“eu must not conspire with mr johnson to allow a no-deal brexit to take place at the end of the month”

The Guardian view on deadlock in parliament: still time to thwart Johnson’s reckless deal
Editorial, Groon, Oct 21 2019

In the lead-up to parliament’s historic Saturday sitting, the airwaves resounded to Conservative cries of “get this done”, “let’s move on” and “lift this cloud”. The Tory hope was that understandable Brexit fatigue could become a trump card for Boris Johnson, as he sought to rush through a surprise deal that MPs were given 48 hours to consider. Sir Oliver Letwin’s successful amendment, which withholds approval for it until all necessary legislation is passed, rightly put the brakes on, to the acclaim of up to a million People’s Vote marchers. It also required Mr Johnson to write to the EU asking for an extension under the terms of the Benn act. This he has done, albeit dissociating himself from the request in a second letter. A Scottish court will examine the legality of that move. MPs on all sides of the house must now hold their nerve to subject Mr Johnson’s deal to forensic scrutiny, undistracted by his totemic Brexit deadline of Oct 31. While the EU may not respond immediately to Britain’s request for an extension, it must not conspire with Mr Johnson to allow a no-deal Brexit to take place at the end of the month. The prime minister may wish to dash for the line. It is absolutely not necessary or advisable for the rest of parliament to do the same. Three and a half years of deadlock, almost entirely caused by arguments between Tory leavers, does not mean that suddenly, anything goes. The deal, as it stands, paves the way to ripping up much of this country’s economic settlement and replacing it with a free-market vision more radical than anything attempted by Margaret Thatcher. As Keir Starmer expertly demonstrated during Saturday’s debate, the government has significantly weakened “level playing field” commitments originally contained in the legally binding withdrawal agreement made by Theresa May, and moved them to the non-binding political declaration. This has been done in order to deliver the deregulatory dreams that have stirred the imagination of right-wing Eurosceptics for decades.

Unsurprisingly, the European Research Group has lined up four-square behind the prime minister as a consequence. Exiting the single market and customs union, and abandoning Mrs May’s aim of dynamic alignment with the EU, as Mr Johnson’s deal proposes, is simply not acceptable. It will turn the UK (minus NI) into a competitor with the great trading bloc on its doorstep. That is a contest which is manifestly not in the interests of British businesses and those who work for them. Cut loose in this fashion from an economic entity with the clout to get its own way, a “buccaneering” Britain will be incentivised to undercut its neighbours and sell its own population short on working conditions, environmental standards and consumer rights. The country’s less prosperous regions will bear the brunt of that race to the bottom, as economic growth falters. The chancellor, Sajid Javid, has refused to provide an impact assessment of the deal. He should be required to offer one. Now that they have the time to do so, MPs should also reflect on the fact that this deal is viscerally opposed by both the SNP and the DUP. If the UK leaves on these hard-Brexit terms, a Scottish vote for independence becomes significantly more likely. Hard-line unionists will be just as unhappy at a new border in the Irish Sea, dividing mainland Britain from NI, as nationalists were at the possible return of one on the island of Ireland. Sowing the seeds of such instability and insecurity throughout the UK is reckless and destabilising. Nor would the passage of Mr Johnson’s deal in any way allow the country to “move on”. Instead, it would move into a truncated and ferociously contested transition period lasting until the end of 2020. As the former chancellor Philip Hammond has pointed out, Britain could at that point leave on WTO rules if no free trade agreement with the EU is agreed. As Michael Gove sought to bludgeon through the government’s deal on Saturday, he said MPs would face a reckoning with their constituents. They would be asked:

Did you vote to break the deadlock? Did you vote to end the division of these days?

Those MPs who ignored Mr Gove were right to do so. The prime minister’s radical version of Brexit will entrench divisions and transform this country for the worse. However much MPs, and the rest of us, are suffering from Brexit fatigue, this deal needs to be fought every step of the way in the crucial days to come.

