Today’s debate in the House of Commons is about the start of the Brexit process. Now that the government has reluctantly agreed to produce a plan, attention will focus on how detailed a document it will publish and when it will arrive. It should produce a detailed Green Paper and do so in January – so MPs and the public can debate decisions that will change all our lives properly.
But it’s not just the start of the process that matters. Parliament and the people must be involved at the end too. The EU has just given us the chance to do just that – though few observers have noticed this.
Yesterday Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, said the Brexit talks need to finish by October 2018 so that the European Parliament can ratify deal. This means that we, too, will get time to examine the deal and reject it if we don’t like the look of it.
If Barnier – and before him Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator – hadn’t said this, there would have been a risk that Theresa May could have bounced the UK into backing whatever deal she managed to negotiate. Say she triggered Article 50 as planned next March and had then come back with a miserable divorce arrangement in February 2019. We’d have been so close to the two-year deadline that MPs would have had little option but to grin and bear it.
But the prime minister won’t now be able to play such a trick. Even if she doesn’t formally put the Brexit deal to our parliament until after it has been ratified by the European Parliament, she won’t be able to stop MPs and peers debating the text in October 2018. If they don’t like it, they will then have time to ask the British people what they think in a new referendum. And if the voters don’t then want to quit, we’ll probably be able to cancel Brexit.
Edited by Sam Ashworth-Hayes