Only a People’s Vote offers a way out of this impasse
In 2016, Leave had no plan. So, no matter that the referendum was not billed as two-stage, the task of Government was to prepare a plan and put it to the people for decision. Parliament’s rôle is to review the plan. London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg argues the Government’s deal is a real-world Brexit. So it should be put to the people along with Remain.
Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson have a plan
The two Labour MPs have proposed that MPs, including those who think Brexit is an historic mistake, should vote through Mrs May’s deal with the proviso that the people are then given their say on it, in a confirmatory public vote. A variant is that Labour would agree to abstain on a motion confirming the deal, provided that it also called for a referendum
I have not seen a text, so we need to wait for that.
We should agree the principle. Here’s why.
Few people like the deal
No Remainer likes it. Not many Leavers like it. The Yes votes have largely come from the payroll vote: Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries who would have to resign if they opposed it.
The deal represents an actual Brexit plan
It’s real. It exists. It can be delivered.
Reflecting Theresa May’s own priorities, the deal follows one particular interpretation of what Brexit means: cut immigration, at the lowest economic cost.
The Withdrawal Agreement also as far as any Brexit can: preserves peace in Northern Ireland; safeguards many of the interests of those currently taking up freedom of movement; honours our debts; and offers a transition period.
Well, not quite a plan as such
The non-binding political declaration leaves the actual post-Brexit future relationship wide open, meaning years of negotiations, and bringing problems for a referendum. Jeremy Corbyn’s customs union – anyway not that different from Theresa May’s plan - could be implemented without any problem; so could Nick Boles’ Norway Plus. Even Boris Johnson’s Canada Plus could be implemented for Great Britain, with a customs border in the Irish Sea.
The only Brexit that the deal actually rules out is a hostile relationship with the EU (we can assume that after a No-deal Brexit the EU would not sign a friendly UK-level Canada FTA because it would wish to have the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement).
The deal also rules out the idea that we can have our cake and eat it. While that is still a popular option, more people are realising that Brexit requires trade-offs.
The mandate from 2016 was to create a plan
Under the heading “A once in a generation decision”, the Government leaflet sent to households in April 2016 said “The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union. … This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.”
So there is no doubt: 2016 conveyed a clear political mandate to implement the decision.
But what did voters decide in 2016? To Leave. But that – as is obvious from the struggle of the past 32 months to give it content – did not mean anything. Leave had no plan. You cannot implement an idea. Those who claim to have a unique insight into what Leave voters meant have no evidence to back up their view. For example, well over half of 2016 Leave voters thought we would retain all the trade benefits of the single market.
So the mandate was to create a plan. True, that is not how the referendum was designed or billed. But given that Leave had no plan we cannot be committed to following whatever plan is later cooked up – especially when it bears no resemblance to any of the Brexits offered in 2016. No plan, no mandate for a plan!
So the task for the Government was to create a plan
They could have done it all so much better: an open discussion of intentions and desires, of aims and values. A realistic assessment of options. Some honesty with the electorate.
Instead, even now, we are still dealing with people who simply refuse to accept the realities of power, of how the world works, of what the EU is, of Britain’s place in the world, of how trade works. The list of what many MPs in both main parties and many voters refuse to accept is lengthy.
But we are where we are. The Government now has a plan.
Parliament’s rôle is to review the deal
Parliament’s task is like that of anyone reviewing a project plan: does it work? Does the plan cohere? And how does it compare with the other options – including do-nothing.
The deal clearly passes the test for being a real-life Brexit.
The people are the ultimate decision-makers
Once Parliament set up the referendum, decision-making power passed to the people.
So Parliament should certify that the deal is a deliverable Brexit and send it to the people for decision.
Do-nothing (Remain in the EU in this case) is always an option on any project review.
A third of the country demands no-deal
No-deal too is a deliverable Brexit, albeit a poor policy (and no, voters do not generally think it means Remain).
We have to heal the country afterwards. So everyone must feel that they had a fair hearing. So no-deal should also be on the ballot paper. That would also lead ERG MPs to back a referendum rather than the deal.
The vote would need to be staged in two rounds to achieve a fair result (Round 1 chooses the best available Brexit, Round 2 chooses between best Brexit and Remain).
What matters is that we have a referendum with Remain on the ballot paper. Parliament should approve the best actually available Brexit to be set before the people.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Vice-Chair Nick Hopkinson. Articles reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.