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Analysis

We need extra time – but not just to waste more time

by Hugo Dixon | 25.02.2019

Theresa May is wrong about many things, including how we don’t need to delay Brexit. Given that she has wasted so much time, most recently postponing the next vote on her deal until as late as March 12, there’s no way we can leave the EU on March 29 without chaos.

But the prime minister is right about one thing: delay on its own won’t achieve anything. Frittering away extra time without a plan would merely drag out the tiresome Brexit process. When and if she asks the EU to extend Article 50, it should be for a clear purpose – and the best reason would be so Parliament can ask the people what they want to do.

Although May doesn’t want to ask for extra time, she is under increasing pressure to do so. A cross-party group of backbenchers, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Tories’ Oliver Letwin, are planning to pass emergency legislation this week requiring her to do so. Three of her cabinet ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clarke – have suggested they will vote for this legislation.

The prime minister may try to head off this rebellion by doing a u-turn and promising herself to ask for a delay to Brexit, as the Evening Standard reports today. If she does, the potential rebels will need to examine her words extremely carefully – and not be fobbed off by inadequate promises. We must not crash out of the EU with no deal at all, or ask for too little extra time.

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Avoiding the abyss on March 29 is not enough. If the prime minister is merely forced to kick the can – and we find ourselves in a few months in pretty much the same position as we are now – we will use up what little goodwill remains with our EU friends.

The EU doesn’t want to reopen the deal, so more talks with it are pretty pointless. The prime minister doesn’t want to negotiate with Labour, so that’s another blind alley. Putting the same deal again and again to Parliament is also futile. By a process of elimination, the only remaining option will be to ask the people what they want.

This is the conclusion the Labour Party is increasingly coming to. Over the weekend a succession of senior figures – including John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Tom Watson, the deputy leader – suggested the party was close to backing a new referendum. Watson even suggested he might come to the Put It To The People march on March 23.

Parliament is deadlocked because the prime minister has not been able to negotiate a Brexit deal that bears any resemblance to the fantasy Boris Johnson et al promised three years ago – or is remotely as good as our current deal in the EU. The people have the right to say whether they still want to quit.

Organising a People’s Vote will take a few months. Now, that’s a good reason to ask for extra time.

The passage after the reference to the Evening Standard report was updated shortly after publication

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “We need extra time – but not just to waste more time”

  • May says the country has voted once already, so we can’t have another vote. Parliament should say the same thing to her – parliament has voted once on her deal already, she can’t bring it back again. Especially as it was so recent and so comprehensively defeated, unlike the referendum result.

  • May now cuts a pathetic figure. Hemmed in on all sides. A second vote is her only way out. As has been said, if she is that confident about her deal what has she to lose by putting it to a public vote? Corbyn needs to make a second vote official Labour policy. If he prevaricates anymore then he, too, is going to be under intense pressure to resign. What a great disappointment he has been in all of this. I think Chukka is right, Corbyn is not PM material any more than the hapless May.

  • Notice in taking questions after her statement in the Commons, how the PM refused to say how she and the Government would vote, if the No Deal option was put to Parliament. And, can we even trust her not to delay that vote again?