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Has Clegg found best way to stop Brexit?

by Hugo Dixon | 27.10.2017

Nick Clegg thinks he has found a good way to stop Brexit. First, the public puts pressure on MPs to vote down whatever Brexit the government comes up with next year. Then, we ask the EU to stop the clock on the Brexit talks. Finally, we negotiate a new role in one of the outer circles of the EU that will emerge from Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reform Europe. This will let us control migration from the EU, making the whole club more palatable to Leave voters.

Well, politics nowadays is so volatile that anything could happen. But the former deputy prime minister’s plan, set out in his book “How to Stop Brexit”, requires a helluva lot of things to line up.

Clegg is right that any attempt to stop Brexit has to start with the public. People need to be convinced we’ve made a mistake and it’s not too late to change our minds. If so, MPs will indeed block whatever the government proposes – whether it’s a bad Brexit deal or the crazy crash-out-with-no-deal Brexit that hardliners want.

It’s the next steps in Clegg’s plan that are particularly tricky. Will the EU really let us stop the clock for what they would fear would be another long negotiation, even if the former Lib Dem leader hopes it can be kept short? That would require unanimity.

Even if they did, will Europe by then have reorganised itself into a series of concentric circles? This may be what Macron wants. But the French president is only one of 27 leaders. Even if he gets his way, it could take a long time. The concentric circles probably won’t be ready by March 2019 when we’re supposed to quit.

What about free movement? Here Clegg is onto something. We don’t do some of the things we are already allowed to do such as register EU citizens. The EU might also tighten up the rules on “posting” EU workers – where people are technically employed in one country but work in another – so our own workers’ rights aren’t undercut. Macron is already pushing the idea.

Finally, the other countries might let us modify free movement so long as we don’t abandon the core principle. They might, and certainly should, act like the father in the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son if we decide to stay: killing a fatted calf to celebrate, not seeking to punish us.

But Clegg’s proposal for an immediate “emergency brake” on EU citizens coming here is misguided. Europeans are leaving in droves, damaging our health service and economy. We need to keep them, not stick up a no entry sign.

While Clegg is right to look for ways of winning over Leave voters, this isn’t the right solution. Even if we could persuade the other EU countries to give us an emergency brake, which is doubtful, we could hardly argue that the situation we’ll confront in early 2019 will be an emergency. Or, if it is in an emergency, it will be because we are suffering a terrible brain drain not an impossible influx of EU citizens.

There is a better way to stop Brexit, which incorporates some of the elements of Clegg’s plan but reshuffles their order. Public opinion already seems to be changing. If it shifts more decisively and MPs block the government’s plans, we should have a new referendum and stop Brexit dead in its tracks. It’s during such a referendum that the other European leaders should offer us a giant bunch of roses to encourage us to stay. And if we need to stop the clock for a short period then because we are running out of time, they should agree to that too.

Even this will be hard to pull off. But it is more realistic than Clegg’s scheme. It is what pro-Europeans should be fighting for.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “Has Clegg found best way to stop Brexit?”

  • Clegg couldn’t find his way out of a wet paper bag.

    How about another fantasy scenario where the deluded remoaniacs actually face up to the fact that the UK has already voted to leave.

    Feel free to campaign to rejoin the EU. If it’s still around in 40 years, perhaps you might succeed.

    • Or indeed another fantasy where ardent Brexiters realise everything is not going swimmingly and they have indeed been conned.

      You seem to forget that DURING the past 40 years, hard right eurosceptics such as Farage, Tebbit, Redwood, Smith, Murdoch and others have constantly droned o how awful the EU is. Or do you think they suddenly concentrated their efforts over the past 18 months?

  • This analysis sounds correct, let’s hope Nick Clegg reads it.

    After documenting how the Leave vote was based on false information, he seems to suddenly retreat at the end of his book and says that 17 million Leave voters cannot be ignored, they knew exactly what they were doing. Things can never be the same again, a compromise must be reached

    This is like saying that at one time most of the population believed the earth is flat, but after it was proven to be round the views of the millions who believed it flat should be taken into account and the world thought of as being round, but in some sense flat at the same time.

    It is probably too unkind to say that Clegg is bowing to the will of the people. It is more that he is putting pragmatism before principle, as with advising people to vote labour if it achieves a means to an end. But I feel that in consigning us to an outer orbit of the EU, he is abandoning too soon the ideal of Britain leading the EU once more.

  • ‘This will let us control migration from the EU, making the whole club more palatable to Leave voters.’
    We already can by employing EU rules.
    But, it won’t happen as our foreign owned and ex-dim media controllers won’t allow it.