Still time to stop the Article 50
With an impasse ahead, it is imperative that Remainers in parliament focus on halting the Brexit timetable, says
BARNABY TOWNS, a former
Conservative party adviser
When the history of the Brexit crisis is written, the decision to trigger Article
50, setting the clock ticking on the UK’S departure from the EU – with no plan, preparation or consensus on the way forward – may rank as one of the greatest missteps.
Issued to impress Leave voters before last year’s general election misfire, and to underscore government red lines long since faded in the face of reality, its artificial time-limit increasingly threatens a chaotic and catastrophic no-deal exit. In terms of the self-inflicted loss of British power and influence it entails, Lord Heseltine has called it “the worst decision we have made since the war”.
As the country careens toward crashing out with no Withdrawal Agreement, no transition period, no trade deal and no settlement of legal and financial responsibilities, the European Court of Justice confirmed that the UK can unilaterally revoke the notice. The ruling arose from a case brought by a cross-party group of members of the Scottish parliament. Britain’s Supreme Court rejected a UK government bid to stop Europe’s top court from considering the issue, as it similarly turned down government arguments that issuing Article 50 did not require parliamentary approval.
Of course, when parliament held the Article 50 vote, both government and opposition imposed three-line whips – the strictest of parliamentary instructions to vote the party line. Nonetheless, 47 Labour MPS were joined by former chancellor Ken Clarke, the sole Tory rebel, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, seven Liberal Democrats and the SNP in voting against. But seeing as the government’s failure to agree a negotiating position and to get the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament cost precious time, more MPS now want to stop the clock to avert disaster.
In this, MPS are joined by former prime minister John Major, who warns that Article 50 must be revoked “with immediate effect” because “we need the most precious commodity of all: time”. His successor, Tony Blair, concurs, bluntly stating that “Britain will require an extension of time to the Article 50 process”. The intervention earned him, but not Major, a rebuke from Theresa May.
Yet the government’s delay on a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement leaves fewer than 90 days until the currently scheduled exit date. Even if, against all expectation and odds, sufficient numbers of opposition MPS and Tory hardliners enable it to pass, there still isn’t time for legislation to go through all parliamentary stages before March 29.
Once defeated, the government might consider a series of indicative – non-binding – parliamentary votes on various alternatives. These would likely include: the so-called Norway Plus destination of remaining in the EU’S internal market and customs union, but
WARNING: Former PM John Major