More than 170 leading business figures have called for British Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to back a second referendum on withdrawal from the European Union.
The group, including the world-renowned architect Lord Foster, Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse and lastminute.com co-founder Baroness Lane-Fox, warned MPs ‘must not waste any more time on fantasies’.
After surviving a confidence vote in the House of Commons yesterday, Mrs. May said it was time to ‘deliver on the referendum’ held in 2016.
Several business groups called for MPs to get behind Mrs. May’s Withdrawal Agreement before it was emphatically rejected in Parliament on Tuesday.
The business figures’ letter calls for the leaders of the main parties to back a so-called People’s Vote – and ask the public if they still wish to leave the EU.
‘Many businesses backed the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal despite knowing that it was far from perfect,’ said the letter published in The Times.
‘But it is no longer an option. The priority now is to stop us crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. The only feasible way to do this is by asking the people whether they still want to leave the EU.
‘With the clock now ticking rapidly before we are due to quit, politicians must not waste any more time on fantasies. We urge the political leadership of both the main parties to support a People’s Vote.’
Their intervention comes after a group of 71 Labour MPs and 13 MEPs signed a letter backing a second referendum.
The MPs said if Mr. Corbyn’s efforts to secure an early general election did not succeed, the party should ‘unequivocally’ back a public vote.
The move intensified pressure on Mr. Corbyn to move quickly, after senior Labour figures indicated that the party was ready to table repeated no-confidence challenges to Mrs. May if yesterday’s vote did not succeed in ousting her.
A motion passed at the party’s conference last autumn made clear that a general election is Labour’s priority, but stated that if this was not possible, the party would ‘support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote’.
British Chancellor Philip Hammond told business leaders that a no-deal Brexit could be ‘taken off the table’ and Article 50 ‘rescinded’, according to a transcript of a leaked conference call.
The transcript, obtained by The Telegraph, details Mr. Hammond speaking with 11 business leaders just hours after Mrs. May lost the parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal.
Mr. Hammond began the call by explaining that the defeat raised two questions; can Article 50 be revoked and ‘whether we can somehow take the option of no deal off the table.’
The Chancellor said the EU would not consider extending Article 50 ‘unless or until we have a clear plan to go forward’ and the ‘large majority’ in the commons are opposed to a no-deal ‘in any circumstances’.
He referred to a cross-party Bill, from Tory MP Nick Boles, which aims to force the government to extend Article 50 if a Brexit deal cannot be reached, according to The Telegraph.
On Monday, MPs will vote on an amendment that will ‘pave the way for the Bill’, the paper said.
Hammond told business leaders that an Article 50 extension would not be considered by the EU unless there is a clean plan going forward
Mr. Hammond said: ‘What this group of backbenchers has been doing is seeking to find a mechanism by which the House of Commons can express that view in a way which is binding and effective.’
The business leaders sought assurances from Mr. Hammond, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Business Secretary Greg Clark, who were also on the call, that a no-deal could be ruled out.
Doug Gurr, head of Amazon UK, reportedly said ruling out a no deal would give ‘comfort’ to global boards.
But Mr. Hammond said it would not be until next week that things became clearer.
John Allan, chairman of Tesco and president of the CBI, asked if taking a no-deal Brexit off the table reduced the UK’s negotiating power with the EU.
Mr. Hammond said removing options had consequences.
Mr. Hammond added: ‘The Government is not in control of this.
‘I am only telling you what information I have been able to glean.
‘My understanding is that because the bill being brought forward will simply and solely rescind the Article 50 notice, the legal opinion that they have is that that will meet the test that the European Court of Justice has laid down for unilateral recision of an Article 50 notice.
‘It is not within their power to mandate any future course of action, that would be for a Government to do.’
A spokesperson for the Treasury confirmed the phone call took place shortly after the vote on Tuesday, but would not confirm any details.