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All to Play For
22 Oct, 2019

There is one point on which Leavers and Remainers can agree: we have all had enough. However, supporting the Brexit deal will only prolong the Brexit uncertainty, argues Vice Chair Nick Hopkinson.

There were arguably four relatively easy predictions in the past four days: the Letwin amendment would pass; Saturday’s People’s Vote march would again be large (officially one million); Boris Johnson would send an extension request to the EU but do everything possible to try to undermine it, and any attempt by the Government to move a meaningful vote on Monday 21 October would be turned down by Speaker Bercow and thus delayed until the scrutiny process, such as it is, was completed.

Boris Johnson's deal is clearly even worse for our country than Theresa May’s miserable deal. It is certainly far removed from what was promised to the people in the 2016 referendum. Nobody voted for the loss of jobs, our children to have fewer opportunities, having to pay more for food, having less money for public services, and the loss of international influence. The British people should be given a final say to confirm whether this is what they voted for in 2016, and what they want in the future. 

Unfortunately, it appears there may be a narrow majority for the deal in Parliament which has effectively unified Conservative MPs. Particularly worrying are up to 20 Labour MPs such as Jim Fitzpatrick, John Cruddas, Caroline Flint, and Stephen Kinnock who are expected to back the Government. They are severely mistaken to do so on two counts.

Boris Johnson's deal only delays a No Deal Brexit to the end of 2020. Brexiter John Baron MP confirmed as much when citing a conversation with the Prime Minister implying crashing out of the EU is a real option after the transitional period ends .

Furthermore, provisions for keeping pace with higher EU working and environmental standards have been transferred from the Withdrawal Agreement to the non-binding political declaration. As Labour MPs, they should be opposing the loss of jobs, the erosion of working rights, and any agreement which sanctions a No Deal Brexit.

Even if new trade deals are eventually agreed, any benefits will be outweighed by the far greater loss of export markets in the EU and countries with which the EU27 already has trade agreements such as Canada and Japan. As one distinguished former diplomat said, it's like “trading a three course lunch for the promise of a packet of crisps”. 

There is one point on which Leavers and Remainers can agree: we have all had enough. However, supporting the Brexit deal will only prolong the Brexit uncertainty. The quickest and best way to end the uncertainty is to stop the source of the problem: Brexit itself. It would be far better to resolve the country’s Brexit impasse once and for all through a confirmatory People's Vote with a choice between two existing options:  the Government's sub-optimal deal and the current best deal we already have (staying in the EU).

The Government however is clearly trying to railroad the bill to implement the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. Some expect the Government’s Programme Motion for an unreasonably short scrutiny period will be narrowly defeated later today. Johnson would then lose more momentum as MPs gain more time to scrutinise, and hence unpick, legislation. If the Government fails to win, some believe Johnson will use it as a pretext to push again for a General Election.

Thanks to the Letwin amendment, the implementation bill will be subject to amendments before a straight yes/no meaningful vote at the end of the process. Key amendments could make it make more difficult for the Government to hold its narrow coalition together:

  1. A Customs Union: there is good support for a closer economic relationship with the EU, notably a Customs Union, but many Conservatives fear that supporting any such amendment could undermine the Government’s deal as it may erode the newly found support of the European Research Group (ERG) for a deal. Having said that, leading members of the 20 or so Labour Group for a Deal are supporting an amendment with the “objective of a Customs Union” which could weaken Johnson’s consensus for a deal.
  2. Ruling out a No deal Brexit after 31 December 2020: trade deals take several years to negotiate. The EU-Canada agreement for example took eight years to ratify but the Withdrawal Agreement allows effectively only 15 months. We shall have considerably less negotiating leverage as an economy with only 3% of global GDP outside the EU without any major trade deals. Other countries are unlikely to conclude substantial agreements with us until they see what deal we can conclude first with the EU. In light of this, former Chancellor Philip Hammond has argued the new agreement is a “heavily camouflaged no deal”. We can therefore expect MPs to propose an amendment to the deal giving Parliament the ability to extend the transition period.
  3. A People’s Vote on the deal: MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson have previously tabled amendments proposing the sensible compromise accepting a deal subject to another referendum. There is growing, but probably still not quite yet a majority, support for such an amendment. Thanks to the hard work of the People’s Vote campaign, including London4Europe and its members and supporters, Labour official policy has shifted significantly to advocating a referendum on any Brexit Deal agreed by Parliament. A confirmatory vote remains strongly resisted by the Government, but it remains a real possibility. So please continue writing to your MP, especially as a General Election is unlikely to resolve the Brexit impasse.

Furthermore, talk of a Government of National Unity (GNU) has gone quiet recently. There was simply not the support for Jeremy Corbyn, even as a caretaker Prime Minister, in Parliament, notably amongst the 21 independent Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Johnson's request to extend Article 50 appears to be regarded as valid and will be considered by the European Council President. EU decision making bodies are sensibly biding their time given the fluidity of the situation in Parliament. The European Parliament, which must also ratify the agreement, has stated it will not ratify the Treaty this week. In spite of some noises to the contrary (e.g. from President Macron), it is believed the EU Council would grant an extension, especially if there is no sign of an agreement on the deal in Westminster. The issue is more how long any extension would be. If the deal is agreed soon in Parliament, a short technical extension is likely. If a General Election appears likely, an extension could be to the end of January 2020. If a People’s Vote emerges as the last option available, we could be looking at an extension to 30 June 2020.

There is still all to play for, and still so much you can do to help stop Brexit. Please contact us on and do volunteer. We should be pleased to explore ways we can work together. If you can do only one thing, please make a(nother) last minute appeal to your MP. It is only takes three minutes using this template.

Lastly one specific appeal. If you have access to a free or inexpensive meeting space in Central London in the early evenings for 8-10 people, your London4Europe committee would greatly appreciate hearing from you so we can convene our 6 annual committee meetings.   

Nick Hopkinson
Vice Chair, London4Europe

Disclaimer: The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of London4Europe.