Andrea Leadsom has rebuked Amber Rudd after the work and pensions secretary broke ranks with the government by saying there was a “plausible argument” for a second referendum if MPs voted down the EU withdrawal bill.
Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, said: “We won’t have a second referendum. That is not government policy.”
Laying bare cabinet splits on the issue, Leadsom told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Thursday that a second referendum was not practical or desirable.
Speaking to ITV’s Peston on Wednesday night, Rudd said: “I don’t want a people’s vote, or a referendum in general, but if parliament absolutely failed to reach a consensus, I could see there would be a plausible argument for it.”
Leadsom was asked whether there would be a plausible argument for another referendum if the withdrawal agreement were voted down by parliament.
She said: “No, absolutely not. We had the biggest democratic exercise and the majority voted to leave the EU. It is our duty to make sure we do that.
“I would have to bring forward the legislation. It would take months and months, if not well over a year, simply to get the legislation through, by which time we would have left the EU.
“I don’t understand why anybody thinks it is either a good idea or a practical idea.”
Rudd admitted her comments would “distress” some of her Tory colleagues and stressed she was fully committed to Theresa May’s bill.
Her intervention was welcomed as a “massive moment” by campaigners calling for a “people’s vote”, with the Conservative MP and former minister Anna Soubry praising Rudd as “brave and principled”.
Rudd also backed the idea of an indicative vote to find which Brexit options MPs would be prepared to support if the prime minister’s deal were rejected.
“Parliament has to reach a majority on how it’s going to leave the European Union,” she said. “If it fails to do so then I can see the argument for taking it back to the people again, much as it would distress many of my colleagues.”
Rudd said an indicative vote would “flush out” MPs by forcing them to show their support for one option or another, and encourage those whose favoured ideas were rejected to reach a compromise.
“We are going to have to find a way, as MPs, of working together to find a consensus, of agreeing on how to stop no deal taking place,” she said.
Her comments were seized on by pro-EU Labour MPs including Owen Smith and Luciana Berger.
Good to see @AmberRuddHR has said a #PeoplesVote will be a plausible way forward if Parliament cannot agree on a solution. Parliament is very likely to vote @theresa_may's deal down when it comes back in Jan; the consequences of no-deal are unthinkable. The country must be asked. https://t.co/uAimqZ0y3G
— Luciana Berger (@lucianaberger) December 20, 2018
Smith, a supporter of the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said: “Amber Rudd may be the first Tory cabinet member to say she’d rather have a people’s vote than allow a catastrophic no deal to unfold, but she won’t be the last. This is a massive moment for our campaign.”
But the pro-Brexit Tory MP Marcus Fysh expressed disappointment and questioned whether Rudd should be in government.
Sad to see @AmberRuddHR who is a nice person has such poor judgment. First recommending non-voting Remain Norway unicorn, now advocating second referendum. @Conservatives manifesto evidently meaningless to her. Not appropriate for her to be in the Government.
— Marcus Fysh MP (@MarcusFysh) December 20, 2018