Europe Politics

Second Brexit referendum hopes dim as UK lawmakers prepare for historic vote

Key Points
  • Lawmakers in the U.K. will now vote on Boris Johnson's Brexit agreement in a special sitting on Saturday.
  • Supporters of the second referendum want to attach another public vote to parliamentary consent.
  • Opposition parties appear to have stepped back from attaching a second referendum.
VIDEO3:3903:39
Grieve: Cannot accept Brexit deal without promise of second referendum

U.K. government plans to have a straight vote Saturday on its new draft Brexit deal look set to go ahead, despite attempts by opposition MPs (Members of Parliament) to attach a “confirmatory” referendum.

Pro-EU lawmakers in Westminster narrowly won a vote Thursday, seeking to amend Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit plans. This clears the way for MPs to potentially alter the outcome of the main Brexit plan when it’s voted upon during a special parliamentary session happening on Saturday.

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick Friday that he would back Johnson’s deal with Brussels if the government was prepared to attach a second referendum to it.

“My view is that what we are talking about now is so radically different from what was being discussed in the 2016 referendum. The time that has passed since, the importance of this decision — it seems to me that this decision should be put back to the British people.”

Grieve is one of 21 lawmakers that were ousted from the ruling Conservative Party in September. He believes of that group, several will join him in opposing Johnson’s Brexit plan, unless a second referendum is attached to the bill.

VIDEO2:0202:02
Boris Johnson 'needs to be taken out of office': Scottish lawmaker

Momentum checked

However, momentum toward a second referendum motion hit the buffers Friday morning after opposition lawmaker and Shadow Finance Minister John McDonnell told BBC radio that Saturday’s vote should be primarily about voting against Johnson’s deal.

“To be frank, I think on Saturday we should just vote the deal down because it’s such a bad deal,” he said.

Richard Mylles, a political analyst for Absolute Strategy Research, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick Friday that the numbers in Parliament don’t look like they’ll be enough to push for a second referendum at this stage.

“They never really have been in this Parliament. If you are going to get a second referendum, you need an election,” he said, before adding that with Johnson’s deal on the table it seemed that pressure for another so-called People’s Vote had faded.

After Thursday's vote, a number of different amendments can now be proposed but only those selected by Speaker of the House John Bercow will be voted on.

One other amendment expected is an attempt by lawmakers to tighten legislation against the possibility of no Brexit deal at all. A "confirmatory" referendum could also be attached to the Brexit bill at a later date and doesn't necessarily have to pass on Saturday.

It will be the first time that the House of Commons has sat on a Saturday since 1982 when the U.K. was at war with Argentina.

Johnson is to make a statement at 9.30 a.m. London time on Saturday and take questions about his talks with the EU. The government motion will then ask lawmakers to either "approve the deal or approve a no-deal Brexit."