May and Corbyn are steering a ship of fools on to the Brexit rocks – a Final Say referendum could stop them
People voted for a concept in 2016. We must now ask them to vote for a plan
Theresa May is trying to head off a St Valentine’s Day massacre. The prime minister’s efforts to postpone the moment her tattered credibility faces a proper judgment from MPs may yet see the 14 February votes pass with a whimper.
There is no postponing the truth, however. The Westminster government’s Brexit policy lies in ruins, and the reheated proposals put forward by the leader of the so-called opposition have been met with howls of derision from his own ranks.
Big Ben may be silent these days, but the Brexit clock is ticking ever louder. The ship of fools that is Westminster, loosed from its moorings of reason, common sense and constitutional checks and balances, is hurtling at ramming speed to the bitter end of this chapter.
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Unless some majority is found, and found soon, the odds of a cliff-edge no-deal calamity will shift from possible through probable to inevitable. Then, as the predictable and avoidable ensues, as in 1940 (Brexiteers, after all, love their Second World War analogies), someone will need to write an excoriating account of the guilty men and women responsible for this peculiarly British disaster.
Unless he has a change of heart, Jeremy Corbyn’s role in that account will be as Brexit’s chief appeaser.
Among members of the European parliament’s key Brexit Steering Group I met in Brussels last week – and in Donald Tusk’s takedown of the British political class – Corbyn and May are seen as the twin authors of this tragedy.
And the Labour leader is increasingly the focus of their ire.
They simply cannot understand how a party that claims to be committed to protecting the welfare of working people can support a policy that will disrupt and devastate lives and livelihoods. If this is being done for short-term party advantage, it is a political gambit that is beneath contempt.
My party – Plaid Cymru – has been clear and consistent in our support of EU membership as the best option for Wales, and the UK. But we have also tried to find honourable compromises in the best interests of the people we represent.
We published a white paper, alongside the Labour Welsh government, calling for a sensible and pragmatic relationship and setting out in detail how this could be achieved – even though Corbyn largely ignored this in rejecting single market membership out of a misplaced desire for ideological purity.
More recently, we worked with that same Labour Welsh government to pass a motion in the Welsh parliament calling for a Final Say second referendum.
Everywhere we find compromise, except in Westminster.
If we are to find an escape route from this collapsing building, then we need innovative solutions and a willingness to change the hue of lines that have so far been intractably red.
And the EU is ready to engage in a spirit of cooperation. High-ranking MEPs told me that of course they’d be willing to extend Article 50 if a request came in from the British government. Of course we can have an extended transition period with a people’s vote at the end. Of course they would go out of their way to accommodate the UK if there was a vote to rejoin.
Europe is bending over backwards to accommodate us. It is Westminster that remains intransigent. Preferring to chase unicorns, rather than solutions, we move from gridlock to Groundhog Day. An endless cycle of false promises and lost votes.
The reason sensible solutions are not being sought is quite simple – much like the 2016 referendum, this has very little to do with Europe and everything to do with splits in the Tory Party.
Rather than continue with her vain attempt to win over ultra Brexiteers, who are clearly prepared to vote against anything and everything, May should try to accommodate those of us who advocate democracy as a way to ultimately resolve the Brexit conundrum.
People voted for a concept in 2016. We must now ask them to vote for a plan.
It may be possible to find a compromise that would see a public vote delivered on terms that assuage the fears of the more sensible half of the Conservative Party.
But for that to happen the prime minister needs to take Jacob Rees-Mogg’s number off speed-dial and start talking to the majority who are offering options based in reality.
This historic mess requires a historic compromise. The question is whether the prime minister is willing to make it.
Adam Price is leader of Plaid Cymru and Welsh assembly member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr
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