Contradiction was baked into the Brexit result from the start. Now, its contradictions have proved irreconcilableby Jolyon Maugham / March 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
Later this week, Parliament will reject two models of Brexit: the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement and No Deal. And if it is invited to vote on some other model, by amendment selected by the Speaker, it will reject that too.
So where do we go next?
The truth is that this was baked in from the start. To get over the line, the Leave campaign was forced to make contradictory promises. “You can shut out globalisation if we leave the EU”—that’s what its victims were told. But at the very same time, to win the votes and money of a different constituency, using the language of “new trade deals” and “scrapping red tape” the Leave campaign ushered that globalisation in.
These contradictions are a matter of record. Here’s what Vote Leave’s own Campaigns Director said: “Eurosceptic groups have been divided for years about many of the basic policy and political questions.” And he went on to suggest that to try and resolve that dispute in its Brexit campaign would open “an unwinnable debate.”
Any mandate cast in such a foundry is bound to shatter when exposed to the thermal shock of reality. The last two years have taught us that there is no stable consensus to be found. And nor will some Open Sesame emerge as if by magic during some short extension.
So what are we left with? An accidental No Deal which Parliament does not want—and even the Prime Minister admits would not deliver on the result of the referendum? Or is there some alternative?
After two years stuck in a political cul de sac we need to find both another way forward and the time to take it.
We have missed so many chances to talk about what sort of a country we want to be. We could have fixed on an alternative before the referendum vote. Even after June 2016 there were chances for the Prime Minister to seek a consensus in Parliament. But instead she sought to impose red lines of her own devising—and has been repaid with a harsh lesson in the realities of Parliamentary democracy.
We have already paid a heavy price for these failures. But it is not too late for a national conversation about what sort of a country we want to be—the machinery does not matter—a Citizens’ Jury or a Reconciliation Commission. That result could then be put back to the people. Or we could simply retrigger Article 50 with an agreed plan and swift negotiations. We could even decide to Remain.
Some say this exercise would require the EU’s consent. They fear that the EU wants an end to the uncertainty and so would not agree. Article 50, it is true, says that without the unanimous consent of the other 27 Member States we cannot extend the March deadline.
But we do have the right to revoke. The Wightman decision makes it clear we can decide just to pull the Article 50 notice. It puts power back into the hands of our own Parliament—where it belongs. Revoking would be an expression of our national sovereignty, and so long as we trigger with no settled intention to re-notify, I believe no legal objection could be taken. And we would retain the benefit of all the opt-outs and rebates we presently enjoy. Nothing would be lost.
We must stay the hands on the Article 50 clock. There is no alternative. We much revoke and reconsider.