Those in loving relationships might’ve let out a sigh of relief at the news that tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day votes are no longer set to be the showdown expected. Indeed, the once-dubbed ‘Valentine’s Massacre’ is now little more than a matinée. Once again, a meaningful vote for MPs on May’s deal has been delayed.
A less loving relationship – that between the teams of the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition – will resume its meetings today. The talks are due to take part after the pair’s showdown at PMQs, with the confrontational head-to-head hardly a helpful prelude to difficult talks. Nobody seriously expects anything substantive to come out of the meetings though, while most have lost interest in their disingenuous drive for consensus by this point anyway.
MPs have been told that they will have a meaningful vote on her revised deal on the 27th February. Should she not conclude a new deal, however, she will need to give a statement in Parliament on the 26th, with another debate and votes the following day.
Meanwhile, discussion on the substance of the deal itself has all but halted. The government is having some success at diverting attention from her deeply flawed withdrawal agreement onto the latest round of hapless negotiations – and this is dangerous. It is dangerous because, come March 29, MPs cannot be cajoled into voting for her deal under the threat that to refuse to do so would leave No Deal as the only alternative. In reality, an extension of Article 50 or a people’s vote both remain serious and credible options. It is disingenuous to insist otherwise.
The binary choice constructed between her deal and No Deal should and will fail to win MPs over to her side. The PM’s deal is still the worst of all worlds. It leaves us poorer while simultaneously handing sovereignty to the EU. It is far from as good as the current deal we have as a member. And it gives us absolutely no clarity or closure about what our future relationship with the European Union will look like.
Last week, the People’s Vote campaign launched our new report, No Clarity No Closure. It saw Lord Kerslake join the club of senior civil servants advocating an extension of Article 50. In fascinating analysis of the Political Declaration, we are reminded that the declaration is 26 pages of nothing but warm words and vague intentions, supposed to form the map for our future relationships. With the current farce of fake negotiations consuming headlines, and with Britain nowhere near ready for an exit on March 29, it is easy to forget the fundamental fact that the deal is a disaster for our country. It is even easier, though, to forget the political declaration as even worse. It would be a leap in the dark for Britain and, with the destination unknown, would be a fundamentally undemocratic course of action to wrest upon our country.
And what of No Deal? Should the gridlock continue, are we in serious danger of sleepwalking into a cliff-edge Brexit? Last night’s explosive revelations that the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator Olly Robbins had been heard in a Brussels bar saying an extension of Article 50, and not a No Deal, would be the outcome of Parliament rejecting her deal were important. It proves that the government do have some semblance of understanding that the calamitous consequences of a No Deal should be avoided at all costs. And although ERG loyalists might be furious, there should be nothing abhorrent about seeking to save the nation from catastrophe.
The risk inherent in our vague political declaration were also brought into sharp focus with Robbins’s comments, as he revealed the backstop to be a ‘bridge’ into our future UK-EU trade partnership. This would likely send shivers down any ardent Brexiteer’s spine, for it affirms that one of their most concerning suspicions might not be as unfounded as the Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted: the UK could well be looking at a future relationship inside the customs union should we leave, and the backstop could be one important means of facilitating that.
Those like myself pushing for a people’s vote must hold our nerve. We will not be frightened into supporting a deal which falls so far short of what was promised in 2016 and which forces us on a road with no idea of where we might end up. We will not stand by while the future of my generation is sacrificed at the alter of the Conservative party’s survival. We will not allow a handful of politicians to ignore the overwhelming majority of young people who are concerned about Brexit and who want a say on their futures. And we will not be scared into silence by the brinkmanship and games played in Parliament. We’ll continue to advocate what we believe is the only option forward, and we hope politicians listen.