There are now only two choices, revoke or referendum – no wonder Brexiteers are coming round to a Final Say

We wouldn’t need a lengthy campaign to discuss the options – we have spent three years on this giant exercise in deliberative democracy

Thursday 11 April 2019 18:20 BST
'We must press on at pace' Theresa May says parties must work together to overcome 'unique situation' of Brexit deadlock

If the British were to face facts today about Brexit, they would do one of two things with the six-month “flextension” granted by the European Council.

The first option, and by far the simplest, would be to accept that Brexit has failed, and that neither the soft Brexit proposed by the prime minister, nor the no-deal Brexit advocated by a minority of the Conservative Party are realistic options that can carry parliamentary approval, now or ever.

Brexit, in any of its incarnations, is dead, crushed under the weight of its own contradictions. Even if Theresa May were somehow to win a majority for her withdrawal agreement – and there is no sign of that happening – it would mean the UK remaining in the EU customs union indefinitely, and in any case at the sole pleasure of the European Union.

Britain would become a vassal state, as Jacob Rees-Mogg used to have it, a rule-taker not a rule-maker, and a prisoner in a not-so-gilded cage. The Eurosceptics are right in discerning that Ms May’s deal is, in many respects, worse than remaining a full member of the EU – the worst of all worlds.

Better, in these circumstances, to accept that reality right now and end the Brexit fatigue by revoking Article 50. The 2016 referendum result can still be “respected”, in the sense that we would then be able to spend an infinite amount of time discussing different hypothetical models for Brexit, but the ruminations would have the status of a parlour game, like those competitions for a perpetual motion machine. It would not then get in the way of the nation attending to its other problems and making a living in the world.

Brexit fatigue and chaos could, in other words, be cured at a stroke if Article 50 were to be revoked – and this could be done rapidly and unilaterally by the UK. The Conservatives could then get on with reinventing themselves under a new leader in good time for the 2022 general election, Brexit but a painful memory.

It might, though, be too much for many, who would find it a betrayal, and offensive. The second option would salve their feelings – to put the options to the people.

As The Independent has consistently argued, a second referendum, a Final Say, is inevitable if the Brexit process is to resolved in the way it started – through the will of the people, freely expressed. Six months should be sufficient time for that.

We wouldn’t need a lengthy campaign to discuss the options – we have spent three years on this giant exercise in deliberative democracy. We do not need any more buses with big numbers on the side, or “project fear”, or graphics explaining single markets and customs unions. We’re fully educated.

The 2015-16 legislation on an EU referendum can readapted, the flaws in the last referendum repaired, and the voting can take place with as many sensible options on the ballot paper as possible – guided by the expertise of the electoral commission. This ought to include Remain and one or two Brexit options – Ms May’s deal and/or the WTO or hard Brexit option, which, though economically ruinous, is at least practical.

Of course the British will not want to make a quick decision, and the generous holidays enjoyed by MPs mean that the opportunities for the House of Commons to resolve matters will be severely curtailed.

The chances are that Ms May, or her replacement, will be back in Brussels sometime after the British party conferences, in mid-October, asking for more time. The Europeans will also ask the usual questions about a plan. They will agree a further extension and another and another if need be, because the EU does not wish to force a hard Brexit, and the British parliament has virtually outlawed it.

Even if, say, Emmanuel Macron eventually ran out of patience and played his veto, the UK would almost certainly not leave the EU because the choice would then be to crash out or to revoke. And this and any plausible future House of Commons will never vote for a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit is, to all intents and purposes, dead. The only possibility of reincarnation is via a second referendum, which some of the more clear-sighted Leavers are starting to realise. Perhaps a consensus will eventually form around that proposition. It will take longer than six months, however.

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