Whilst I’ve been travelling up and down the country this past week, I noticed that our political system is, to put it very lightly, creaking under the pressure of finally having to make some decisions.
As with the whole of this mess over the last few years, what’s been lost in all of the debate is any sort of detail about where we (i.e. the UK) actually want to get to in the future. Whatever kind of relationship with the EU we eventually end up with will, in almost utmost certainty, be worse than what we currently have (if we want to leave the club, we will have to go without the benefits of membership, and since we’re not planning on joining another club, we will inevitably find ourselves worse off), but the nature of that future relationship is actually still to be negotiated, isn’t it? In fact, I think it will consume British politics for the next decade, at the likely expense of the vast majority of other domestic issues.
After yet another crushing yet apparently irrelevant defeat (irrelevant to her continuing as prime minister of a government that cannot govern) in the commons on Thursday, where MP’s passed a motion requiring the government to seek an extension to the article 50 deadline, May correctly told the house that, regardless of the motion rejecting No Deal, our options remain essentially unchanged - it’s May’s deal, No Deal, or no Brexit. So, as my title pertinently asks, where do we go from here? Given everything that’s happened this week, what are our options? Largely the same as they were. May’s deal, No Deal or no Brexit.
If we want to definitively rule out No Deal, but do not wish to back May’s deal, then our only choice is to revoke article 50 (as we can do so unilaterally) - MP’s rejecting it as an option in the commons does not change the legal reality of our current situation. We can seek an extension from the EU, but they are surely unlikely to grant us a significant one at no cost (France, for example, might demand some concessions on fishing rights, for example). So we’ll likely get one up to the European elections, if the EU feel like being nice, but nothing more. Perhaps May is actually playing her limited hand quite smartly - Brexit backing MP’s will probably climb down and back her deal at the last minute (next week?), rather than risk no Brexit.
At this stage, a second referendum appears to have very little support in the commons, so that’s probably not going to save us. Indeed, I’m not at all convinced a re-running of the 2016 referendum would do us any favours - if the result is narrow to remain, that will cause further turmoil (with likely calls from the Leave side for another referendum in the near future) at a time when we desperately need to find a way to come together as a country, and if Leave wins again, we’d have wasted a lot of time and political energy, only to find the hard-Brexiters emboldened and progressive politics in tatters.
If you asked me what I think we should so, it would be something like this;
Revoke article 50.
Convene a citizens assembly to examine and propose the various future relationships we could have with the EU when we leave.
Hold a referendum on the options (with a system of ranked voting).
Implement the result.
I might also add ‘Hold a general election’ between points two and three, as our current government is unable to govern, but it would potentially upset Brenda from Bristol again… And any promises made surrounding Brexit during the campaigning period could complicate things as well.
Ultimately, it appears, to me, to be the deadline part of article 50 that advantages the EU so greatly - they can always say ‘That’s it, no more negotiations.’ and start running the clock down, with the threat of No Deal on the horizon (as May appears to have realised, this can also now work for her too - that it shafts the UK appears not to bother her). If we revoke article 50, we can at least buy ourselves some time to decide what we want, before starting the process of trying to secure it.
Corbyn and the Labour leadership have been rubbish these past two years. It’s time to pick a lane, please. The tactical vagueness policy may have worked for a little while, but it is now making you all look like idiots without a clue.
My plan would require a highly skilful politician to sell this plan to the electorate, and avoid being labelled an ‘Enemy of the people!” for, in all intents and purposes, cancelling Brexit (albeit on a nominally temporary basis). You may now be noticing the rather large flaw in my plan. Oh well.