03 Apr Let MPs come up with a deal and give voters the final say
Life is rarely a struggle between an obvious right and an obvious wrong; it is usually a struggle between rival versions of the good. The same can be said of politics.
Last night two Conservative colleagues delivered their version of the good or, at least, the “not-as-bad-as-might-be-expected”. Kenneth Clarke made the case for a customs union. Nick Boles argued for a Common Market 2.0, known as the “Norway-plus option”.
The problem is there are drawbacks to both. A customs union, while creating less friction to trade in goods, ends any prospect of negotiating our trade deals. It would also lead to endless arguments about how much economic damage we could endure if the UK stopped aligning itself with European regulations.
The Norway-plus option would mitigate the economic damage but it would also have the UK following most EU rules, including those around free movement of people. We would be paying large sums into the Brussels budget while having no real say about how those rules are made or how that money is spent. The original membership of the Common Market gave us a vote, a voice and a veto that the new version would not.
It may well be that these options are better than the deal proposed by the Prime Minister. But none can claim to bear even a passing resemblance to what people thought they were voting for in 2016. This is where the other proposal debated last night comes in. The compromise motion tabled by the Labour MP Peter Kyle would give the British people the right to sign off on any Brexit deal. It topped the poll of MPs for a second time, winning more votes than other options and continues to gain momentum.
Unlike the other proposals, it is not an option within this endless Brexit crisis; it is a solution to the crisis. It acknowledges the differences of opinion in Parliament and in the country. It lets MPs come up with a final deal and lets the people have the final say. It would, of course, require a longer extension of the Article 50 deadline.
MPs need to give other Brexit options the scrutiny they deserve and detailed negotiations would need to be conducted with the EU. Very few of us could support a new deal being cobbled together in just weeks.
The Prime Minister needs to decide if she wishes to oversee this process, not as a player so much as an arbiter. I don’t believe she would allow us to crash out with no deal, I know she has reservations about the softer Brexit proposals, and I would doubt the sanity of any Conservative who wanted a general election. Instead, she can underline her deep sense of duty to our country by giving MPs the time to decide between their competing visions of the good — and the people the chance to decide their future.
This article was published in the Evening Standard on 2nd April 2019