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MPs have taken back control. Time to pass it to the people!

by Luke Lythgoe | 05.12.2018

The terms of the Brexit debate fundamentally shifted in pro-Europeans’ favour yesterday. First came the strongest signal yet from the EU that the the UK can withdraw Article 50 by itself at any point before our Brexit departure date. Then Parliament took back control from ministers, in a blistering threesome of defeats for the government in just over an hour.

Perhaps the most significant thing about all this is that now accidentally slipping into the chaos of a “no deal” Brexit looks much less likely. The government has long argued that the choice is between their deal and no deal. But the statement from the EU Advocate General shows the option of staying in the EU is still open to us, and that the far better deal we have negotiated with Europe over nearly half a century of membership would remain intact.

Two parliamentary defeats then led to the government became the first in history to be held in contempt of Parliament. Ministers were finally forced to publish the legal advice on the Brexit deal in full. The content was no surprise, but the tone was telling. The government had earlier insisted that if the Irish border backstop was triggered it should be “only temporarily”. The full advice, written by attorney general Geoffrey Cox, said that “despite statements” in the Brexit deal document itself, the terms of the backstop should apply “unless and until they are superseded” by a new deal. Therefore, if talks breakdown the UK is stuck in the backstop.

The contempt vote was quickly followed by a failed attempt to block an amendment from Tory pro-European Dominic Grieve. This gives MPs a powerful say on what happens if, as is expected, the prime minister’s Brexit deal gets voted down on Tuesday.

MPs from across the House – including Cabinet ministers – have now made clear that Parliament will not support a no-deal Brexit. As a new report from the People’s Vote campaign shows, the political and legal realities of this process mean it would be all but impossible for the government to force “no deal” on MPs who are so clearly opposed to such an outcome.

At the same time, more and more MPs are concluding that the government’s proposed deal is not what was promised two years ago. The latest Tory to publicly oppose the deal is former chief whip Mark Harper. Meanwhile 26 Conservatives defied ministers over Grieve’s amendment yesterday.

MPs are clearly clocking that the government’s deal is much worse than the one we’ve already got in the EU. And, if approved, would mean Brexit goes on forever because it leaves all the big questions unanswered.

Grieve’s amendment means that Parliament now has the power over what “Plan B” should be, once the government’s Brexit deal is rejected – and ultimately the logical, democratic choice will be to back a People’s Vote. There’s no sign of that yet, but defeat for the government will force MPs to confront this question, and scrutinise unworkable alternatives like a general election and the “Norway” option. This should see many more backbenchers, and possibly the Labour Party, swing in behind a People’s Vote.

Parliament has taken back control. It must now give the final decision back to the public because, in the end, only the people can sort this out.

This article has been updated with details of the government’s full legal advice. 

One Response to “MPs have taken back control. Time to pass it to the people!”

  • “This should see many more backbenchers, and possibly the Labour Party, swing in behind a People’s Vote”.

    Possibly the Labour party. But Len McClusky doesn’t want to ‘betray’ Leave voters, and he carries a certain amount of weight. How is saving voters from disaster betraying them? The argument doesn’t make sense, like Brexit in general, but McClusky is not alone.

    A solution might be to find some way of enabling Leave voters to opt out, renouncing their EU rights and privileges on a personal basis, issuing them with blue passports which would enable them to join the “other countries” queue at airports. expanding weatherspoons and shops selling British made goods in areas like the north east, but allowing Londoners to keep their EU status.