Pro-Remain parties get behind second referendum as UK runs out of Brexit options

Chris Hazzard said his party would campaign actively to remain in the EU if there was a second referendum. Picture by Hugh Russell

SINN Féin would "campaign actively" for the UK to remain in the EU in the event of a second Brexit referendum.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard made the pledge after reports that key cabinet allies of Theresa May were involved in planning for a second vote on EU membership.

But the British prime minister's defacto deputy, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, and Mrs May's chief of staff Gavin Barwell, both moved to distance themselves from yesterday's reports linking them to efforts to build a cross-party support for a so-called people's vote.

It was reported in the Sunday Times that a fresh ballot could potentially feature three options, with voters given the opportunity to decide between Mrs May's withdrawal agreement, no deal, and remaining in the EU.

Mr Hazzard said his party was not opposed to a second referendum and would "campaign actively to remain in the EU".

However, he said a second vote was unnecessary.

"The majority of people in the north voted to reject Brexit and remain in the EU," he said.

"That vote should be respected, protecting the rights of citizens and the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and ensuring there is no hardening of the border."

Sinn Féin did not register to campaign on behalf of remaining in the EU ahead of the 2016 vote.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he backed "any opportunity to stop Brexit", including another referendum.

"It is essential though that we bank the backstop – it is our ultimate insurance and must apply in all scenarios," he said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said his party had been "long-standing advocates" of a second vote and that any opportunity to reconsider Brexit should be taken.

He said there was little scope for a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and "no basis for removing the backstop".

"A second referendum including options for both the current deal and Remain is the only genuine, coherent and democratic alternative to the current mess," the North Down MLA said.

He said more than one million young people had joined the electoral roll since the June 2016 referendum, while existing voters were entitled to change their minds.

In response to the reports that he held talks with Labour, Mr Lidington tweeted a link to last week's Hansard record of parliamentary proceedings, where he set out how a second vote was a possibility, but could be "divisive not decisive".

Mr Barwell tweeted: "Happy to confirm I am *not* planning a 2nd referendum with political opponents (or anyone else to anticipate the next question)".

Education Secretary Damian Hinds insisted cabinet has not discussed a second EU referendum.

Asked if ministers had talked about the issue, Mr Hinds told Sky News: "No – government policy couldn't be clearer: we are here to act on the will of the British people clearly expressed in the referendum".

As senior Tories sought to dampen talk of a fresh Brexit poll, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox indicated he could support a free vote for MPs on Brexit options.

Asked about a free vote, Mr Fox told BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "That's not something we have considered".

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