MPs, if you won’t kill off Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill then give us the Final Say

The prime minister’s Brexit does not resolve the future relationship between the UK and Europe. It’s just the start of a new period of negotiation in which we’re in a weaker position than ever

Alastair Campbell@campbellclaret
Tuesday 22 October 2019 21:57
Brexit deal approved by Parliament for first time ever as Boris Johnson wins vote

Regardless of whether you voted Leave or Remain, you’re almost certainly frustrated that Brexit dominates the agenda, day after day, with the country divided at home and ridiculed abroad. But if you just want Brexit to be done – or, like me, Brexit to be gone – it’s time to recognise that Boris Johnson’s Brexit will do neither. Instead, what he is offering is more Brexit and less influence.

Allowing his deal to go ahead would be the start of a decade of hell in which the UK would try to negotiate a trade deal from a position of greater weakness than ever and we’ll be talking about nothing else.

Johnson’s Brexit does not resolve the future relationship between the UK and Europe. It would signal the beginning of a new negotiation where the UK would be in a weaker position than ever, not only in Europe but with other governments such as Donald Trump’s “America-first” administration.

These agreements take many years, sometimes decades, to negotiate and ratify, so it is inconceivable that the UK and EU could have one in place by the end of December 2020. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill says trade talks with the EU won’t start until June next year, and Johnson has promised his extremist wing in the European Research Group (ERG) he will never extend the transition period, so there will be only six months to secure a trade deal if we are to avoid no deal at the end of 2020.

Doubtless, this will be played out to a constant refrain for a “clean break” from Nigel Farage. This will only intensify the desire of Johnson’s extremist wing for the trap door of no-deal Brexit to open up beneath us when – rather than if – the diplomatic genius of this prime minister fails to achieve a trade agreement by the end of 2020.

A general election will probably take place before this date. The grim prospect of Farage and Johnson vying against each other for who is the purest or hardest on Brexit makes it all the more possible that we’ll end up with hundreds of MPs committed to no deal.

Meanwhile, the contradictory promises Johnson has made, telling the ERG extremists the UK would be able to diverge from EU standards – while promising Labour MPs he would protect workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer standards – are beginning to unravel. He will end up selling out one side or the other and my money is on him clinging close the ERG.

Even as they stand his Brexit proposals are for the reckless, the very rich and the very right-wing. They are certainly a million miles from what was promised in the 2016 referendum when Leave campaigners said they would protect frictionless trade and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Tonight Boris Johnson once again tried to use Brexit as a battering ram against democracy. He hoped to force his proposal through with just three days’ scrutiny and without any assessment on what it would mean for jobs, living standards, public services or the peace process in Northern Ireland.

MPs rightly resisted him. Passing any law to meet an artificial and self-imposed deadline always risks locking-in problems for years to come – but passing a Brexit deal which will decide the future of communities, our children and our country on a wing and prayer would have been nothing short of disastrous.

Johnson’s childish response to this vote by MPs – pausing the Bill while threatening to walk off the pitch altogether – shows the nature of both the man he is and the crisis he has done so much to create.

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The choice we must confront is between more of this chaos or closure.

A general election, in which Brexit would be confused with every other issue under the sun, is no way to settle this. A People’s Vote, which could be implemented in just a few months and the result made legally binding for all the politicians taking part in it, is a democratic solution to a crisis that will otherwise just go on and on.

Alastair Campbell is an adviser to the People’s Vote campaign

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