Pause to con­sider how to avoid Brexit dis­as­ter

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

In com­mon with other po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors, Jonathan Freed­land (Dis­as­ter looms. Can MPs act quickly enough to save us?, 12 Jan­uary) over­looks the one vi­able and con­sti­tu­tion­ally proper way out of the loom­ing dis­as­ter: a free vote in the House of Com­mons on a bill to re­peal as much of the With­drawal Act as des­ig­nates 29 March as “exit day”, and – now that the Euro­pean court of jus­tice has held it to be le­gally per­mis­si­ble – to re­voke or at least ex­tend the UK’s no­tice of with­drawal un­der ar­ti­cle 50.

It is prob­a­ble that a free vote of MPs would go in favour of re­main­ing in the EU, whether in­def­i­nitely or for long enough to re­con­sider the wis­dom of leav­ing. It’s also the case, de­spite the rhetoric about the will of the peo­ple, that MPs are at times pre­pared to vote ac­cord­ing to con­science: wit­ness the re­cent de­feat of a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill to fa­cil­i­tate as­sisted dy­ing, in the face of some­thing ap­proach­ing 80% pub­lic sup­port for such a mea­sure.

Par­lia­ment’s pro­cesses, how­ever, are not free or demo­cratic: they are in large part de­ter­mined and ma­nip­u­lated by the gov­ern­ment of the day and its whips. More po­tent even than the prospect of be­ing branded an en­emy of the peo­ple by the tabloids is the prospec­tive loss of min­is­te­rial of­fice, a full par­lia­men­tary pen­sion or a peer­age for long and un­ques­tion­ing ser­vice.

It is nev­er­the­less con­ceiv­able in the present cri­sis that the House of Com­mons, now hope­lessly trapped in a web of its own, the EU’s and the prime min­is­ter’s mak­ing, could in­sist on giv­ing its mem­bers an op­por­tu­nity to vote ac­cord­ing to con­science on an emer­gency bill to keep the UK for the present in the EU. Labour might do well to de­vote its en­ergy to this rather than to seek­ing a gen­eral elec­tion which will put it in charge of a fore­or­dained dis­as­ter. Stephen Sed­ley


Your ed­i­to­rial (9 Jan­uary) ar­gued that “Bri­tain should pause the ar­ti­cle 50 process and put Brexit on hold”. It is sim­ply not an op­tion that Bri­tain could ex­er­cise it­self as that word­ing im­plies. It is true that re­cent judg­ment of the Euro­pean court of jus­tice makes it clear that the UK can with­draw its in­ten­tion to leave uni­lat­er­ally and thus stay in the EU with all its opt-outs and mem­ber­ship rights. Yet this in­ten­tion to leave has to be “un­equiv­o­cal and unconditional”. It can­not be used to stop the clock and is quite dif­fer­ent from ask­ing for more time. This is ex­plic­itly cov­ered by the ar­ti­cle 50 pro­ce­dure in the EU treaties and re­quires unan­i­mous agree­ment from all EU27 mem­ber states. It is at least doubt­ful that such an agree­ment by all states would be forth­com­ing, es­pe­cially if the main pur­pose is to al­low West­min­ster more time to dis­cuss among it­self and thus pro­long uncer­tainty and costs to oth­ers.

The pa­tience of our EU part­ners is ex­hausted after what the gov­ern­ment has put them through since the ref­er­en­dum – and in­deed be­fore. Ar­ti­cle 50 does not men­tion any “pause” and it is un­likely that the EU27 would agree an un­lim­ited ex­ten­sion of ar­ti­cle 50. It is dan­ger­ous to cre­ate ex­pec­ta­tions that the EU27 will again bend over back­wards be­cause the with­drawal agree­ment ne­go­ti­ated with great ef­fort does not get through the Com­mons and the gov­ern­ment ran down the clock.

The ed­i­to­rial rightly com­plains about the lack of hon­esty of many MPs about what Brexit en­tails. I sug­gest it is time to be hon­est about what is ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble at this late stage in the process and the risks each op­tion in­volves. Pro­fes­sor Christoph Meyer

King’s Col­lege Lon­don

Tim­o­thy Gar­ton Ash (Labour must back a peo­ple’s vote be­fore the clock runs out, 11 Jan­uary) points out that ex­ten­sion of the ar­ti­cle 50 dead­line re­quires the unan­i­mous ap­proval of the EU27. Any ex­ten­sion nec­es­sary to al­low a peo­ple’s vote would have to go be­yond 23 May, the start date of the Euro­pean elec­tions. Such an ex­ten­sion would mean that UK cit­i­zens would have the right to vote in those elec­tions. Would the EU27 be likely to agree to that? Is this a lit­tleno­ticed prob­lem for a peo­ple’s vote? Michael Free­man

Nay­land, Suf­folk

In 1972 Tom Nairn ef­fort­lessly de­mol­ished “The strong left­wing case against the EU” (Let­ters, 10 Jan­uary) in his sem­i­nal New

Left Re­view ar­ti­cle, The Left Against Europe?

A na­tional, pa­tri­otic, anti-Europe Bri­tain, he ar­gued, would end up with not a left gov­ern­ment but a Pow­ellite one. “And in that case the left would turn out to be have been no more than the sor­cerer’s ap­pren­tice who had tem­po­rar­ily har­nessed the un­clean spir­its, only to be over­whelmed by them.”

That re­mains valid to this day. Dr Stephen Dor­ril

Netherthong, West York­shire

While the au­thors of the let­ter headed “Uni­ver­si­ties needn’t fear a no-deal Brexit” (9 Jan­uary) are cor­rect in stat­ing that it is pos­si­ble for non-EU coun­tries to ac­cess EU fund­ing (eg Hori­zon 2020), they’ve missed a cru­cial point. They ig­nore the point that to be el­i­gi­ble as an as­so­ci­ated coun­try with full ac­cess to fund­ing (as is the case with Nor­way, for ex­am­ple), strict cri­te­ria need to be met, in­clud­ing free move­ment of peo­ple. How likely do they think is this given that, fol­low­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, the prime min­is­ter’s state­ment said that the Brexit deal would “end free­dom of move­ment once and for all”? Pro­fes­sor Kirsty Park

Univer­sity of Stir­ling

What a de­light, on a page where ev­ery let­ter was about Brexit, to see the photo of an en­ve­lope with a com­mem­o­ra­tive stamp cel­e­brat­ing us join­ing the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ties in 1973 (Stamp of ap­proval?, 10 Jan­uary). Did any­one else no­tice it was posted on Valen­tine’s Day? Have we re­ally fallen out of love with Europe? Divorce im­mi­nent? Or could re­la­tion­ship coun­selling be an op­tion? Sally Bunce

Harpen­den, Hert­ford­srhire

The pa­tience of our Euro­pean Union part­ners is ex­hausted after what the gov­ern­ment has put them through Christoph Meyer

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