‘Essential’ UK takes part in European vote, says Scotland’s Brexit Secretary

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Scotland’s Brexit Secretary has insisted holding European elections is essential for the UK, as he warned staging a second referendum could take up to eight months to organise.

Mike Russell stressed the need for UK ministers to seek a “very long extension” to the Brexit process. As it stands, the UK is due to leave the EU on 12 April, with no deal yet in place.

Brexit Secretary Mike Russell. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Brexit Secretary Mike Russell. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Speaking on the BBC yesterday Mr Russell said: “There is a responsibility to try to find some way forward before the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit which is now essentially a week away.”

With the UK’s exit date – which has already been delayed from the original 29 March deadline – looming, Mr Russell revealed he had written to Mrs May’s defacto deputy, David Lidington, to argue the case for the UK taking part in May’s European Parliament elections.

Mr Russell argued that “any solution” to the Brexit impasse had to have a People’s Vote “at the heart of it” – noting that politicians at Westminster had failed to resolve matters.

“The people have to be asked what they think,” he said.

But he stressed “you can’t rush a referenda”, insisting best practice would have to be followed for such a vote.

However Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told the Commons yesterday that he has been told UK participation in European Parliament elections would be a “betrayal” and “inflict untold damage”.

Conservative Philip Hollobone (Kettering) said: “The Conservative Party National Convention, the meeting of all local party chairmen, made it clear in February that were Brexit to be delayed so that we take part in European elections that would be a betrayal of the referendum result and inflict untold damage – isn’t that right and doesn’t he agree?”

Mr Barclay replied: “To have European parliamentary elections three years after the country voted to leave would be damaging for our politics as a whole, but he’ll also have seen the vote in the House last night which sought to take the option of leaving without a deal off the table, and he’ll also be aware the House has today refused to back any of the options for a deal that have been put to it.”

Brexit minister Robin Walker, asked if the department had analysed the cost of running a second referendum and that such a poll is not Government policy, said: “I can certainly confirm the latter.”