Fight for people’s vote on Brexit deal, not more time

by Hugo Dixon | 18.03.2018

Most MPs on the Brexit committee want the Article 50 deadline extended if talks on our future deal with the EU get bogged down. This is a blind alley. Pro-Europeans shouldn’t invest any energy or hope in getting such an extension.

The MPs make many good points in their report published today. They are right to be sceptical of the government’s promise to agree the “substance” of our future partnership with the EU by October. Time is ticking and Theresa May still doesn’t have a viable plan, especially for the Irish border. There’s a risk that she will keep things vague, as specific proposals could tear the Conservative Party to pieces.

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The MPs are also right to say that our Parliament should have clarity on the future partnership with the EU. The implication is that they won’t be able to do a good job of scrutinising the deal if it’s a pile of mush.

Some pro-Europeans outside Parliament think extending the talks beyond next March will delay the point of no return. Some even hope that, during those extra months, it might be possible to stop Brexit entirely.

But the EU is most unlikely to agree. All 27 of the other countries would have to accept a longer period. They already think May is wasting time through dragging her feet. Why would they give her more time for foot-dragging? If we are going to leave, they want us out by next May’s European Parliament elections at the very latest.

Given this, pro-Europeans both inside and outside Parliament shouldn’t waste their time calling for an extension of the talks. We should instead push the prime minister to get her skates on and come up with a viable plan – which we can then debate.

We should also say that if she comes back with meaningless waffle, we will be on a “gangplank into thin air”, as George Bridges the former junior Brexit minister memorably said. The case for asking the people whether they still want Brexit or would prefer to stay in the EU would then be all the more compelling. That’s also the one scenario where the other 27 countries would give us a little extra time.

Fighting for a people’s vote on the Brexit deal rather than an extension of talks is where pro-Europeans should invest their energy and their hope.

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    10 Responses to “Fight for people’s vote on Brexit deal, not more time”

    • ” A future partnership with the EU “? What can that possibly be now the the UK has decided to dissociate itself from the Lisbon Treaty ? There can be no role for the UK in future European affairs. It has decided to cut itself off from the continent of Europe and must seek a future ……………..where?

      Surely this is the reason Mrs May keeps delaying her description of the bold new relationship she wants to establish with the EU, having left the EU but not Europe. What in fact can she possibly say or propose in these circumstances which is not pure waffle?

    • I would like to agree with Hugo Dixon about “getting on with it” and putting some sort of deal to the people later this year but I fear this is likely to prove impossible in the time available. Even if (and it’s a big if) a popular vote was to be granted, the government allegation will still be that a full and comprehensive trade deal with the EU is in the offing and the negative effects of brexit are vanishingly small. In other words “having cake and eating it” will survive right up to our exit in March 2019. And that would be that. Reality dawning during the transition period will be useless because out means out. In those circumstances I think there is much to be said for the Committee’s majority recommendation.

      Whether they voted remain or leave people are entitled to see the full picture before brexit becomes a reality.

    • It is a rare day indeed when I disagree with Hugo. But if we cut this knot a different way we get a different unravelling. Some in the EU have not given up hope that once the lies are exposed the mood of the nation will change decisively. One lie was that leaving would be simple. Extending Article 50 exposes the lie, and helps change the mood of the nation. And what if the job of changing all those treaties to allow for transition is in fact too big a task to be accomplished in time? Discovering this too late could mean catastrophic Brexit. Better to spend the time responsibly campaigning that we are not ready and cannot now be ready in time. EU27 don’t want to prolong the Brexit process, agreed. But if they could prevent Brexit altogether by delaying it now, then there are grounds to believe that they would do it. Here is the crucial point: they probably won’t do it unbidden, as there is no point delaying Brexit only for it to happen later. But if we ask for it, that’s a different matter. It’s the start. Expiry of the referendum mandate that never was is the middle. A new referendum to stay in after all is the end.

    • It looks to me that the Government want to bring matters to a head with a Take it or Leave it’ Commons vote just before the March 2019 deadline, and then ‘bounce’ MPs into accepting Davis’ package. The threat will be that if you don’t vote in favour you will be assisting Jeremy Corbyn into office. They could still say they were honouring their commitment to give Parliament its ‘meaningful vote’.
      The whole strategy of the Brexit lobby has been to get Brexit through with the minimum debate and minimum public discussion. Gina Miller had to remind the Government that the law of the country applied to them too in terms of not by-passing Parliament. It follows that the more time there is for public discussion and parliamentary scrutiny, the better, and therefore I agree with the Select Committee.
      There will be those on the continent who want to finalise Brexit as soon as possible, but once they do, there will be no way back. That’s why I think its in our interest to allow more time for the harsh realities of Brexit to hit home to the British public. When these become more and more apparent to the public there would be a better case for Parliament to force the Government into settling for a soft Brexit, or indeed, a Referendum on the terms of the deal.