Europe is fed up with Brexit, but it’s still best for all if Britain stays in
Timothy Garton Ash, Groon, Oct 21 2019

Granted, Brexit is driving everyone mad. We Brits owe all our European friends a sincere apology, a bottle of whisky and complimentary tickets to a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Hamlet. For Britain is now Hamlet, forever agonising over whether Brexit is to be or not to be. So I can perfectly understand why Europeans such as Pres Macron just want to be shot of us, so as to push ahead with an important, ambitious agenda for the whole EU. Nonetheless, it remains in Europe’s own enlightened, long-term interest to go the extra kilometre. This means, concretely, that if the British parliament does not approve Boris Johnson’s new deal this week, the EU should offer an article 50 extension, as formally requested in the letter sent (though childishly not signed) by Johnson. I offer four arguments for this, all made from the point of view of the EU and Europe as a whole. First, a no-deal Brexit would be hugely damaging to Ireland and other parts of Europe geographically close to the UK. The amendment proposed by the independent Conservative Oliver Letwin and passed by parliament on Saturday is intended, above all, to preclude no deal. Letwin himself has said he will vote for Johnson’s deal, if it comes through parliament in the correct legal form and subject to proper scrutiny. Second, there is the question of who takes the blame. We know from a leaked document that the Johnson team of hard Brexiteers were preparing to blame any failure to get a deal on the “crazy” intransigence of Brussels. If, however, Macron were to make an unholy alliance with Johnson to push Britain out of the door on 31 October, then my side of the Brexit argument, the 3R side: for referendum, remain and reform, would be bound to place part of the blame on our European partners. At the moment, the EU has got itself in exactly the right position: it has showed sufficient firmness to defend the interests of Ireland and the single market, and sufficient flexibility to make any accusation of a punitive “Versailles” treaty completely implausible. For example, the EU breached its own red lines in reopening the withdrawal agreement, to make possible the new deal. It’s important that the EU stays in this sweet spot.

Third, it would be better for the long-term future of Europe if the UK stayed in the EU. There is no good outcome to Brexit, but the least worst way forward is for Britain to vote in a second referendum to remain. And the best way to achieve that is for parliament to vote for Johnson’s deal but subject to a confirmatory referendum in which the British public would be asked to make a binding, final decision on a single, clear question: do you want Britain to leave the EU on the terms negotiated by this government, or do you want it to stay in the EU? To be or not to be. Since this government is dominated by hard Brexiteers, and what is envisaged in the new deal is a hard Brexit for England, Wales and Scotland, with a softer one only for Northern Ireland, no leave voter could plausibly complain they were only being offered the choice between a flaccid Brino (Brexit in Name Only) and staying in the EU. Hundreds of thousands rallied outside parliament on Saturday to show their support for such a people’s vote. Even more important than the activists are the opinion polls that now persistently show a majority for remain. How absurd it would be if the UK was to leave the EU, in the name of respecting “the will of the people,” at precisely the moment when the will of the people had changed. I know that many continental European friends who were once sympathetic to a second referendum now think the EU would be better off without us. But if Britain leaves now, it will take another five years to work out what the new economic relationship with the EU will be and whether Scotland will leave the UK, and then a further five years to see how all this beds down in practice. By that time, the EU and what is left of the UK will certainly have diverged. Britain will be worse off economically than it might have been, but probably not so badly off that stubborn English voters, in particular, would swiftly choose to return. If Brexit goes badly for the UK, that will ensure a thoroughly unhappy and bad-tempered relationship across the Channel, negatively affecting the vital cooperation on foreign and security policy. If, against the odds, Brexit goes well for Britannia, then nationalist populists like Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, the Italian Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen will start to say, in those immortal words from the movie When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.” Either way, it’s bad for the EU.

And there’s a fourth argument that should clinch the case. At the moment, Europe is the last best hope of a values-based west, standing up for democracy and the rule of law. Confronted with the demolition of liberal democracy in EU member states such as Hungary, this is one of the most important tasks for the next chapter of EU history, with new leadership in all European institutions, a freshly elected European parliament and a seven-year budget to be agreed. Prominent among the European leaders crowding round to congratulate Johnson after the deal was done last week was Orbán – he and Johnson are brothers under the skin. Johnson’s schoolboy manoeuvre of sending an unsigned, photocopied letter requesting an extension (as mandated by the so-called Benn act), together with a signed one encouraging the EU to refuse that request, shows just how contemptuous he is of a law passed by Britain’s sovereign parliament. Although his lawyers probably ensured that his conduct did not violate the letter of the law, it certainly violated the spirit of the law. Fortunately, the checks and balances of British liberal democracy are working. In a magnificent, muscular verdict, the supreme court found that Johnson acted unlawfully in trying to prorogue parliament for five weeks. And on Saturday, a democratically elected parliament once again took back control from a bullying executive, to ensure proper scrutiny of a hastily made deal which has epochal implications for both Britain and Europe. Whether this ends with a confirmatory referendum, as I hope, or with a general election, which seems more likely, or with parliament narrowly approving Johnson’s deal, which I would lament but accept, it will be a lawful, democratic process. And a lawful, democratic process is something Europe should always support, even if it takes a little longer.

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