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Analysis

Revoke Article 50 motion – powerful but flawed

by Nick Kent | 01.04.2019

The SNP have tabled a new version of their proposal to revoke Article 50. But while cancelling Brexit is in the national interest, we need to hold a People’s Vote before doing so – not afterwards.

One of the alternatives to the prime minister’s failed deal that MPs are debating today proposes revoking Article 50 and staying in the EU to avoid a no deal Brexit. (See Motion G). This motion comes on the day a separate Commons debate will be held on the petition to revoke Article 50, which has reached an astonishing six million signatures – the largest ever presented to Parliament.  

Pro-Europeans should support revoking Article 50. So much has changed since 2016. The Brexiters’ promises that we could have all the good things from EU membership, like free trade and security, none of the bad things (they meant immigration) and it wouldn’t cost us any money, have been shown up to be a pack of lies.  

Theresa May’s deal, fenced in by her “red lines”, offers us precious few of the advantages of EU membership and leaves the decision about what kind of relationship we should have with the EU until after we have left. And we now know that such a negotiation will take place under another prime minister we haven’t elected but someone chosen by Tory Party members.

The main purpose of Joanna Cherry’s motion is to prevent the UK crashing out without a deal by giving the government and the EU 24 hours on the 10/11 April to agree a further extension. If they can’t reach agreement, then Parliament would vote on a no deal Brexit – and if that were rejected, the government would have to revoke Article 50. So far so good.

It is after that point that Cherry’s motion is flawed because it provides for an inquiry into whether a new relationship with the EU would have the support of a majority of the British people. A referendum could then be held to ask whether or not to trigger Article 50 for a second time and renegotiate with the EU.

It is understandable that some MPs worry about the consequences of revoking Article 50, and would want the public to have their say. But the European Court of Justice judgment confirming the UK’s unilateral right to withdraw its notice to leave the EU made clear that we could only do so if we revoked in an “unequivocal and unconditional manner” (see paragraph 74).  Revoking must bring the process of withdrawal to an end – it can’t be a staging post, or a tactic to force the EU to give us a better deal. We have one chance to revoke, and if we do, we are staying in under our current membership terms.

The right way to cancel Brexit is to hold a referendum first and get the people to agree. Having driven into this mess via a referendum, we need another one to reverse out. Holding a People’s Vote would settle the question of our EU membership for a generation or more. That’s why MPs should unite behind the proposal for a confirmatory referendum today and enable us to revoke with the people behind us.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Revoke Article 50 motion – powerful but flawed”

  • Two things:

    Firstly, I agree we can’t use revocation simply as a way of getting more time, but I can imagine one circumstance in which we may have to do so without a people’s vote. If it came to the crunch (and we could not get a further extension) it may be the only way to avoid no deal. Unlikely perhaps, but not impossible.

    Secondly, I really think we should avoid the use of the ‘once in a generation’ rhetoric when talking about referendums. An issue needs to be revisited when the time is right – it might be 2 years, 50 years or never. There is no hard and fast rule as to how long a mandate should last. The idea of settling the question for a generation is usually a means of shutting down debate which is not good for democracy. How long is a generation anyway?

  • I think you could only go for a unilateral revocation of Art. 50 in an “in extremis” situation. This would be the case if we were hours away from dropping out of the EU with No deal. That would be the responsible thing to do in the national interest.

  • I am convinced that we are being far too timid about the option of revoking Article 50. This stems from my reluctance to accept the legitimacy of the referendum, let alone its result. The majority of the 34 million who voted in the referendum are unlikely to have their lives, security and prosperity radically affected by the result. One the other hand, those living in Ireland or Gibraltar and EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other EU countries will face enormous change and risk as a result of most Brexit scenarios. Many of these did not have a vote in the referendum despite having a much higher stake in the result. The morality of a referendum where a majority can vote against the interests of minorities is deeply suspect. Many people will have voted leave after due thought and consideration of interests other than their own. For others however, the vote, either way, will have been driven by notions, emotions and swayed by propaganda. What weight should be attached to these votes against the lives of those disrupted?
    We constantly hear of the duty to ‘honour’ the votes of 17.4 million. The ‘net’ vote in favour of leave, however, was no more than 1.3 million, far fewer than those, without a vote whose lives will be disrupted. The government and Parliament have a duty to act in the interests of all, but particularly those who are most vulnerable to the consequences of Brexit. They need the courage and support to revoke Article 50 rather than leaving matter to the lottery and uncertainties of a second referendum which will have many of the flaws of the first.