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Second Brexit referendum risks a revolution, says former Lib Dem MEP

Luke James
·Brussels correspondent
Andrew Duff during his 15 years as an MEP (European Parliament)
Andrew Duff during his 15 years as an MEP (European Parliament)

Andrew Duff, a former Liberal Democrat MEP turned EU expert, has claimed that a second referendum could trigger a “revolutionary situation.”

He is the second pro-EU politician that has warned that re-running the Brexit vote could spark social unrest. On Tuesday, Labour’s Barry Gardiner said another poll would give a boost to the far-right and could lead to “civil disobedience.”

MORE: Senior Labour MP warns of ‘civil disobedience’ if a second Brexit referendum is held

“If people want to be able to achieve change through democratic means, if they feel that that is being denied to them, they then turn to other, more socially disruptive ways of expressing their views, and that is the danger here,” the shadow international trade secretary told Radio 4 yesterday.

Duff, who was an MEP for 15 years until 2014, comes out strongly against the campaign for a ‘people’s vote’ on the final Brexit deal in a new report for the European Policy Centre.

He does so despite being president of the avowedly Eurofederalist think-tank, the Spinelli group, which counts some of Brexit’s most outspoken opponents, such as Guy Verhofstadt and Elmar Brok, as board members.

Duff’s claim echoes one made by Labour’s Barry Gardiner (Getty)
Duff’s claim echoes one made by Labour’s Barry Gardiner (Getty)

The People’s Vote campaign has been gathering pace as fears rise over the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit— it recently received a £1 million donation from the co-founder of the Superdry clothing brand and more than 100 Westminster constituencies which backed Leave last time have reportedly switched to Remain.

But Duff says another referendum “promises to be catastrophic” for society and the economy and argues it is “arrogant” to assume the pro-EU side would win.

MORE: Brexit can still be reversed ‘in theory’ – but it’s highly unlikely in practice

He writes, “The campaign would not turn on the quality of Mr Barnier’s treaty. The argument on the streets, in fact, would be about nationalism, xenophobia, and democratic betrayal.

“The pound would tank. The fragile UK constitution would be put under further immense strain, with the certainty that parliament at Westminster would again emerge emasculated and its discredited political parties split asunder.

“The nation would end up even more divided in terms of social class, generation and province, potentially pitching into a revolutionary situation.

“Instead of toying with populism, it would be better for politicians of all persuasions to shoulder their responsibility for the national interest.”

Labour MP Chuka Umunna argues it is democratic to have a second referendum (Getty)
Labour MP Chuka Umunna argues it is democratic to have a second referendum (Getty)

Duff does not discount the possibility of the UK re-joining the EU, but says that should be decided by the outcome of the next general election.

In response to the report, a spokesperson for the People’s Vote campaign said: “Evidence is piling up that Brexit, whether it’s a no deal, a Chequers deal or a blind Brexit is a disaster for our young people, for our vital public services and for our country.

“That’s why millions of people in this country support a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.”

MORE: ‘No deal’ Brexit a 50-50 chance, says Danish minister after meeting Hunt

Prominent supporters of the People’s Vote campaign have also hit back at suggestions a second poll would spark violence in the wake of Gardiner’s comments.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna wrote: “It is deeply disappointing to hear a Labour Shadow Cabinet member parroting the claims made by Nigel Farage and others that there will be civil disobedience if there is a People’s Vote. We are the Labour Party not UKIP.

“If the Commons is deadlocked on Brexit – it is -and there is no consensus on how to leave the EU (given Brexit as it was sold by Boris & co is undeliverable), the only option is for the people to decide what happens next. It’s called democracy and it did not end in June 2016.”

Yahoo reported last month that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab predicted before the 2016 referendum that Leave would have demanded a re-run had they lost.

Raab told House magazine that the idea should have been “shelved” for a few years but added that it would be “naive” not to think that a second push would not have been part of a future Conservative leadership contest.

MORE: Raab: ‘Leave would have demanded second Brexit vote’