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Second Brexit vote essential

A SECOND referendum - also referred to as a 'confirmatory ballot' or 'people's vote' - has long looked like the most sensible way out of the Brexit impasse.

Common sense, of course, has been in short supply since David Cameron announced the vote on the UK's membership of the European Union. Arguably, only rational debate based on facts has been scarcer.

Parliament has repeatedly shown itself unable to unpick the deadlock created by June 2016's narrow vote in favour of Brexit.

Though there is more than enough to go around, much of the blame can be laid on Prime Minister Theresa May.

Her secretive and stubbornly non-consensual approach to negotiations always appeared bewildering, particularly on an issue of unique importance in a number of touchstone areas - not only constitutionally and politically, but legally, socially and many others.

Belatedly, Mrs May entered into talks with the Labour party. This was not through a sense of conviction that a collaborative approach might best serve the public interest, but rather that she might be able to salvage her Withdrawal Agreement.

The talks appear to have achieved little, heightening the sense that the government and House of Commons is trapped in ever-diminishing and deepening circles of Dantesque parliamentary procedure.

Sir Keir Starmer, perhaps the most substantial figure on the Labour frontbench and its Brexit spokesman, has renewed the call for a second referendum.

Up to 150 Labour MPs could not back any deal reached in the cross-party talks if it did not include a "confirmatory vote", he said.

This would give stability in Parliament but also, more importantly, give a public which is more thoroughly informed on the issues than it was three years ago the chance to have its say.

There is little sign of the government budging. Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said another referendum would be a betrayal.

DUP leader Arlene Foster struck a similar tone at the launch of her party's European election manifesto, when she dismissed the idea of a confirmatory ballot because unless Brexit was delivered "democracy is at risk".

The irony that those most steadfast in their rejection of a second referendum are also preparing to contest elections to a parliament they do not wish to belong to appears to be lost on Mrs Foster.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has performed poorly in holding the government to account.

However, it has eventually moved its position on the second referendum in the correct direction.

Last March, Owen Smith was sacked as shadow Northern Ireland secretary for calling for a second referendum. Now, the party's shadow Brexit secretary is leading the push for another vote.

There is still time for the government to show the same flexibility - and common sense.

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