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Analysis

Extra time without a People’s Vote is another fantasy

by Hugo Dixon | 08.01.2019

If MPs reject Theresa May’s miserable Brexit deal next week, as they should, there will be a clamour in some quarters for extra time. But this only makes sense if the idea is to hold a referendum. Otherwise, it will actually waste time – and that’s something we can ill afford.

There are less than three months left before we are due to quit the EU on March 29 and it would be folly to crash out with no deal at all. So it is no wonder that people are already asking to stop the clock.

Margot James, the digital minister, said yesterday this might be necessary. So did London First, the group representing over 200 businesses in the capital. The government itself is putting out feelers to get more time.

The snag is that the government has already wasted so much time with its policy of dither and delay that, unless we have a clear purpose for such an extension, we will make a bad problem worse.

Remember that we can only get an extension to Article 50, the part of the EU treaty which set the clock ticking on our departure, if all the other 27 countries agree. We can’t just assume that they will say “yes”.

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Quite the opposite. If we ask for extra time without a clear idea of what we want it for – or if we just want to tie the EU up in further fruitless negotiations – we should assume that at least one country will say “no”.

It’s only if we want to hold a People’s Vote or call a general election that we can be confident that the EU will grant us extra time. Even then, there will be reluctance to extend Article 50 beyond the end of June. This is because the new European Parliament meets in early July – and then a new European Commission is appointed. The EU will want to know definitively by then whether we are in or out.

If MPs tell the prime minister to ask for an extension after they defeat her deal, they are likely to waste several valuable weeks. By the time she has made the request and they have asked for clarification and finally said “no”, we could easily be in February. We’ll have our backs up against the wall – and we could then really be left with a devil’s choice between May’s deal and no deal.

We cannot afford to waste more time on fantasies. Rather than kicking the can down the road next week, MPs should rapidly conclude that there are only three realities: the deal, crashing out with no deal and a new referendum with the option to stay in the EU.

If they don’t want either the deal or “no deal”, the only alternative will be to ask the people what they want. Then, and only then, will it make sense to ask the EU for an extension. With a clear purpose in mind, the other countries will say “yes”.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

Tags: , Categories: UK Politics

4 Responses to “Extra time without a People’s Vote is another fantasy”

  • “… we could be left with a devil’s choice between May’s deal and no deal.”

    Or simply withdrawing article 50, this is always an option at any time.

  • For God’s sake ,please someone have the guts to say that it’s impossible to give the leavers what they are asking for and admit that the only common sense way is to put a stop to this totally lunacy.!

  • A national government of unity is another option. It is clear that the Tories will be unable to deliver a Brexit that doesn’t a) trash the country b) damage millions of individuals c) destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

    In times of dire national crisis it is possible to abandon party politics and put together a cross-party emergency government to steer us through the crisis.

    And rather than a PV, withdrawing / revoking A50 is the cleanest option.

  • look, I am an avowed remainer and a 2nd voter, but revoking article 50 without a 2nd vote would not only be undemocratic, but also utterly ignominious, sending out a signal to the entire world that we can be pushed around.
    While I am a remainer, the anger of leave voters that it would provoke would also be entirely understandable and it would take years for our country to heal from it.

    That doesn’t mean that I think any of the other options are better, more democratic or less likely to provoke huge anger. It means that I believe we can only revoke article 50 if we have a 2nd vote mandating it.

    Extending article 50 for long enough to hold a 2nd vote is something I expect to be problematic. I think it’s reasonable to assume that messing around and passing the legislation required to have one will take us right up to the article 50 deadline and potentially beyond.
    We would then only have 3 months until the first sitting of the European parliament.
    I expect that to be a problem precisely because, as the article says, the EU does not want any risk of Britain exercising its right to elect MEPs for a full 5 year term and then brexiting afterwards.

    There is also no way that I am aware of for a member state to, for example, suspend European elections temporarily. The EU treaties simply do not allow it.

    While I do not doubt that there will be a desire in the EU to help us work around these issues, resolving them is entirely in their gift.

    I certainly hope that those pushing for a 2nd vote have opened up the back channels and know exactly how this is going to work.