back to the people in the hope that we get a clear instruction from the British population,” he said.
While that could be done through a general election, a clearer route would be a second EU referendum.
“The pressure that Theresa May is under as of today is to understand what is the best Plan B,” said Mr Lammy.
“There are lots of people, including in her own party, advising her that the best Plan B is a second referendum.
“It may be her instinct to run down the clock to get to a no-deal Brexit, which I think would be a disaster that I don’t think she or the Conservatives would recover from.
“It would leave the country badly, badly, badly divided and in a chaotic state.”
But Mr Baker, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said voters would be “horrified and disgusted” if they were asked to revisit their referendum decision.
“I think it would corrupt our politics,” he said.
“I think people in their millions would have the realisation that I had 10 years ago, that we have entered a kind of post-democratic age where the establishment governing the country, the technocratic elites, don’t really care what you vote for, they just plough on with their projects regardless.”
The reality was that EU withdrawal legislation already passed into law meant that “Parliament has already voted for a no-deal Brexit”, said Mr Baker.
And he warned that the Democratic Unionist Party, on which Mrs May’s minority administration relies, had made clear that it would not support a further referendum.
Despite the “fuss and noise” about Commons motions ruling out a no-deal Brexit or demanding a second ballot, any amendments to the “meaningful vote” on Mrs May’s deal would have no legal force, said Mr Baker.
“The PM doesn’t have any choice about obeying the law,” he said.
“The law has to be obeyed and that means we leave with no deal on March 29.
“If there were a motion by Parliament instructing her to take some other course, she doesn’t have to obey it.
“There will be an awful lot of fuss and noise and then people will realise that they voted to trigger Article 50, the terms of which are absolutely clear.
“If they decide to revoke Article 50, the Government will fall, if they try to extend Article 50 the Government will fall, if they try to legislate for a further referendum which requires an extension of Article 50, the Government will fall.”
In the absence of support from MPs for her plan, Mrs May was effectively faced with a choice between the Canada-plus option set out by Brexiteers in last week’s A Better Deal document, or withdrawal without a deal, he said.
“This is bigger than Brexit now,” said Mr Baker. “This is about the health of our democracy.
“We asked the public to choose between Leave and Remain. The public chose Leave and we are now in a position where the public might be asked to decide again.
“They may potentially even get a choice between Mrs May’s deal – which is worse than Remain – or Remain.
“That would be a horrific corruption of our democratic system.”
Mr Baker said he continued to believe that in 100 days the UK would leave the EU, but said he feared it would happen without a deal.
“I think history will judge the leaders of the nations involved extremely poorly when they see that hubris, recalcitrance and ego led the UK to leave the EU with nothing agreed when actually an excellent deal was within our grasp,” he said.
But Mr Lammy said he believed that 100 days from now, Britain would have secured an extension of Article 50 and be preparing for a second vote, possibly in June.
And he said he and other Remain campaigners should accept the result of a new referendum as definitive.
“I feel the public are way more informed than they were previously and therefore it is incumbent on all of us to absolutely get behind whatever the instruction is from the British people at the end of a second referendum.”
Tory former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said MPs would have to decide whether to stay “stuck in their own views” or “compromise sufficiently” in the coming weeks.
She told the Press Association there would be an “almighty battle between Parliament and Government” if Mrs May’s deal fails to pass the Commons, and warned that a no-deal outcome would be “deeply, deeply damaging” to the country, economy and people’s financial prosperity.
And she said: “I think eventually Parliament is going to have to decide, MPs on all sides are going to have to decide whether they’re going to stay stuck in their own views or whether they are prepared to compromise sufficiently to find a majority around a position which delivers the referendum result but does it with a soft Brexit.”