Speaker John Bercow made the shock decision to select an amendment to tonight’s motion which could lead to a re-run of the 2016 vote. The amendment was tabled by The Independent Group’s former Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston and represents the House of Commons’ first chance to formally air their view on holding a second referendum. MPs will begin a series of votes from 7pm on a number of amendments before deciding on the main motion of whether to extend Article 50 and delay Brexit.
The second referendum amendment would order Theresa May to request an Article 50 extension “for the purposes of legislating for and conducting a public vote in which the people of the United Kingdom may give their consent” on whether to leave the European Union with a deal or remain in the bloc.
The Wollaston amendment is supported by some Labour MPs, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and others in the Independent Group.
However the amendment is not expected to pass unless Jeremy Corbyn decides to endorse it or dozens of Conservative MPs rebel.
Theresa May’s deputy, cabinet secretary David Lidington, has been addressing Parliament this afternoon on the government’s position regarding tonight’s votes.
Mr Lidington reiterated the government’s opposition to a second Brexit referendum.
After Tory Brexiter Mark Francois questioned whether Conservative MPs would be whipped to oppose amendment H, the Wollaston proposal, Mr Lidington said: “I hope it provides some reassurance if I say that the Government’s collectively agreed policy as regards a second referendum has not changed.”
Mr Lidington added there would be “consequences” of a longer extension to the Brexit process if MPs voted to extend Article 50 tonight.
He told MPs the possibility included the need to hold European Parliament elections in May.
Mr Lidington added: “We either deliver on the result of the referendum, giving people and businesses across the country the certainty they’re calling for and move on as a nation, or we enter into a sustained period of uncertainty during which time the government would work with this House to find a way through, but which I fear would do real damage to the public’s faith in politics and trust in our democracy.”
Commenting on Speaker John Bercow’s decision to select an amendment calling for a second EU referendum for debate in the Commons, the People’s Vote campaign said it was not the “right time” to ask MPs to hold a second referendum.
A spokesman for the campaign group said: “The People’s Vote campaign does not instruct its supporters in Parliament on how to vote.
“We recognise there is a range of opinions on when to press the case for the public being given the final say, which means some of these MPs will vote for the Wollaston amendment, some may vote against, and some will abstain.
“But we do not think today is the right time to test the will of the House on the case for a new public vote.
“Instead, this is the time for Parliament to declare it wants an extension of Article 50 so that, after two-and-a-half years of vexed negotiations, our political leaders can finally decide on what Brexit means.
“That is because a People’s Vote is not just another option in this Brexit crisis – it is a solution to this crisis.
“When the real costs of Brexit are measured up against the broken promises made for it in 2016, we believe Parliament will have better opportunities to decide it is only fair and reasonable to give the public a real say on this crucial decision for our country.”