Navigating the Brexit Deadlock

Although the defeat for Theresa May’s Brexit deal was widely expected, one of this magnitude – the biggest government defeat ever in a parliamentary vote – was a surprise. Such a defeat – on the government’s flagship policy – is of enormous significance.

Morally, it should signal the end of this government – something that would be have been taken has read before the Fixed Term Parliament Act; but this is now far from certain. The subsequent Vote of No Confidence showed that the Tory rebels – including those who only last month voted to try to oust the PM – were willing to get behind her to avoid a general election. So were the ten DUP MPs who keep this minority Conservative government afloat. Despite detesting her Brexit deal, they all voted with rank hypocrisy to keep May in place.

But as newsworthy and unpredictable as the situation in Westminster is, it must not be forgotten that the implications of the current deadlock over Brexit is having a profoundly damaging impact on the ordinary people of the UK, including the three million EU27 citizens living here. While there is no clarity over what will happen in just ten weeks’ time there is a growing risk to people’s jobs, their families, their businesses – and possibly their lives if there are shortages in medicines as a result of the country defaulting into a no-deal Brexit.

Clearly, a majority in Parliament wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but having just thrown out the only deal on the table, what can they do? There are logically just two other possibilities: finding an Alternative Deal or Stopping Brexit.

An Alternative Deal requires quickly finding a broad consensus in Parliament to back something workable and acceptable to the other 27 EU countries. Not likely in the current configuration of Parliament, but in principle possible if there is a general election in which Labour wins a comfortable majority and finds a consensus behind such an Alternative. Not easy.

But if there is no Alternative Deal, then the only way to avoid disaster is to stop Brexit itself. Legally easy, but politically it requires a referendum.

There is not yet a parliamentary majority for a second referendum, and some MPs argue strongly against it. But if there is no majority for any other option, a referendum becomes increasingly more likely to be seen as the only way out of an impasse.

Indeed, not having a new referendum is beginning to look undemocratic. It is tantamount to saying to voters that they had their say 3 years ago, so must now shut up. Even though Brexit is turning out to be very different from what they were promised, the electorate must lump it. That is surely not tenable!

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11 Comments

  1. Perhaps solution would be to convince Liddington and Hammond and other pro-remain cabinet members to resign and spearhead a cross- party movement to cancel the No-Deal option and then call for a third Referendum (The first took place in 1973).

    • I absolutely agree. As Richard says it is legally easy. If it is so politically difficult, think about the fact that the people who will be angry about it will be the same people who will be angry about losing a third referendum, so why not just get it over with? It is the only thing that can be done by the March 29 deadline.

      Persuading Theresa May to do it would be good.

  2. From the beginning—and you’ve explained it very well—Cameron and May have one goal: to keep their party together. And remain Prime Minister as far as Mrs May is concerned.
    But let me ask you these : do you belong to the same party as Mr. Corbyn ? Because it seems to me that Europe, Ireland, etc. is secondary to him. He wants to be Prime Minister and seems to be for Brexit so as not to risk dissatisfying some of the Labour voters…

  3. As a parliamentary democracy we elect politicians to make decisions on important and complex issues like membership of the EU. Public opinion is so easily manipulated by advertising and the black arts of the ‘social media’ that I think it is unsafe to make important political decisions by ‘referendum’. Having said that, we are now in the unfortunate position that having held one referendum in 2016 politicians think they are ‘bound’ by the majority vote to leave the EU, even though only 37% of the electorate who voted leave. Politicians will not simply renounce the result of that referendum because they think they would then be open to the accusation of being anti-democratic. For that reason, it seems inevitable that the only way to change the decision is by another referendum. It seems to me that any future referendum would need to be very clear and very specific and would need to be a simple binary choice between remaining in the EU under present terms or leaving the EU under the best possible agreement that could be negotiated (perhaps agreed or guaranteed by a cross-party panel of MP’s). Leaving without an agreement is absurd and should be ruled out completely!

  4. The only alternative seems to me to be a deliberative process such as a citizen’s assembly, like the one Ireland used to resolve abortion. Either way, A50 needs revoking, and a new timetable drawn up with decisions made at a future General Election. Let’s say the assembly works until Summer 2020, then a GE happens in Autumn. That might work. Parties can position themselves relative to the outcome of the assembly, making the choice belong to the people, but informed by deliberative process. I’m not sold on this completely, so would welcome comments on the idea. It sidesteps the impasse, and means for now at least we would remain part of the EU and participate again in Euro Elections this year. Is that impossible now?

  5. I agree with your analysis. Arguments that a second referendum would be too devisive are false. They are capitulation to the threats of the far right.
    I want to discuss strategies on how the vote to’Remain’ can be won!

  6. I agree with Stephen Townsley :Revoke article 50 & return to square one.This would, as I understand, be allowed, & acceptable to the EU, as long as parliament agreed

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