by Roger Casale
Founder and Secretary-General of New Europeans and Former Member of the UK Parliament
16th October 2019
This article was first published on Euro Babble.
The Brexit debate in the UK has never been about reason and logic. For many protagonists on both sides of the argument, it is not really about Europe either.
Brexit has become a cipher for who has power in Britain. The paradox is that those who stand to lose most from Brexit, are often to be found on the “leave” side of what has in fact become a tribal debate.
Is there a logical way out of the Brexit cul-de-sac? Or will the issue continue to play havoc with UK politics and society for years to come?
And at what cost to the UK economy and to Britain’s standing around the world?
The organisation I lead, New Europeans, thinks there is. But there has to be a compromise.
Theresa May famously said that “Brexit means Brexit.” But for Boris Johnson it is pretty clear that “Brexit means Boris.”
Rarely has an issue of such importance been subject to the narcissistic whims of one man.
So the first, logical, step that must be taken if the UK is to find an “exit from Brexit” is to replace Boris Johnson and his ministers with a Government of National Unity (GNU).
This can only be achieved in the UK system if the new caretaker Prime Minister of such a government of national unity can command a majority in the House of Commons.
So the second step would be to invite the leader of the opposition to form a government.
Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn is almost as divisive a figure as Brexit itself. Were it not for the fact that he insists that he must be the caretaker Prime Minister, it is quite likely that a government of national unity would have formed already.
Logic tells us that this issue is resolvable. It is a matter of sequencing.
If Corbyn’s name is nominated and he fails to achieve a majority then a new name can come forward – eg John Bercow, Ken Clarke or Margaret Beckett.
Once a government of national unity is in place then the third logical step comes into play.
This involves reviving the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form – that is to say the deal negotiated and agreed by Theresa May. A new agreement is unlikely to cement the unity of the new caretaker government.
By voting for the agreement, MPs can discharge their duty which derives from the promises they made at the referendum. They are not obliged to deny the British public a say on the final terms of the agreement before the UK actually leaves the European Union.
This brings us to the fourth logical step in the argument. In the legislation to secure the Withdrawl Agreement, there should be a ‘sunset clause’ making it a requirement for there to be a “confirmatory referendum” before the Act becomes operational.
The fifth and final step concerns the confirmatory referendum itself. This must be a choice between “Remain” on the one hand and “Leaving on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement” on the other.
The biggest challenge Britain faces is not how to stay in Europe but rather how to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.
That is why the confirmatory referendum should exclude “no deal” as an option.
Those advocating for a no-deal Brexit should be exposed for who they are: chancers, charlatans, extremists. They have as little sense of reality as they do of the national interest. Their agenda is not “to take back control from Brussels”, it is “to take control of Britain”.
A debate is to be had between those who wish to see Britain remain a member of the EU and others who want the UK to leave in an orderly way. So far that debate has been completely drowned out.
It may be that with a confirmatory referendum process as set out above, the UK will still vote to leave the EU. If it does so, it will be on the basis of a clear understanding of the withdrawal agreement in the knowledge that there will be no further debate about the terms of that agreement.
If such a referendum materialises, I will campaign for remain. But whatever the outcome, I would be hugely relieved if the national catastrophe of a no deal Brexit had been avoided.