The new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, admitted Leave campaigners would have pushed for a second referendum if they had lost the 2016 vote, Yahoo can reveal.
Raab, who is in Brussels to meet EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier today, has blasted fresh calls for a second referendum since taking the Cabinet post.
He told the Commons last week that a second referendum would be “not only unprincipled but totally counter-productive to public trust in practice.”
He told another MP: “What we should now all do in all parts of this Chamber is not call for second referendums…but get behind the government’s plan and show a united front so we get the very best deal for everyone in this country.”
But Raab took a very different view on the issue when polls predicted Vote Leave would narrowly lose the referendum in June 2016.
Yahoo has found an interview Raab did two weeks before polling day in which he predicts Brexit-supporting Tory MPs would have begun pushing for a re-run by 2019 if Leave had lost.
The then justice minister told House magazine that the Europe question should have been “shelved” for a few years if Remain had won.
But, in those circumstances, he added that it was “naïve” to think that a second referendum would not have been part of the next Tory leadership contest.
He said: “You would be naïve to suggest that it wouldn’t become a factor and one element in that.
“I think the sensible thing, if it’s very close – within a couple of points – would be to take pause, respect the verdict of the British people and effectively shelve this debate until that point, which I hope is going to be as close to the 2020 election as possible.
“I think that’s the pragmatic, sensible approach. Then we can all get on with delivering the business of government.”
Raab added: “I think the public would expect us to accept their verdict, but of course things change. I’m just realistic and I’d like people to acknowledge that whenever the Tory leadership election is, I think it’s obvious that it will be part of that.
“If the verdict is to stay in the EU, and it’s close, I think those that do want to revisit it should just pause for a few years and shelve it.”
The comments have fueled calls for a second referendum from pro-EU campaigners amid fears that Britain is heading for a “no-deal” Brexit.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “Like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage, Dominic Raab is revealed as a prominent Brexiter who is open to the idea of a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. And no wonder, as it now looks like the only way to deal with the mess they themselves created.”
He added: “It seems it’s not just in the wider country that support is growing for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, but around the Cabinet table as well: both Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt are serving Cabinet ministers who are on the record as saying that the people, and not the politicians, should have the final say on any deal.
“A People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal is the most sensible and the most democratic approach. Let’s hope Dominic Raab has the courage of his convictions and encourages other members of the Government to join him in supporting one.”
Former education secretary Justine Greening this week suggested a three-way referendum to settle the Parliamentary stalemate over whether to pursue a hard or soft Brexit.
On his visit to Brussels today, Raab will try to convince Barnier of the merits of the Chequers plan.
Barnier has so far reserved his judgement but EU officials say privately that key parts of the plan – especially over customs and trade in goods – are unworkable.
There’s also confusion whether the plan still commands majority support in the UK following a rebellion by many of Raab’s fellow Conservative leave campaigners.