    • @Alex Wilson

      contrary to David Davis assertions, there won’t be a last minute negotiation of the exit terms (or future trade relationship) by midnight on March 29th 2019.

      the exit and transition terms are meant to be agreed by the EUCO in mid-october 2018 for ratifications by member-states parliaments in the following months.
      since the british side has been particularly evasive, it’s veery much possible that further negotiations might be needed until the next summit in december (a kind of re-run from 2017 between the “Florence Speech” before then EUCO a few weeks later, further acrimonious talks right to the fudge in december).
      but the very hard limit will be early january no later.

      after that, it’s “take it or no deal”, and much bad will would have been generated, meaning that further talks will be hard-nosed, time-extensive and potential return of Britain to the EU unlikely for a decade or more.

    • Delaying leaving the EU and wanting to stop Brexit are not mutually exclusive aims. The clock is ticking down to the UK’s exit. In a year we’re out. Theresa May might possibly want the clock to run down, she certainly looks to do whatever she can to waste more time and to avoid decisions. If she gets to the 29th March 2019 deadline she is home and dry and has not had to make a decision to get there.

      And that is it in a nutshell. The Prime Minister will not make decisions. She can’t without ripping her party apart. This whole Brexit madness has been about the Tory party. And it will be to the bitter end.

      If the Prime Minister can’t / won’t make decisions, then a decision needs to be forced on her. And the longer we stay in the EU, the better the chance of forcing that decision.

    • Today’s news follows the pattern that has been clear for some time – the Tory brexiteers will bite their lip and tolerate almost any concession by May/Davis on transition period, provided it gets them over the line to exit on March 30 2019. After that they reckon they will be able to do anything they like. Only parliament can stop the worst excesses of this and it is hard to summon up great confidence in enough MPs acting in the best interests of their country as distinct from their party.

    • I agree that the Government’s next goal, with the Hard Brexit MPs breathing down the PM’s back, is to reach the March 2019 deadline with the current Hard Brexit package still in tact. As things stand, most EU governments would be more than relieved if we were to reverse Brexit, but for that to happen, the mood will have to swing with the British public. Up to the point of final binding decisons being made, the EU governments will still hope for this, but there will be a point of no return when the mood will change, after which we will be thought of as a ‘third country’, to put it into EU jargon. l hope that point gets delayed as long as possible, so I therefore welcome a transition period as long as possible. On the other hand, the ideological Brexiteers will want that point to be reached as speedily as possible, with the minimum debate, because after then, Brexit will be virtually irreversible.

    • I would also disagree with Hugo’s view. Parliament, pro-EU politicians and the general public need to time to digest the consequences of Brexit. What is beign debated is great and should have been debated before the referendum.
      Therefore any delay to Article 50, to buy that time, is incredibly invaluable. It would appear that once the March 2019 deadline is up, the UK is on a path of no return.
      It should be remembered also that there are an number of hurdles waiting to trip up the government:

      – MP’s voting down some or all of the final Brexit legislation
      – Parliament arguing that more time is needed to get legislation drawn-up
      – Labour and Tory MP’s considering that now is the time to make a clean break, for the sake of the country, and form a new political party aligned to the centre.
      – Successful court challenges from the Scottish & Welsh parliaments to the illegitimacy of the Tory Brexit legislation for repatriation of EU laws and regulations
      – A major recession, kick-started by trade barrriers, introduced by the USA
      – New opinion polls showing that the desire for a new referendum cannot be ignored.

      If any one or more of the above happen, then the Brexiteers strategy would really start to unfold. Therefore it would be absolutely logical for the Brexit Committee to push for such a delay.

      One thing which has never been highlighted (I don’t think, by Hugo and his team) is to make it loud and clear the following:

      “How on earth is the UK possibly taking back control of decision-making on trade and legislation by wishing to enter into equally complex trading arrangements with countries outside the EU?” (Such thinking like this is obviously too intelligent for most Tories, of course). It’s always about sharing and compromise.

      It is one of the central planks of the Brexit philosophy.

      In the 21st Century there is no such thing as enjoying complete and full sovereignty, to unilaterally decide on how your relationship should be arranged with another country! I don’t believe there is any other more fundamental argument which could be used to oppose Brexit than this one. Taking back full control is a childish fantasy!

      Please Hugo, the time has arrived to push this particular point through as robustly as possible, not just on the InFacts pages but also to all the other Remain groups which you are now liaising with.