The Telegraph: A long Brexit delay would turn into a glorified second referendum

In agreeing the 22 May extension, the Prime Minister’s view is clearly that it buys time to force the wretched Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. But that deal does not deliver Brexit in anything but name. It is an abject humiliation.

Throughout the lengthy transition period, the UK would be bound by EU law, under the jurisdiction of the ECJ, but with absolutely no say in the law-making process. Did anyone vote to “Take Back Control” to have laws which may not be in our best interests imposed upon us by a foreign power, be subject to substantial fines for non-compliance, from which there is no unilateral right of exit, and pay £39bn for the privilege?

For this tragic fate to be avoided, the deal must be voted down. Without it, the agreed extension is not until 22 May, but 12 April, bringing the original question sharply into focus. Apart from the further humiliation of not delivering Brexit on time, what can be achieved in two weeks that has not been achieved in two years?

Nothing. If the Prime Minister is to have any hope of preserving the integrity of our democratic institutions or stopping the Conservative Party from disintegrating, she must now make good on her claim – repeated more than 100 times – that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, and her belief that “we will ultimately make a success of no deal.” The UK must leave the EU on 29 March, as the current law demands.

Brexit has been given three separate democratic mandates. In 2015, the Conservatives promised that, if elected, we would hold a decisive referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The Party was returned to Government with more votes and MPs. In the referendum, more people voted Leave than have ever voted for anything before in British history. In 2017, 85% of the votes cast were for parties which defined Brexit as leaving the Single Market, the Customs Union and the remit of the ECJ.

An extension will provide a fourth mandate – European elections in which the UK should never have been participating. Those would be, in effect, the much called-for second referendum, and likely spell disaster for the Conservatives. The Party would presumably campaign in favour of the current deal, yet the most recent poll shows that Conservative voters overwhelmingly back no deal; 66% agree with the statement “In order to get the best deal with the EU, ‘no-deal’ must be put back on the negotiation table.” 56% of them believe that “The Government seems to be in favour of remaining in the EU and has set out to thwart Brexit from the beginning.” Conservative candidates would be wiped out.

We have very little to fear – and much to gain – from a no-deal Brexit. Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris reassured the House this week that the Government is on track with preparations for “no deal”. Likewise, Michel Barnier confirmed that the EU has approved all but two of its contingency measures. The Chairman of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, has robustly refuted the alarmist claims of disruptions to freight. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has neutralised the drug shortage scare.

Better still, by bringing compression to the negotiations, preparing for no deal ensures that it is not an end state. The EU enjoys a £95bn goods surplus with the UK. The German IW Institute has warned that German exports to the UK could be cut by 57%. Bluntly, the EU cannot allow anything of this magnitude to happen. So it will not.

Under these circumstances, the EU will have to consider Article XXIV of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In that case, so long as the UK and EU agree to an FTA and notify the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule for the FTA as soon as possible, we could maintain our current zero-tariff arrangements while the new deal was being negotiated.

Most importantly, this plan provides the certainty which all sides are craving. Compare that to what would happen if the Prime Minister agrees a further extension. Allowing the UK to be ground down further would brutally break the promises Parliament has made to the electorate and destroy public trust in parliamentary democracy. There is already justified public anger at the way this process has been handled. 90% think the negotiations represent a national humiliation. How much greater will it be if this misery is allowed to continue?

That prospect should seriously concentrate Government minds. If Remainers want to continue their tactics of frustration and send their parties to oblivion, on their heads be it. The electorate will see what they are doing and remember it. But if the Government wants to have any hope of survival, it must grasp the chance which has now been presented to it. It must stand up for the 17.4 million people who voted Leave, firmly resolved to deliver Brexit on time and in full on 29 March.

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