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Theresa May Could Back a New Brexit Referendum

If voters rejected “no deal” in favor of no Brexit in a new referendum, May’s hardline opponents would be silenced, and her position as Prime Minister would be secured until the 2022 election. Why would she not seize this chance?

LONDON – As the Brexit negotiations enter their endgame, a stalemate has become the most likely outcome. This is good news. It does not mean that Britain will “crash out” of the European Union with no agreement: deals in the European Union tend to be struck at the last possible moment. But the British parliament will probably reject whatever arrangement Prime Minister Theresa May manages to negotiate with European leaders, and the likeliest way to end the deadlock will be to hold a new referendum that reconsiders the decision to leave the EU.

Until recently, conventional wisdom dismissed this possibility. But now the political mechanics that could lead to a new referendum and the cancellation of Brexit are becoming clear.

Whatever version of Brexit May proposes now faces a veto. A Norwegian-style “soft Brexit” that would keep Britain in the EU’s trading structures would be blocked by the Euroskeptics in May’s Conservative Party. A “hard Brexit,” which would require border controls with the Republic of Ireland, is unacceptable to the Irish government and the EU. And a hybrid arrangement that would take Britain out of the EU single market but keep Northern Ireland in would be a dealbreaker for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose support May needs to stay in power.