Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has cast doubt on Brexit becoming a reality, insisting it was “more likely that it won’t happen”, as the Prime Minister risked losing a crunch vote in Parliament over her deal.
The former coalition business secretary warned there would be a “hell of a backlash from people who want to remain and who feel that their future’s being put at risk” if Theresa May’s “economically damaging” Brexit was “imposed” without a second EU referendum.
Moderates in the Conservative Party, he said, were “fighting back” but the Norwegian option which was being floated “has all kind of problems with it”.
He said: “It’s possible that the Tory Party could split in the way that they did over the Corn Laws.”
He added Labour’s “claim that they’re gagging for a general election just isn’t believable”.
The Liberal Democrats have launched a bid to force a second Brexit referendum by tabling an amendment to Tuesday’s crucial House of Commons vote.
But the move has exposed divisions among supporters of a fresh poll, with the People’s Vote campaign denouncing it as “deeply unhelpful” and accusing the Lib Dems of “political point-scoring”.
Asked if Brexit would happen, Sir Vince told the Press Association: “I think increasingly I doubt it. I think it more likely that it won’t happen… the possibility of crashing out has been I think almost completely taken now off the table, reduces the risk of a Brexit and the increased probability of a People’s Vote also makes it likely that the remain option can prevail.
“I’m not taking it for granted, even if we won a referendum, we’d have to win it and it would be very competitive, but I think it can be done with better campaigning than last time.”
The country he said was “already divided”, adding: “If we don’t have it and a Brexit is imposed without a People’s Vote, this anger and division will continue and it will probably grow because young people who are quite highly motivated to remain… are going to feel very let down, particularly if the economic consequences are serious.”
Parliament, he said, had “reasserted control” after this week’s historic triple defeat in the Commons exposed a “minority Government without authority”.
On Labour’s stance, Sir Vince added: “We do agree that if there is a call for a general election, we will support it, but I think it’s unlikely,” arguing his party had “absolutely no intention of getting into a coalition with (Jeremy) Corbyn’s Labour Party”.
The MP for Twickenham suggested the “massive fog of uncertainty” over Brexit might have implications for his own party leadership tenure.
He joked: “Well it may leave me here indefinitely until I’m over a hundred or something, I think that’s rather improbable, but it doesn’t look as if it’s going to be a done deal very soon.”
He added: “If the next general election is three-and-a-half, four years away, I’ve made it very clear that I think the next generation should be leading us into that, but how precisely, when and where precisely we do this…, given the general uncertainty, it’s very difficult to name a day and I’m not trying to, but I’m leading the party full throttle in the meantime.
“I would be leading us into election if there were one soon.”
Asked about Tory former prime minister and coalition partner David Cameron’s decision to hold the EU poll, he said: “I think he himself realises that he has committed the mother of all disasters and this is going to go down in history as a disastrous political decision to hold a referendum and then to lose it.”