Alex Sobel: The people may have to break Brexit deadlock to avoid no-deal putting economy at risk
IN the 18 months that I’ve been an MP, and in the scores of occasions that I have walked through the lobby to vote on a motion involving the European Union, I have rarely seen Parliament so united.
As I made my way through the cramped lobby with 431 other MPs last week, I was struck by the range of political figures, from David Lammy, Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner to Sir John Redwood, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. The problem is that the only thing that we were united on was in rejecting the deal that Theresa May has brought back from Brussels.
The urgent question now facing everyone charged with negotiating the choppiest political waters in generations is where do we go from here?
I wrote in a column for this newspaper a few months ago about the five broad options that we have as MPs. I believe that we are now seeing these options narrowed to two.
Theresa May might well decide to try to bring her deal back again. Whilst veiled threats of a General Election (which Conservative MPs don’t want) and some more nods of intent from the European Union might well bring a handful of Tories back into the Prime Minister’s camp, the idea that she has enough support to overturn the 230 votes that she needs to bring this deal back from the dead is absurd.
It is time, also, to seriously rule out no deal as an option. The news that we can unilaterally withdraw Article 50, as well as the likelihood that Brussels would not take much convincing to agree to an extension, should be a cue to the Government to end the threat of no deal and to life as we know it in the United Kingdom.
I have spoken to countless businesses in my constituency, from small firms, manufacturing businesses and importers to global corporations and our international airport.
They are all extremely concerned about no deal as they must prepare their operations and their employees for a seismic and, in many cases, unrecoverable hit.
We cannot seriously be considering stockpiling of medicines and food in peacetime 21st century Britain.
None of this is necessary and all it takes is for the Prime Minister to confirm that Article 50 would be extended, or rescinded until a solution is found, if this impasse continues.
Most of my Parliamentary work is now focused on achieving an extension to Article 50.
There is no appetite from my constituency – or from me – to leave with no deal, especially on March 29, when we are not at all prepared for it.
Theresa May could choose to try to renegotiate with the European Union. The problem is that there is no appetite in Brussels to allow for cherry picking of the EU rules – many of which were designed in the UK – or to move on the Northern Irish backstop.
This should be of no surprise to anyone. The EU has been very consistent on this – they will not negotiate with their core principles or with the security of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
This leaves us with two options. It has been widely reported that a deal that takes us out of the European Union, but that keeps us within the Single Market and Customs Union, would have enough support in Parliament to succeed.
The problem is that without the consent of the Executive, it is very difficult for Parliament to put a deal like that on the table.
To achieve a deal like this, the Conservative government must abandon their appeasement of the European Research Group, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg on their backbenches, and endorse a plan that could get wide support from across the Commons and I believe the country.
If Parliament cannot break the deadlock, then the choice must go back to the people.
I believe that a public vote with the option to remain may be the only practical way out of this mess.
This is not without its implications. No-one wants to alienate or disenfranchise the people that voted Leave in 2016 in good faith. But, in a referendum, they, too, would have their chance to confirm their choice knowing what leaving entails or to change their minds based on all the new information that we have all obtained since 2016.
As I said in Parliament last week, remaining in the EU is not the end of this story. Politicians must hear the message sent in the referendum. This means making real effort to reform the EU but also to address the austerity that many of our communities have faced; the lack of infrastructure, facilities, school places, hospital beds and public transport links.
Above all, we need a transformative Labour government in the United Kingdom to unite the country on our values and restore faith in our politics.
Alex Sobel is the Labour MP for Leeds North West.