Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will be warned today by a powerful panel of former civil servants and Cabinet ministers that a new Brexit deadline cannot preclude the prospect of any final deal being put to the people.
Ahead of cross-party talks in the midst of Britain’s growing Brexit crisis, Lord Gus O’Donnell and Lord Bob Kerslake will join Margaret Beckett and Stephen Dorrell at a press conference organised by the People’s Vote campaign.
They will say:
- It is imperative that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition find a way of preventing a no deal departure from the European Union, by agreeing to ask for a longer extension to the Article 50 process.
- Any extension must be long enough to allow for the scrutiny and negotiation of alternative Brexit proposals
- If such a deal is to secure a stable majority, an extension must also be long enough to allow MPs the chance to decide whether to give the British public the final say on any deal.
- Work should begin now preparing for a new public vote including the timetabling and necessary legislation.
Lord O’ Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, is expected to say:
“It is quite clear that in this national crisis normal procedures have broken down and we are facing a situation without precedent. We are at an impasse, but not at a standstill. Our country is now hurtling ever faster towards the nightmare scenario of a no deal Brexit. And the Prime Minister yesterday opened a window. We must try to climb through it.
“It would be unthinkable for Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to exclude the principle which has twice topped the votes of MPs – namely putting any deal to the people in a confirmatory public ballot. Therefore, our civil servants should start the process of looking at how that public vote would work, including exploring the timetabling and the necessary paving legislation.
“The way to get clarity and closure on Europe is to let the people decide on whether to go ahead with the best available Brexit deal – or decide to stay in the EU. Whatever the result, which we should make legally binding, the country can then move on and begin healing. A People’s Vote isn’t an option in this national Brexit crisis, it is a process that can solve it.”
Margaret Beckett, the Labour MP and former Foreign Secretary, is expected to say:
“We are no longer even at the 11th hour. That passed last week. Now, a few minutes past midnight in this short extension of the Brexit deadline, Theresa May is facing up to the reality of needing a significantly longer period in which Parliament, not the Government, will be charged with finding a solution.
“In doing so, she is putting my party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in what is potentially a very powerful position. There is a great opportunity here to prevent the slide towards the cliff-edge of a no deal departure. And, of course, there are also great risks. It is imperative that we continue to explore what version of Brexit might be the most acceptable to MPs. I voted this week for both the customs union proposal tabled by Kenneth Clarke and the Common Market 2.0 proposal set out by Nick Boles. Both deserve proper and detailed consideration.
“But, if any new proposal is to command the support of the Labour Party whose voters, members and MPs want the public to have the final say, if it is to secure a stable majority in Parliament and if it is to gain the confidence of the country, it cannot, must not, and will not preclude the idea that any Brexit deal is put to the people.”
Stephen Dorrell, the chair of the European Movement and the Conservative former Health Secretary, will say:
“Like many long term Conservative members and supporters, I deeply regret the current state of the Conservative Party. A party that has lost the support of MPs like Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Nick Boles, or in which Dominic Grieve is seemingly no longer welcome, is a party in a profound existential crisis.
“Theresa May’s decision yesterday to seek the support of Jeremy Corbyn is a belated recognition of what her Chief Whip says has been inevitable for months. She cannot, and should not, aim to deliver Brexit without engaging with people beyond the Tory tribe. Although it is fraught with difficulty, this new approach does, I believe, offer a way forward which does not require her to accept all the objectives of avowed political opponents, any more than she accepts all the objectives of the people she has been dealing with so far, but which is built on a key plank of Labour policy which she should accept: the idea of a confirmatory vote of the British people on any final deal has the potential to be a game-changer.
“There is, in truth, no prospect of closure in the Brexit debate which does not recognize the right of voters to have the final say. For nearly three years Brexit policy, and with it key questions about our country’s future, has been treated as the plaything of the factions of the Conservative Party.
It is time to call a halt. There is too much at stake. Instead of confining the discussion to an ever-diminishing band of diehards it is time to open the windows and let in some fresh air.
Lord Kerslake, the former Head of the Civil Service, is expected to say:
“The Prime Minister seems to have rightly, if belatedly, come to the conclusion that she cannot continue to exclude MPs from this process. But Parliament must now both recognise that this should also apply to the people. The public cannot be excluded either from Brexit decisions that will shape their lives, their communities and their country for years to come. They cannot be expected to watch MPs having multiple votes on the same Brexit deal without wondering if they will ever be given one vote on that deal.
“MPs must take immediate steps to ensure that we do not crash out of the European Union with a disastrous no deal Brexit. And they should agree to mandate the government to ask for a long extension. Nothing more than the need for a long extension needs to be decided right now. After nearly three years of negotiations and division, it would be unwise and unsustainable to sort everything out in three days. Decisions, long ducked then made in haste, is not the way to approach this monumental issue.
“A longer extension is a prerequisite for being able to form a stable majority in the House of Commons. It is, I believe, a prerequisite if we are to stop this chaos turning into catastrophe. And, perhaps most importantly of all, a long extension to Article 50 is a prerequisite for being able to let the people – not just MPs – have the final say.”