Will the EU grant another extension?
London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg fears that the EU might not grant another extension unless there is a concrete plan for a referendum. So we – the Labour Party especially - need to get on with it, not wait until the party conferences in September.
What the EU would like
I am sure that what the EU would most like is that the UK abandons Brexit and becomes a whole-hearted, committed member of the club.
That option is not available.
There is no realistic Remain option which does not include the UK having a large minority of the population that is disaffected with the EU and angry about being deprived of what it felt had been its entitlement of Brexit.
So the UK in the EU would be a fractious, problematic member, forever trying to hinder EU initiatives and grandstanding anti-EU lines.
Even so, I believe that most EU countries would rather have us in than out.
What the EU really would not be wiling to have is either the UK continuing to shilly-shally on Brexit; or the UK ostensibly remaining in the EU but actually gearing up for Brexit Mark II.
Will the EU grant another extension in October?
No-one knows. We know that last time President Macron was not keen. And even the greatest advocate that the UK has in the Council, President Tusk, was not optimistic that good would come of it. He pleaded with us “Please do not waste this time”. But we have.
The Conservatives have indulged in a fatuous leadership contest as though changing the personnel would change the world. Candidates have vied in promising undeliverable outcomes.
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has come up with successive vague and contradictory positions on a referendum, all of which he describes as clear and constant. Even after the European Parliament elections he was still ambiguous about whether the “public vote on any deal” he supported was a general election or a referendum. He offered no clue as to the choreography of a Labour government, its Brexit negotiation and any referendum.
Members of the Labour party are trying to change policy in the September conference. There are organisations you can join to support that.
So the end of October is likely to see the UK with a new Conservative leader who has promised several undeliverable Brexits; and a Labour leader who desires Brexit but not as much as he hopes to get into Downing Street on the back of Conservative chaos. We will be no further forward.
Again we will face a limited set of choices:
- No-Deal – the default unless both Parliament and the EU agree on an alternative;
- Brexit with the deal;
- Revocation; and
But why would the EU agree an extension of more than a few weeks to allow everyone to get ready for the problems of No-Deal?
The most likely reason is for what is called in EU-speak a “democratic event”: a general election or a referendum.
A general election?
Labour wants a general election – how else will Jeremy Corbyn get into Downing Street? Boris Johnson might want an election – honeymoon - and see off the Brexit Party before the failure (one way or another) of the Conservatives’ Brexit policy. The Liberal Democrats and Greens – buoyed up by recent electoral successes – want a general election to strengthen their hands.
But a general election cannot settle Brexit. Elections answer the question: who should form the government? They are not there to settle a single policy. The main parties are divided on EU membership, though the official line of both parties is pro-Brexit. First Past the Post means it would require a leap of faith by the electorate to back Remain parties.
A referendum is the answer
But that is opposed by Conservatives; Jeremy Corbyn is focussed on a general election. Even after the 18 June 2019 Cabinet meeting it is not clear whether Corbyn is committed to a referendum.
The best way of obtaining an extension would be for the UK to go to the EU27 with a plan for holding a referendum. But for that to be convincing, the plan needs to exist. For the plan to have any hope in the present Parliament it needs to be backed by Labour. That means that Labour activists seeking to change policy need to set their sights on a change of policy now, not in September.
The essential focus of their campaigning should be that Labour should back a referendum (not the ambiguous “public vote” which might mean a general election) on any deal, so including a Labour-backed deal. And that it should include Remain as an option.
Questions on which side to support in the referendum can be left until later. There is an obvious lesson for a divided party from 1975: the party machinery should be neutral and individual MPs free to choose which side to support.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author, not necessarily of London4Europe