Boris Johnson’s only ‘plan’ for a new deal is to continue doing nothing – so why not ask the people instead?
Whether it’s earnestly negotiated anew and agreed after full consideration by parliament, or a continued relationship with the EU, a Final Say vote would give us the clarity we desperately need
The fact that this required immediate clarification, and that he is likely to try to call an election on 14 October if opposition MPs are successful in our legislation to stop no deal is entirely unsurprising – only a few weeks ago, Johnson and his cabinet were insistent in their criticism of the “archaic device” of shutting down our democracy or prorogation.
Through his actions, the prime minister has repeatedly set himself against parliament. His justification, that MPs’ attempts to secure scrutiny and prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit are undermining his efforts to secure a deal, does not stand up to scrutiny.
No such deal is in the offing. Indeed, Johnson has not even attempted to secure a new deal, nor an amended version of Theresa May’s deal.
Many of his own party have had enough. Philip Hammond says Johnson is talking “nonsense”, that the “UK government has tabled no proposals”, and that there are no alternative arrangements for the backstop, or even a UK negotiating team.
I am in earnest agreement with the former chancellor and even find myself siding with Dominic Cummings, who has been reported describing EU negotiations as “a sham” in internal strategy meetings.
I have been in contact with many political correspondents, MPs and MEPs about UK government efforts to reach agreement with the European Union. Publicly confirmed, these amount to: three contacts in June, two phone calls between Jean-Claude Juncker and Johnson since he became prime minister, and the current presence of David Frost in Brussels. With the latter indicating that the United Kingdom will not press for a technical extension to Article 50, which would be required if some concrete progress on a deal had been made, the government’s intention to crash us out of the European Union is readily apparent. The bluster and bad faith shown by Johnson’s government are nothing more than a smokescreen, seeking to crash us out of the European Union by any means.
While the prime minister is keeping parliament and the country in the dark on his dealings, the impact of his course of action is clear. The Operation Yellowhammer leaks echo the warnings from industry leaders, healthcare and scientific bodies and professional associations that have been so strident, and so studiously ignored by the government over the past three years.
No amount of massaging the government’s own impact assessment can disguise the catastrophic impact of no-deal Brexit on our jobs and livelihoods. Despite officials working through the weekend to whitewash Yellowhammer, the cabinet has decided that even a heavily sanitised impact assessment is not sufficiently optimistic. So the intention now is for no document to be published at all!
Opposition MPs working to avoid a disastrous no deal, far from undermining the prime minister, are offering him time to do what he says he intends to do – secure a deal for the United Kingdom, helping to resolve the constitutional crisis his actions over the past week have created.
At some point, a deal will be required, whether that is one earnestly negotiated anew by our government, and agreed after full consideration by parliament, or the best possible deal that we currently enjoy with the European Union. It is only reasonable that either option be put to a people’s vote, so that a decision may be reached with clarity and an understanding of the destination in mind.
Anything else will simply deepen the divisions the Conservatives have torn in our fatigued and fractured society.
Tom Brake is MP for Carshalton and Wallington and Brexit spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats