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The point of transition?
13 Jul, 2018

To soften Brexit

Any campaigning now for a soft Brexit just undermines the argument to Remain. That should be left to the transition period. Our task now is campaign to Remain. London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes.

Hopes

Mainly I hope there is no transition period because we obtain and then win convincingly the people’s vote where individual voters address the EU membership question so that we Remain in the EU. You can sign up here for the People’s Vote campaign.

But what if we lose?

Fears

I do worry that the transition will be full of people saying “Oh, have we left already? I thought that would not be until 31 December 2020.”.

The standstill transition and Brexiters’ complaints about it have misled some people – even Gina Miller - into thinking that Brexit day comes at the end of the transition period. It doesn’t. Brexit day is set for 29 March 2019. We would then be out of the EU. Transition would be an initial period of our relationship as a 3rd country.

There is a real risk here. People are bored of Brexit. Rafael Behr in the Guardian fears that we are sleepwalking into it.

But on 29 March 2019 we would be out. The time to stop Brexit is now.

What the transition period is really for

As part of the Withdrawal Package there will be an agreed Framework of Future Relations between the UK and the EU. That will be a political commitment, rather than a treaty. It will be politically but not legally binding.

It will also be contingent. Essentially it will say: given these red lines from the UK and these red lines from the EU, that will be the future relationship. But if those red lines change, the future relationship would also be different.

It is in the transition period that the UK and the EU would really hammer out their new relationship for the end of the transition period, provisionally set for 1 January 2021.

That sound of hammering would be a noise to which we would have to become accustomed. The newly super-sovereign UK would devote a great deal of its political life to wondering what the EU was going to do, trying to tug the EU’s coat-sleeves to be heard in order to influence what the EU did, and then responding to what the EU had decided to do – in a decision made with the UK out of the room.

That negotiation in the transition period would be the time to argue for the softest possible Brexit, for the greatest possible engagement with the EU, for participation in whatever agency or programme will have us, for joining the single market and a customs union. Easy-ish trade with add-ons would then be the best we can achieve.

Let’s not be distracted now

Right now, however, we have not left. Brexit is not a done deal, the Article 50 notice may be withdrawn, Remain is an option on the table. So any talk of a soft Brexit is support for Brexit.

We should not be distracted by lobby groups calling for a soft Brexit, but should devote all our efforts to campaigning for Remain.

We should not applaud the Labour party when it campaigns for a softening of Brexit. What they are doing is positioning themselves for a general election in which they will support Brexit but promise to do it better than the Conservatives.

We should applaud all parties – including Labour when they do it – who campaign for processes that would allow more democratic control over the decision whether we Leave the EU. But we should save our greatest applause for those individuals and parties campaigning to Remain and for a people’s vote with the option to Remain.

Remain is the prize, because we believe in the EU as the great European peace project, the Continent-wide project to support freedom and democracy, the mechanism for bringing people and peoples closer together. Prosperity is important, but in comparison with these ideals is just a means to an end. We reject Leavers’ view of the EU as a common market with ideas above its station.

Conclusion

There would be no early re-entry into the EU. We would be out for ages. Even in the transition period re-entry would mean the whole accession procedure. The British public would wish to give Brexit a go.

Any truck now with a soft Brexit undercuts our argument for Remain. We should avoid it. If Brexit happens, it could be softened during the transition period – that’s what it is for.

The time to stop Brexit is now, before 29 March 2019.

Our task now is to campaign for a people’s vote with the option to Remain in the EU so that individual voters can address that question on the ballot paper. Remain is the answer.

 

 

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