The Channel 4 debate last night showed how the alternatives are crumblingby Peter Kellner / December 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Sherlock Holmes would have understood. In The Sign of Four, he famously told Dr Watson: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
The Brexit saga is not a murder mystery, but Holmes’s logic remains: if MPs reject Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement decisively, all the options for leaving the European Union on 29thMarch will be impossible—politically, if not theoretically. The only sane option that will remain is for parliament to seek an extension of the March deadline and ask the people whether they still want Brexit after all.
Last night’s debate on Channel 4 underlined this point. One by one, the alternatives crumbled.
– James Cleverley, for the government, could not answer Jacob Rees-Mogg’s argument that the Withdrawal Agreement contained 68 pages of EU rules that would put Northern Ireland on a different footing than the rest of the UK. When Labour’s Barry Gardiner said the prime minister’s deal would be worse for the economy than continued EU membership, Cleverley did not contest the point: he said merely that the economy would continue to grow—as if anaemic under-performance would be something to boast about.
– Gardiner managed to keep an impressively straight face when he said that Labour would be able to negotiate a deal that maintained all the benefits of the single market and customs union without incurring the costs and responsibilities of EU membership. Asked directly whether Labour’s approach would be better for the economy than EU membership, he was honest enough to duck the question, rather than lie and say “yes” or commit political suicide and say “no.”
– Rees-Mogg evaded the practical consequences of a hard Brexit altogether. He talked of sovereignty and trust and the need to honour the result of the 2016 referendum. Challenged on the difficulties of UK exporters and importers trading under World Trade Organisation rules, he struggled to give a plausible account of how this would work. Wisely, he did not even try to challenge the estimates that his form of Brexit would leave many people worse off—not least the millions of voters who, suffering from austerity, voted for Brexit two years ago.
(The programme did not include an advocate of the Norway-plus option. Had it…