LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May was set to condemn growing calls for a second referendum on Britain’s departure from the European Union on Monday, saying it would do irreparable damage to trust in democracy.
But even as May insisted she could salvage her unpopular EU divorce deal, pressure was mounting for dramatic action — a new referendum or a vote among lawmakers — to find a way out of Britain’s Brexit impasse.
May’s office said she will tell lawmakers in the House of Commons Monday afternoon that staging another referendum “would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver.”
She’s also expected to argue that such a ballot would exacerbate the country’s divisions rather than heal them.
But a growing number of politicians believe a new referendum may be the only way to break the political logjam over Brexit.
May’s government and the EU sealed a divorce deal last month, but May postponed a parliamentary vote intended to ratify the agreement last week when it became clear legislators would overwhelmingly reject it.
She tried to win changes from the EU to sweeten the deal for reluctant lawmakers, but was rebuffed by the bloc at a summit in Brussels.
And May’s authority has been shaken after a no-confidence vote from her own party on Wednesday that saw more than a third of Conservative lawmakers vote against her.
May says she still plans to win changes from the EU to assuage lawmakers’ concerns over the deal — particularly about a contentious insurance policy known as the “backstop,” designed to guarantee the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains open.
EU officials insist the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated, but May’s office says negotiators from the two sides are still holding talks about potential “clarification” of the deal.
European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas, however, said Monday that “at this stage no further meetings with the United Kingdom are foreseen.”
With Britain’s departure from the bloc looming on March 29, it remains unclear whether the country will leave with a deal or crash out with no deal— a chaotic outcome that could see gridlock at U.K. ports, planes grounded and shortages of essential goods.
The Cabinet will discuss “no-deal” planning at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, with details to be announced soon of 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) in government funding to absorb some of the potential economic shock.
Pro-EU Cabinet ministers, meanwhile, are seeking to work with opposition politicians to find a way out of the morass.
One suggestion is to give members of Parliament votes on a range of options — from leaving without a deal to holding a new referendum — to see if there is majority support for any course of action.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government had “no plans” to hold such an indicative vote. But the idea has support in Cabinet.
“We can’t just have continuing uncertainty and I think Parliament should be invited to say what it would agree with,” Business Secretary Greg Clark told the BBC.
He said that “I think businesses up and down the country would expect elected members to take responsibility, rather than just be critics.”