Brexit latest: Second referendum 'morally justified' as poll shows support for staying in the EU

Robin De Peyer

Former Tory Prime Minister Sir John Major has said a second Brexit referendum is “morally justified” – as a new poll revealed support for staying in the EU over crashing out without a deal.

Sir John said PM Theresa May was “boxed in” by hardline Brexiteers and warned stalemate in the Commons could leave Britain facing a no-deal scenario.

His comments came as polling showed support for staying in the EU over leaving with no deal if a new referendum was held.

Remaining in the EU would beat leaving with no deal by 54 per cent to 46, according to a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times.

Just 11 per cent of voters would back leaving the EU on the terms put forward by Mrs May in her Chequers deal, with 38 per cent backing a no-deal Brexit and 50 per cent saying they would vote to remain in the EU, the poll showed.

Former Conservative PM Sir John admitted a second referendum has “democratic downsides”, adding: “It has difficulties. But is it morally justified? I think it is.

"If you look back at the Leave campaign a great many of the promises they made were fantasy promises. We now know they are not going to be met.

"A referendum isn't an easy option, but it's not one at this stage that I would rule out."

Referring to the "irreconcilable" stance taken by hardline Tory Brexiteers, Sir John said: "That has boxed the Government and particularly the Prime Minister into a corner.

"They are a minority of the House of Commons, a substantial minority of the House of Commons, but they are larger than the Government's majority.

Moral justification: Sir John Major (BBC)

"The danger at the moment is that they will frustrate every move the Government seek to make and by accident, because nothing can be agreed, we will crash out without a deal."

His intervention comes as new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab accused the EU of "irresponsibly" ramping-up pressure in withdrawal negotiations.

Asked about comments from Brussels that a no deal scenario would mean there would be no specific arrangements in place for UK citizens living on the continent, or for EU migrants in Britain, Mr Raab told the BBC: "Well, I think that's a rather irresponsible thing to be coming from the other side.

"We ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the Continent and also here.

"There is obviously an attempt to try and ramp-up the pressure."

Mr Raab said he would be returning to Brussels on Thursday for more Brexit talks.

Dominic Raab, left, and Michel Barnier (AP)

He said: "If it's reciprocated, the energy that we are going to bring to these negotiations, the ambition, and the pragmatism, we (will) get a deal done in October."

Mr Raab said it is "useful" the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier is asking questions about the white paper's detail.

He said: "This is an unprecedented situation, we're coming out with innovative proposals, we need to work together.

"But actually the fact Michel Barnier is not blowing it out the water but asking questions is a good positive sign - that's what we negotiate on."

Mr Raab's involvement with the Vote Leave campaign was also highlighted after it was referred to the police by the Electoral Commission for breaking spending limits during the EU referendum.

Asked if he believed the watchdog was politically biased, Mr Raab said: "I'm not getting into all of that - we've got the rule of law and I respect it, and there's been a report out in the papers today about whether actually the Government's campaigning was correct."

He said it was wrong that some people are looking to "discredit" the outcome of the referendum, adding: "I think part of this is last-ditch tactics by some to try and stop Brexit from happening and what actually we all need to be doing is focusing, coming together, to get the best deal with the EU."