Friday 15 March 2019 - People's Vote

Friday 15 March 2019

Morning Briefing: May's deal must be defeated again -European elections corrections - fantasist Trump

We’ve had three big wins in Parliament in the last three days which bring us closer to a People’s Vote. First, Theresa May’s rotten Brexit deal was rejected by MPs a second time. Then MPs voted against crashing out without a deal. Finally, the Commons voted to look for an extension to Article 50.

But as any horror aficionado knows, the big bad monster is never dead until you’ve seen conclusive evidence of its demise. May’s deal may be badly wounded, but it will shamble back for one last attempt to drag us all into its twilight world of never-ending backstops and half-Brexits.

Yesterday’s parliamentary win was not as strong as it could have been. May is now poised to bring her deal back to Parliament one last time, hoping she can scare Brexiter hardliners into backing her with a threat of a long extension, which they fear will end in a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all.

Attorney general Geoffrey Cox is going to offer MPs new legal advice which offers the tantalising possibility of a unilateral exit from the backstop via the Vienna Convention. This has already been rubbished by the ‘star chamber’ of eurosceptic lawyers and also by leading experts in the field (see below).

May is also trying to use the prospect of European elections to frighten MPs into backing the deal. This is not the insurmountable obstacle the government is trying to suggest (more below).


By committing to bring back her deal for a third - and possibly fourth - time, Theresa May is trying to run down the clock. And our best chance of victory may be in the big battle which is now about to begin. It is a battle for our country’s future. It is a battle for young people. It is a battle for democracy. That is why, on Saturday 23 - just nine days’ time - we will be meeting at Park Lane to march on Parliament.

A longer extension isn’t just necessary for a People’s Vote. Any MPs who hate May’s deal and back a different approach will need more than the next few weeks to give their ideas a decent hearing. That’s equally true for Labour’s alternative deal, the Norway Plus supporters, advocates of citizens’ assemblies, even those hardliners pushing for a “managed” no deal.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson and co must surely reject an unchanged form of the deal they’ve so vigorously been attacking. To do otherwise would see them go down as the sellouts who made the UK a “vassal state” of the EU.

But none of these options are likely to end the Brexit impasse. Any Brexit deal looks less attractive when it is a concrete rather than abstract proposal. Their supporters have to answer whether leaving us as rule-takers and supplicants to the European Union honours the promises they made in 2016.

We must all decide what we want our country to become. When the real costs and new facts of Brexit are properly scrutinised, MPs will also have the chance to consider whether it’s only fair to give the public a real say and a new vote - or if they want to force Brexit on the British people anyway.

Join us at the Put It To The People March on March 23 and let MPs know you want the final say on Brexit.

Tweet of the Day

Peter Kyle MP explains why yesterday was not the right time to vote on a People’s Vote.


Attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s wizard wheeze for getting out of the backstop - using Article 62 of the Vienna Convention to cancel the withdrawal treaty because of “a fundamental change of circumstances” which was “not foreseen” by the UK or EU - has been described as “badly misconceived” by the so-called “star chamber” of eurosceptic lawyers.

The group note that “given the high burden a state must meet to use it, and given the extreme reluctance of international courts and tribunals to accept it”, this route “supplies no assurance whatsoever that the UK could terminate the withdrawal agreement in a lawful manner”. In other words, the backstop is a backstop, and nothing has changed since Cox let it slip that we can’t get out of it.

It’s not just the ERG lashing out either. Philippe Sands QC notes that “you cannot rely on it… because all the elements relating to the backstop arrangement are already forseeable”, and that adopting Cox’s approach would “shred his reputation with the legal community”.

Graphic of the Day

European elections are no barrier

The government’s claim to scare pro-Brexit MPs that we would need to take part in European Parliament elections if Brexit were delayed beyond June are wrong. Eleanor Sharpston - an advocate general of the ECJ - describes the notion that the elections are an “insuperable” obstacle to a long delay as “oversimplified and ultimately fallacious”. The government's other argument, that the European Parliament couldn't operate unless the UK held elections has been rejected by the European Parliament's own legal service.

Not that holding elections would necessarily be a bad thing - there are arguments for and against on both sides of the Brexit divide. But the government should definitely retract its false scare story, stop trying to bounce MPs into backing May's bad deal, and accept that we need time to find real way through the Brexit logjam.

Quote of the Day

“This evening the Brexit secretary voted against his government’s own motion on Brexit, which earlier in the day he had defended in the House of Commons. That’s the equivalent of the chancellor voting against his own budget. This is a government that has completely lost control.”

Keir Starmer comments on cabinet division over last night's free vote.

Video of the Day

WATCH: OFOC's video sums up Theresa May's current position on Brexit.  

Thoughts of the fantasist-in-chief

Remember how easy this was all going to be? German car makers and Italian wine merchants were supposed to bend over backwards to get us a good Brexit deal? It’d be the easiest deal in history?

Donald Trump is now acting as a glorious museum exhibit to those heady days of Brexiter overconfidence. The US president took time during his meeting with Leo Varadkar to express his surprise “at how badly it’s all gone from the standpoint of a negotiation. But I gave the prime minister my ideas on how to negotiate it and I think you would have been successful”. As Theresa May told the BBC, these ideas amounted to telling her she “should sue the EU, not go into negotiations”. Perhaps a copy of The Art of the Deal should be required reading for the next batch of negotiators.

What's your reason?

WATCH: Munya will be marching on Saturday 23rd because he's worried about the harm Brexit is causing to society.

More Brexit news…

MPs back Brexit delay as votes lay bare cabinet divisions (Guardian)

DUP 'working hard' to strike Brexit deal (FT £)

Five Labour MPs quit roles to oppose new referendum vote (BBC)

WWII bomb found at Brexit-plan lorry park Manston Airport (BBC)

Top Brexit comment

Hugo Dixon: Let’s squish PM’s deal one more time (InFacts)

Victoria Mills: A longer Brexit delay might involve holding European elections. So what? (LabourList)

Aditya Chakrabortty: The problem is not so much Theresa May – it’s that Britain is now ungovernable (Guardian)

It's clear that the only way forward is a People's Vote. Now is a crucial time to get involved with the campaign. Sign up to volunteer today.


Looking forward…

Today, Friday 15th March

- Lib Dem spring conference
09.30 ONS: UK trade in goods

Tomorrow, Saturday 16th March

- Lib Dem spring conference