My article for the Edinburgh Evening News on Brexit and the Peoples Vote campaign.
You can also read the full article on the Evening News website here.
By this time next year, if Theresa May has her way, the UK will have left the EU.
Britain’s economy, already the slowest growing in the G20, will be struggling with plummeting business confidence, political chaos, and the loss of vital migrant labour. In Edinburgh, as things stand, our services sector will be reeling from the shock of leaving our largest market.
We will be staring into the unknown, with the integrity of the entire United Kingdom at stake, all because David Cameron once thought it was a sensible idea to appease his hardline Brexiteers.
Can this calamity be stopped? Time is running out, of that we can be certain. But it’s not too late – 29 March, 2019, is the day when there is no going back so we must act fast.
Like any big decision in life, you don’t make it and then just say “ok, that’s that done, let’s ignore the detail”. Was the referendum a mandate to leave on whatever terms, in whatever circumstances? I don’t believe it was. The people “spoke” but is this what they were saying?
The public has a right to examine the Brexit deal and be able to compare it against what we have now. That’s democracy and ‘taking back control’ in action.
It appears, though, that the last resort to legitimately stop this nonsense is Parliament. At some point this autumn, the reality of what the Tories are proposing – and all the inconsistencies and impossibilities – will become clearer.
It will almost certainly be a fudge. The Prime Minister won’t want to diverge from Europe too much or she will lose the support of the business community, yet preserving alignment with Europe will infuriate her influential right-wing backbenchers like Jacob Rees-Mogg. The PM can’t achieve her goals with the red lines that she has set herself.
She will no doubt resort to what has been dubbed “cakeism”: pretending that other EU countries will agree that we can stay roughly in line with Europe while at the same time have the freedom to set our own rules.
Nowhere is this dangerous approach more likely to have seismic consequences than in Northern Ireland. This issue is a microcosm of the whole EU argument. The 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is this month and we now have a Tory government that appears prepared to put that historic deal at risk. We face the UK and Ireland being under different trade rules.
The only way to maintain a frictionless border is if Northern Ireland has the same relationship with Europe as the Republic of Ireland. Quite simply, that can only be achieved through membership of the both the Customs Union and the European Single Market, and it is deceitful to suggest otherwise. It’s obvious to everyone but them. We can’t allow a political fudge to have this passed in Parliament. We need proper answers to the big questions.
That’s why Parliament must get a meaningful vote on the deal – not some meaningless “take it or leave it” charade. There must be a show of democracy, and that also means the people must be allowed to decide if this is what they expected when they voted to leave. Polling shows that voters are not averse to being asked their views on the Brexit deal, and there is a widespread understanding that the process is far more complicated than many imagined – and the consequences are far more problematic than many envisaged. Let democracy flourish. If we don’t, if we stand aside while Theresa May takes a wrecking ball to our economy, future generations will hold us responsible. The time is now.