PM’s talks not a cover for stopping Brexit, Mundell insists
The Scottish Secretary said the Prime Minister would discuss ‘anything’ with other parties – but also said stopping Brexit was not an option.
A longstanding member of the UK Cabinet has effectively ruled out holding a second European referendum – saying while the Prime Minister is willing to discuss “anything” in talks with other parties, the discussions would “not be a cover for trying to stop Brexit”.
David Mundell also said calls to take a no-deal brexit “off the table” – as demanded by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – were “the wrong starting point”, adding that he did not believe the European Union would extend the timetable for the Article 50 talks.
The Scottish Secretary spoke out after Mrs May saw her proposed Withdrawal Agreement defeated by a record margin in the House of Commons, before going on to survive a vote of no confidence.
Mr Mundell, who has been in the Cabinet since the Tories came to power in 2010, admitted he had “not anticipated the scale of the defeat” the Government suffered on Tuesday night.
Immediately after Wednesday night’s no confidence vote, Mrs May announced she would invite party leaders in the Commons and other MPs for talks, in a bid to find a deal that could command the support of Parliament.
But SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said those discussions must include extending Article 50, ruling out a no-deal Brexit and the possibility of staging a so-called People’s Vote.
Mr Blackford told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We will accept our responsibility to engage positively in talks but it has to be on the basis that there is a positive engagement.
“I’ve written to the Prime Minister overnight and said that what has to happen is there has to be an agreement that we can have discussions about extending Article 50, about taking no deal off the table, and about having a People’s Vote.”
Mr Blackford continued: “I actually think on the basis of where we are a People’s Vote is the right way to go, I think on the basis of the paralysis in Parliament we ought to put that back to the people.
“I’m not saying that is a position the Prime Minister would support but if she is serious about engagement, if she is serious about trying to find a way through this, she has at least got to have that discussion about these options.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “So everything is not on the table. PM’s offer of talks is a promise to listen, but only if we all agree with her. The SNP won’t be complicit in more time wasting.”
So everything is not on the table. PM’s offer of talks is a promise to listen, but only if we all agree with her. @theSNP won’t be complicit in more time wasting. Rule out no deal, be prepared to extend Art 50 and agree to at least consider another referendum - then we’ll talk. https://t.co/6ZRtoEfqxT— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 17, 2019
But Mr Mundell stressed the aim of discussions would be to “get a deal through Parliament so we can have an orderly exit from the EU.”
The Tory MP, also speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, conceded that after the scale of Tuesday night’s defeat the Government could not just “bring back exactly the same proposal”.
He stated: “I had not anticipated the scale of the defeat, it means that there will have to be changes.”
But he also said the talks had to take place “on the basis of getting to a deal, not getting to a point of stopping Brexit”.
Speaking about the Prime Minister, Mr Mundell said: “She’s not going down a route to stop Brexit, she is willing to discuss anything people want to put on the table to get us to a point where we can get a majority in Parliament to support a deal to allow an orderly Brexit.
“Everything is up for discussion but what isn’t going to be an outcome is arrangements that seek to stop Brexit, which I believe the People’s Vote is designed to do.
“Not only that it would be extremely divisive in our country. We’ve had a People’s Vote, people voted across the United Kingdom and a United Kingdom-wide vote to leave the EU, and we are respecting the result of that and seeking to deliver Brexit, but an orderly Brexit.
“That’s what discussions are about. Of course people can raise any issues that they want, but the discussions are not a cover for trying to stop Brexit.”
Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis has also insisted that the Government did not believe a People’s Vote was “the right way to go”.
Mr Lewis also said ministers were determined the UK should be able to have an independent trade policy after leaving Europe – adding this ruled out any suggestion of remaining in the customs union.