7 February 2017
Monday saw the launch into stage two of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. With every speech, every statement and every story in the press it’s becoming clearer that the government is taking us into Brexit negotiations on a false premise.
Whether you’re part of the 48 per cent or the 52 per cent, we’re all being treated with contempt.
The government has threatened to turn the UK into a tax haven off the cost of mainland Europe and said it intends to use the welfare of the British people as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations.
That’s why I, along with several other Greens, are taking a new case to court.
The ‘Dublin case’ seeks legal clarity on the revocability of Article 50. We want to know if Article 50, once triggered, can be unilaterally revoked by the UK government without requiring consent from all other 27 EU Member States.
The EU referendum should have been the start of a process, not the end of it – a conversation about the kind of country we want to be, the kind of future we want for our children.
Instead the government has tried to shut us all out of the process in the name of respecting the will of the British people.
It has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into allowing parliament, let alone the British people, into having a meaningful say – whether through a White Paper or even a vote on invoking Article 50.
It’s true that in an act of apparent generosity, Theresa May announced she would allow parliament a vote on the final terms of the Brexit deal. But even that, it transpired, was phony.
As things stand it will be a choice between an extreme Brexit and expulsion from the EU with no Brexit deal at all. So the country is caught between a rock and a hard place.
It’s no secret that the government is entering Brexit negotiations from a place of weakness. But it may also be that from a desire to pursue a fundamentalist exit, the government is allowing itself to being outflanked even before it begins.
We’re told that once the bill to trigger article 50 completes its parliamentary stages, and it’s invoked, there is no going back.
Well, it seems that this may be untrue. Indeed, the consensus is that if the government and the European member states both agree, Article 50 could be revoked.
It may even be that the government could revoke it unilaterally. This is crucial. In an age of growing global insecurity, we need to know that there is an escape route and we need to know how to access it.
What if there is another financial crisis or an economic downturn? But more than that, what if we all take a look at the two options – an extreme Brexit deal or no deal – and as a country decide we don’t like the look of either?
The result of the referendum should be respected. But if you have made a decision at a fork in the road, but several corners later you find yourself driving off a cliff edge, there should always be an option to apply the brakes.
If our case is successful, the Irish court will make a reference to the European Court, and that court will rule that the government could, on its own and if it chose to do so, revoke article 50.
That wouldn’t of course mean that it would. But it would make the prospect of the promised parliamentary vote on the terms of Brexit meaningful. It would also mean that in the event of a ratification referendum, the people would have a proper say.
We need a safety net. And being able to revoke Article 50 gives our country ‘control’. After all, that is what we were supposed to have voted for on June 23 last year.