Britain will now no longer leave the European Union on the 29th of March. This week MPs first decisively defeated Theresa May’s deal, then forced the Government’s hand and voted against a no-deal Brexit directly, and then finally voted for an extension to Article 50 on Thursday.
Theresa May will probably try one more time to get her deal through, but even if she coughs up a big enough bribe to get the DUP on board it is still almost certainly going to be defeated again, forcing her to formally request the Article 50 extension.
But will the EU agree to an extension, and what kind of extension will they approve? The signs on this are promising. In a very significant move, Donald Tusk said that he will “will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.” This aligns with the right way to handle the Article 50 extension: offer Britain a long – say 21-month – extension to Article 50, to remove the no-deal cliff edge and give time for a referendum and the preparations for it, and do this in the form of a maximum not a set period, so it doesn’t involve attempting to keep Britain in the EU against its will.
And so, as I argued in the House of Lords this week, the Government should now stop no deal preparations and apologize to the public for the billions it has wasted that should have gone to the NHS, education, and public services.
The obvious objection to this is that this would mean holding European elections in the UK in May. My reply in this week’s New European is simple: So be it. Let’s hold them and make them a campaign to stop Brexit. If Nigel Farage and UKIP can use the European elections as a springboard for Brexit, we can use them as a springboard for Remain.
Don’t despair over the one hiccup this week that was the vote on the second referendum amendment to the Article 50 extension motion. This is a sideshow before the main event which will be the Kyle/Wilson Amendment in the coming weeks, or a similar fully fleshed out vote in Parliament on a People’s Vote. And even then, just 17 Labour MPs voted against this amendment and many fewer voted against than against Theresa’s May’s deal both times this week! Jeremy Corbyn also reached a new high point in his Brexit journey in the House of Commons after this motion, directly saying that we now need a second referendum.
The bottom line is that everything is set to go for the Put it to the People March next Saturday on the 23rd. If this is huge, as I am sure it will be, it will be the expression of public support for a People’s Vote that sets on the road to ending this Brexit nightmare. So make sure you are there, and bring everyone you know with you.