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As one Brexit hurdle cleared, another arrives on May's Downing Street doorstep
Last Updated: 2018-06-08 07:12 | Xinhua
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Fears that Britain's Brexit secretary David Davis would resign in a wrangle with Prime Minister Theresa May was averted Thursday after the two held a crisis meeting at Westminster.

Before the dust had settled on what had been a bruising 24-hours, a new dilemma emerged to confront the prime minister.

Media reports in London quoted Sir Alan Duncan, minister of state for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as saying it would be just possible for there to be a second national referendum on the terms of the exit deal Britain strikes with Brussels as it leaves the European Union.

Duncan insisted there would not be a second referendum on whether Britain should leave or remain in the EU.

Peace was restored among May's leading cabinet ministers after the government published a revised version of a so-called backstop arrangement in the event of Britain and the EU not agreeing on a future working deal before the two part company.

A backstop plan is essential to avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and the neighboring Irish Republic which will remain as an EU member.

May held a 60-minute crunch meeting to discuss a modified plan that would see Britain matching EU trade tariffs temporarily in order to avoid a hard Irish border post-Brexit.

Pro-Brexit ministers as well as Davis were concerned that unless a time limit was set Britain could remain in the European customs union indefinitely.

Britain's revised plan states that should a temporary customs arrangement be needed it will be only in place until the future customs arrangement can be introduced.

The document says Britain expects the future arrangement to be in place until the end of December 2021 at the latest.

That dateline was enough to satisfy Davis and other critics, though it did not stipulate what would happen should a permanent solution be found.

Some political commentators said it allowed both Davis and May to claim victory.

While peace broke out among May's ministers and senior party members, everything now hinges on how the EU and its chief negotiator Michel Barnier will react to May's stopgap plan.

Barnier said he welcomed publication of the British proposal, but did not give a verdict on whether it would be accepted.

The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt went further, saying that Britain's plan did not look workable.

The Daily Telegraph in London said Thursday night that Duncan, who is deputy to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, had plunged May's government into deeper chaos with his comment that there could be a second referendum on Britain's exit from the European Union.

The Telegraph said Duncan, in a speech in Berlin which had been cleared by Downing Street, insisted there would be no second in-out referendum.

He added: "It would, I suppose be possible to ask the people in a referendum if they liked the exit deal or not, but that would mean the choice would be between the exit deal on offer or no deal at all.

"It would not in reality offer people the option of reversing the original decision to leave the EU."

A Foreign Office spokesman clarified the statement later, saying: "As the minister said several times in his speech in Berlin, we are leaving the EU and there will be no second referendum."

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