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A running list of leaders calling for a do-over of the Brexit referendum

By Akshat Rathi

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May officially triggered Brexit March 29, by sending a notification to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that binds together members of the European Union. In doing so, she said she was respecting the will of the British people, who narrowly approved exiting the EU in a referendum last June.

The move is as contentious now as it was then. Not many feel assured about the way Britain is approaching its departure from the 24-year-old union. Since the British people don’t yet know how exit negotiations with the EU will turn out, they argue that a second referendum should take place once the terms of leaving are clear.

A second referendum may or may not be sufficient to legally revoke Article 50, but that hasn’t stopped many UK and European leaders from lobbying for it. Here’s a running list of those since March 29.


“The case against the EU depends on avoiding a discussion of the alternative… it is essential that parliament or the public are given the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative. That is a democratic demand, not just a prudent one.” – David Milliband, former foreign secretary, August 12.

“In a democracy, it is always possible to think again and to choose a different direction. We need to think again about Brexit, to have a UK-wide debate about calling a halt to the process and changing our minds.” – Lord Kerr, author of Article 50 and member of parliament in the House of Lords, with 60 other politicians, academics and businesspeople, July 31

“For it to have credibility with the British public, there would have to be a Labour manifesto offer… You’d have to spell out, in black and white, what we’d do if we won the general election. What could trump the referendum result is us having a manifesto offer saying, we would not leave the EU, or we would have a second referendum.” – Sadiq Khan, mayor of London and member of Labour party, July 28.

“It is not too late for the country to grip its own destiny, change the terms of the Brexit debate and turn its attention to the true challenges the nation faces.” – Tony Blair, former prime minister, July 14.

“Common sense therefore would suggest that it is time to take stock of the situation before stumbling further into the abyss. The Government should, therefore, give MPs a free vote as to whether to hold a second referendum.” – Christopher Haskins, member of the House of Lords and former member of the Labour party, June 15.

“If Brexit is going to be as popular as they argue it will be, [the government] should surely be enthusiasts for a referendum on the final deal.” – Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister and member of parliament for Liberal Democrats, May 2.

“If the government is so convinced that they’ll get a decent deal then there’s no reason that they wouldn’t trust people to have a final say.” – Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party and member of parliament, May 2

“A hard Brexit would be, I think, a disaster for this country and therefore if they try to push that through, it’s not what people were promised and it’s important that people have a chance to have another think.” – Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, April 30.

“So giving the British people a chance to ‘seal the deal’ with a vote on the final terms of the Brexit negotiations is not asking the same question twice.” – Rachel Maskell and Clive Lewis, former members of the shadow cabinet and members of parliament for Labour Party, April 30.

“Someone will have the final say over our new deal with Europe. It could be politicians or it could be the people. Liberal Democrats believe it should be the people in a referendum.” – Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, April 24.

“When a deal is struck with the EU it should be put to parliament and possibly the British people” – John McConnell, shadow chancellor and member of parliament for Labour Party, April 20.

“On Brexit, the government has a mandate from the referendum but it hasn’t got a mandate in terms of the type of Brexit they are going for, a hard Brexit, which will turn our country into a tax haven. When a deal is agreed that can be then put to parliament and possibly the British people.” – Vince Cable, former secretary of state for business and member of Liberal Democrats, innovation, and skills, April 19.

“When the referendum was held, nobody really knew what it would be about—not the British people, not even the political class.” – Katarina Barley, general secretary of Germany’s Social Democrats, April 12.

“The procedure is a two-year procedure and maybe during these procedures you still can have strong feelings for Europe and decide in the House of Commons you should think twice about leaving your family.” – Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg, April  2.

“I believe that there needs to be a second referendum or a mandate of a general election.” – Michael Heseltine, former deputy prime minister and current member of parliament in the House of Lords, March 30.

“If the economy is not in great shape after two years, public opinion on Brexit could yet shift.” – Martin Sorrell, head of WPP, March 30

“Though the Prime Minister said there is it no turning back, if we come to our senses we will not leave the EU. Article 50 is revocable. At any time from today we can decide we want to stay on.” – Karan Bilimoria, chairman of Cobra Beer and member of parliament in the House of Lords, March 30.

“If the facts change or become clearer—which they weren’t in the campaign—people are entitled to change their minds,” Peter Mandelson, former EU commissioner and current member of parliament in the House of Lords, March 29.

“I voted for Brexit, but now Article 50 has been triggered I want a second referendum.” – Brexit voter on Brexit day, March 29.

Akshat Rathi
Senior reporter
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