A no-deal departure from the EU is a threat to the union of our United Kingdom, our economy and our parliamentary democracy. Today there is another chance for Conservative MPs who understand how damaging no deal really is to at least vote to stop it happening by shutting down parliament. After months filled with robust words, they should now step up to the plate. After all the talk, it’s time to walk the walk.
We won’t need an alternative parliament if MPs use the real one we already have. Who or what is stopping them? It’s simple – back up your words with action. Otherwise, it’s like standing by while a car crash happens and then expecting thanks for arriving with a first aid bag too late.
No deal will undermine the union of the UK like no other policy – not even the unpopular poll tax – ever has before. It will put the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland economy at risk, alongside that of the rest of the UK.
It rides roughshod over previous parliamentary votes by elected representatives representing communities around our country. There is no democratic mandate for no deal. Those who think there is should have the courage to simply ask the electorate themselves.
Make no mistake, parliament will stop no deal from happening. The only question is who is prepared to stand up for the union, for jobs and for our democracy.
It’s not too late for those Conservative MPs who’ve talked tough, but nevertheless spent the past year saying “now is not the right time” to act. Whatever the motivation, the uncertainty that a possible no deal has caused, has already cost jobs. Acting to protect Britain from a no-deal Brexit isn’t something to be done when it’s convenient for MPs’ careers, it’s something to be done right now, as a matter of urgency.
There is, ultimately, a second step these MPs also need to take. Many want to take no deal off the table and may finally act today. I applaud this new willingness to act. But if it’s part of a parliamentary game of trying to force hard Brexiteers towards the current prime minister’s deal it means they are still not listening to other MPs or the electorate after a year of this failing strategy.
Alongside the absence of a mandate for no deal, these MPs must surely also accept that there is now no parliamentary or democratic mandate for a soft Brexit either. If there were, both the Labour and Conservative parties would have done much better in the recent European elections.
The prime minister’s deal has been voted down emphatically by MPs three times. The head-in-the-sand strategy of the current cabinet and many departing ministers, of simply ignoring that position, must also now come to an end.
People want MPs to get on with our jobs. They want this parliament to tackle the wider challenges Britain faces, from lack of opportunity and weak social mobility to housing, social care and the environment.
The country and parliament cannot move forward until we break the Brexit gridlock. The soft Brexit “wets” have had a year to get their version of Brexit through parliament already. I respect that they made their attempt, but for the sake of Britain, they must recognise that they’ve failed.
In reality, as was clear this time last year, breaking through the gridlock means that only two courses of action remain possible.
We could allow our democracy a direct choice through a fresh referendum on no deal or no Brexit, possibly alongside the existing deal Theresa May struck with the EU. Failing that, a popular vote to break the Brexit gridlock could take the form of a general election.
I still believe a referendum is the better course of action to break the Brexit logjam. But, if even that becomes impossible then de facto, we will see parliament finally fail and we will have a general election.
I’m fed up of Britain going nowhere. So are the British people. MPs unable to decide in parliament, yet also blocking the people from doing so, can’t stop Britain moving forward any more. Just allow the people to take a decision on where our country goes next, with a Final Say referendum. Otherwise, accept the increasingly inevitable alternative of a general election.
Justine Greening is Conservative MP for Putney, Roehampton & Southfields.
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