If the government presses ahead without legitimising its Brexit agreement in a popular vote, millions will fight backby Vince Cable / January 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
Brexit is generating conflicting passions: boredom and rage. And there are at least 15 months to go, perhaps even years if a “transition” leads to the can being kicked down the road.
There should be a point when the negotiations crystallise into an agreement. We can then form a view as to whether Brexit will be “good,” “bad,” “soft,” “hard,” “aligned,” “non-aligned” or one of the numerous other variants being advocated or denounced.
At the very least, in the coming months, there should be a clearer indication as to whether Britain will opt for a very close trading relationship with the EU in some variant of the Norwegian or Swiss arrangements or drift apart into what is called a Canada type agreement. The EU, which has so far been an impressively united team of 27 facing a disunited Conservative “team” of one, has made it clear that this is the stark choice.
Either will be immensely difficult politically, since both the divided Conservative cabinet and the divided Labour opposition will be forced, for the first time, to take definite positions: to continue with free movement (as in the Norwegian model); to jettison the interests of the financial services community if we leave the Single Market; to honour or breach the commitment to avoid a “hard” border in Ireland; to agree to meet the divorce settlement with only very limited freedom of trade.
It will be a test of Conservative and Labour tribalism as to whether they survive intact the process of making those painful choices. One test will come when parliament is given a “meaningful vote” on the outcome. When MPs secured this vote it was a bad defeat for the Conservatives but it’s not totally clear what has been agreed.
If the “meaningful vote” is to reject the negotiated agreement, what happens then? Does the government go back and negotiate again? Do we “crash out” of the EU with no agreement? Is the alternative choice the status quo ante: terminating the Article 50 process and an “exit from Brexit”?
It is the last which should be an option in a “meaningful” choice. But it raises the important question of whether parliament can make such a choice without going…