My article for the Scotsman on the democratic case for a ratification referendum. The article was written on 7th March 2019. You can also read the article on the Scotsman website here.
Time seems to be standing still in parliament as our politics is paralysed by the debate about Brexit. By this time next week, we will be 15 days away from leaving the European Union and only nine parliamentary sitting days and yet we are no further forward than when the Prime Minister pulled the original “meaningful” vote back on December 11 last year.
Nobody really knows where we will end up, but the Government has promised another “meaningful” vote on the Prime Minister’s deal by Tuesday, March 12 and then a selection of votes on subsequent days if, as expected, her deal fails to gain a majority in the House of Commons.
The following day Parliament will then vote on whether to reject a ‘no deal’ scenario. This should pass given that parliament has approved such a motion, albeit not binding on the Government, twice previously.
If MPs reject “no deal” in that vote, we would then be given a binding vote on what the Prime Minister has described as a “short limited extension” of Article 50.
Given the votes that Parliament has already undertaken, after this process, we will be in the position of having voted against the PM’s deal, for no “no deal”, and for no deadline. The consequence of this is that it takes us back to where we started with the parliamentary deadlock unbreakable.
We do know that there is a sizable majority to prevent a no deal. We know that there is a sizable majority against the Prime Minister’s deal. We know that there is a sizable majority to extend Article 50 as, whatever happens now, there is not enough time to deliver any outcome (apart from remaining a member of the EU and revoking Article 50 completely).
My best guess is that the Prime Minister will continue to run down the clock in order to blackmail MPs into supporting her deal versus a no deal. This has been her strategy all along but that is surely not the best way forward on an issue that will have far-reaching consequences for our country for generations to come.
Don’t forget that the Prime Minister promised in her now infamous Lancaster House speech early last year that the transition period from March 30, 2019 to the end of 2020 was for businesses and the public to implement the future relationship that was to be on the table and concluded by the time we left the EU.
That is now not the case and this transition period is to be used to negotiate the future relationship. I have argued since the very start of this process that the Government should take the instruction from the British people and implement that decision. They should then take the “deal” that has been negotiated and put that back to the people in a public affirmation vote. It is utterly democratic to say to the public: “Here is what leaving the European Union looks like. Is this what you wanted?”
There is a proposal by my close colleagues, Phil Wilson MP and Peter Kyle MP, to allow an affirmation vote to take place in return for allowing the PM’s deal to pass parliament. That would allow the public to measure the impact of this deal versus what we currently enjoy as a member of the EU. The public could then have their say and whatever they decide would become law automatically, therefore, removing the “neverendum” arguments.
This was the process used to approve the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and it worked well. The bottom line here is surely that the UK economy is suffering badly and that has a significant knock-on effect to the Edinburgh economy. Car companies are lining up to postpone or move production. Large and small employers alike are united in their concerns about the impact on their ability to create and retain jobs.
Let’s take the bold step next week and put this back to the people. Whatever they decide is what becomes law. That is fair and gives a fresh mandate to this ongoing catastrophe for our country.