Brexit

Extending Article 50 doesn’t solve the Brexit crisis

BY George Bridges   /  5 September 2019

I voted Remain. Our side lost. I have always believed we need to honour the result and leave the EU.

There are only two ways to do so – with a deal, or without one.

We have spent the best part of a year trying to reach a Parliamentary consensus around a deal.

Compromise has been tried – I argued for a cross party approach.

But it has failed.

There is no Parliamentary majority for the Withdrawal Agreement; for the UK to remain in a customs union, the European Economic Area; or to hold a second referendum.

The only approach that might command the support of a majority is to renegotiate the Irish backstop, which the EU appears dead set against.

So, if you believe that there is a democratic imperative to leave, and there is no Parliamentary majority to leave with a deal, that leaves only one option: leaving without a deal.

Which brings me to the Benn Bill. The purpose is clear enough – to extend the negotiations, and avoid that from happening.

It will solve nothing.

If this Bill is passed, and Brexit is delayed yet again, and the negotiations drag on beyond 31 October, what will the UK be negotiating for?

As I said, there is no majority in the Commons for any approach. We know that – we have spent years trying to reach a consensus. So what will the negotiating mandate be?

And that brings me to the second flaw…

Although the Bill sets out what the Prime Minister must write to the EU to ask the negotiations to continue, who will be negotiating on behalf of the UK? It won’t be the Government – it won’t be the Government. So who will it be – Jeremy Corbyn? The Speaker? Will it be an empty chair?

This Bill is silent on this for a very simple reason: no one knows.

I made these points two and a half years ago – yes, that’s how long we have been debating this – when I was a Minister, and an amendment was tabled to give Parliament the power to stop no deal and force the Government back to the negotiations.

I asked these questions then and answer were there none – which is why I opposed this entire approach then, and still oppose it today.

Parliament exists to make decisions, not to dither.

Which is why, when this Bill becomes law, it shows beyond doubt that Parliament cannot fulfil its purpose: to decide on our nation’s future.

As I have been saying for months now, the brutal reality is Parliament is broken – and it is time for a new Parliament.

We need a general election, and we it now.

So now it has been agreed that this Bill will become law – flawed though it is – Labour should stop blocking giving people the chance to express their views at the ballot box, and agree to a general election being held on 15th October – which will be three years, three months and twenty three days since 17.4 million voted to leave the EU. Then people can decide on their nation’s future.

Lord Bridges is a former Brexit minister


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