No cross-party Brexit deal could ever stick

by Hugo Dixon | 25.01.2019

MPs who don’t want to crash out of the EU with no deal but aren’t yet ready to back a People’s Vote dream of a deal that could command cross-party support. Dream on.

Jeremy Corbyn holds this position. So do the “Norwegians” – MPs in both the Conservative and Labour parties who want to quit the EU but stay in both the single market and the customs union.

But it’s not going to happen. Even if Corbyn could get a bunch of Tories to back his still incoherent idea to stay in a sort of customs union and a sort of single market but without the bits he doesn’t like, it couldn’t be implemented. Ditto if Theresa May peeled off some Labour MPs to support a softer Brexit than the deal which went down in flames last week. The same goes for even more fanciful ideas that backbenchers from across the political divide could do a deal among themselves without the support of either front bench.

It’s the implementation, stupid!

To implement a Brexit deal doesn’t just involve a vote in Parliament – or even a few bits of legislation. It also requires sustained effort over many years. Only a government which is backed by a majority in Parliament can do that.

Remember that all the prime minister has so far agreed in any detail with the EU is our divorce deal. The “political declaration” setting out our future arrangement is a flimsy, waffly document which commits neither side to anything. It will take years to fill in the details.

So let’s imagine that somehow Corbyn gets enough Tories to sign up to his Brexit idea – and somehow forces the government to persuade the EU to tweak the political declaration to reflect this. How on earth would he ensure that May actually delivered the type of Brexit he wants?

Even if she wanted to implement it, the hardline Brexiters in her party wouldn’t let her. Before you said Jack Rabbit, they’d have kicked her out of Downing Street. And because the political declaration wouldn’t commit either side to anything, the new prime minister would start negotiating the hardest form of Brexit they could get away with – and might even tear up the divorce deal too.

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No route to Norway

Now let’s imagine the “Norwegians” such as Labour’s Stephen Kinnock and the Tories’ Oliver Letwin get majority support for their plan – and again force the government to persuade the EU to tweak the political declaration. Who would negotiate that deal with the EU? How would they sustain the majority required over many years to implement it?

It’s worth remembering that the original version of the Norwegians’ plan, as devised by the Tory Nick Boles, was called “Norway for Now”. It envisaged starting with a close Norway-style arrangement with the EU and then flipping after several years to a much more distant Canada-style deal.

So any MPs who voted for Norway should be warned. Since all they’d get was a vague political declaration, they could easily wake up several years later in Canada.

What about a national unity government? Couldn’t that make a cross-party deal stick? Not really. Quite apart from the fact that it would be extremely hard to construct such a government, it would need to sustain its activities over many years – probably beyond the next election scheduled in 2022. Fat chance of that.

People’s Vote has none of these problems

None of these objections apply to a People’s Vote. A cross-party group of MPs could pass a motion calling for a new referendum. If the government refused to play ball, they could then ram through the necessary legislation – and spell out that the result of the People’s Vote would be mandatory.

Provided the options on the ballot paper were specific and viable, little else would be required. Certainly there would be no need for rival parties to cooperate for many years or form a national government.

The Brexit solutions promoted by the Labour front bench and the Norwegians are fantasies. They cannot be delivered even if Parliament wanted them. If MPs don’t want the prime minister’s deal and they don’t want to crash out without a deal, the best option is a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “No cross-party Brexit deal could ever stick”

  • The result of the People’s vote mandatory ? I understand that it would be difficult to decide otherwise given the terrible precedent of the 2016 referendum but that was a tremendous error. Also the fact that there was no built in threshold or margin of victory required, was equally a colossal piece of stupidity.
    Should this not be debated by parliament in a serious manner before deciding. Is it not time that parliament performs the role it has been assigned and takes back control of the process ?
    In the meantime we need to get a decision for a People’s Vote and win the campaign.

  • Why does the cancellation of A50 get so little attention when it offers the quickest and least costly way out of the mess we are in? The ECJ has ruled that it would be legal and the member states have expressed their willingness to forgive and forget. With different levels of enthusiasm certainly, but all are open to us remaining and allowing us our benefits that were in place before the referendum.

    A people’s vote will offer the well funded exit supporters to engage in a new and no doubt better form of skulduggery to achieve their ends. Which, basically, is the ownership of the UK. It will be the top 10% (?) who will be the new owners, not the people, that is for sure. If JRM and his like have their way we will become a land of serfs and it will be ‘off to the workhouse’ for those who ‘choose’ to sleep in the streets.

    Revoke A50 and get busy rebuilding Britain to be ‘Great’ once again.

    Don’t forget, remaining in the EU does not remove our right to exit at a later date. If we stay in and take our time planning a better exit there is nothing to stop us doing it in the future if that is what we want.

  • We are starting to see the end of the chaotic and emotional, and agonising process of Brexit. Realities are now setting in.
    It is blatently obvious the majority of parliamentarians wish to ensure that the UK population is offered the open debate that it has been denied. The current desire is to push for Citizens Assemblies.
    In support of this, I’m looking forward to the day, very soon, when Article 50 will be revoked or extended to ensure that these assemblies can start their work.
    With a great sigh of relief ordinary citizens on both sides of the debate will be able to talk to each other in groups. I’m relaxed in the knowledge that they will collectively come to sensible conclusions about the course of action for the country to take. I’m sure that they’ll roundly embarass the likes of Corbyn, May or Rees-Mogg.
    During the debates, gone will be the influence of the utter nonsense reported in the pathetic, comic press and likewise the similar nonsense uttered from some politicians.
    In summary, despite the appearance of a grave political paralysis, I’m convinced the forces of intelligence will prevail.
    Roll on the Citizens Assemblies!! Roll on honesty and common sense!!