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Hopes for second Brexit referendum growing

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LONDON: Hopes for a second referendum on European Union membership are rising in Britain amid heightened uncertainty over Brexit, but hurdles remain.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to convince British lawmakers to back her Brexit dealin Parliament on Dec 11. If, as expected, it is voted down, what happens next remains uncertain.

But the backers of a so-called "People's Vote" argue it opens up an opportunity to ask Britons to think again.

"There is a growing momentum behind the campaign for a second referendum," said Mr Constantine Fraser, an analyst at research consultancy TS Lombard. "It will become a serious option on the table if, or more likely when, Theresa May's deal is voted down."

Mr John McDonnell, Labour's finance spokesman, fuelled hopes the leadership was moving closer to the idea by saying it was "inevitable" the party would support a second poll if it could not force a general election.

The hopes were further strengthened by European Council president Donald Tusk last Friday.

At the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Mr Tusk said a rejection of the deal by British Parliament would leave two options - "no deal or no Brexit at all".

There are significant structural barriers to a second vote, according to analysts.

"You would need the government to actually table a proposal, have a vote in favour of it, which would require cross-party support," said Mr Nick Wright, a fellow in EU politics at University College London.

Mrs May has repeatedly ruled out halting Brexit or holding another vote, and it would be hard without her support.

A cross-party group of MPs last Thursday laid down an amendment to Mrs May's EU withdrawal legislation.

The proposed amendment would hand power to lawmakers if her plan is rejected in the House of Commons - and could potentially provide a legislative pathway for a referendum.

Labour's Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said it had his "full support".

Even if MPs did coalesce around another poll, legal and practical problems loom.

Britain has legislated to leave the EU on March 29 next year, after triggering Article 50. It is unclear if the process could be paused or reversed unilaterally by the government.

Europe's top court is expected to rule on this in days.

Britain could also try to agree a delay with the EU.

Some analysts think Brussels would be open to a delay for another referendum, but not for further negotiations.

But with European Parliament elections in the spring, the bloc might favour only a few more weeks.

Timing was "the biggest barrier" for a second referendum, said Mr Fraser, noting it could take four to five months to prepare and carry out. - AFP