The nightmare of a hard Brexit is getting very real. Squeaky-bum-time real. With no clear majority for any kind of negotiated Brexit in the House of Commons to speak of, the high command of HM Government is preparing for the one thing they’ve repeatedly told us would be the worst of all worlds: the cliff edge of no deal.
The incompetence of those preparations was brought into sharp focus over Christmas with the revelation that Seaborne Freight, the company awarded the multi-million pound contract to provide emergency no deal shipping across the Channel has never floated a boat in its short existence, doesn’t have an office and uses terms and conditions more suitable to a fast food takeaway than a maritime enterprise.
For a government beating to panic stations, this is bargain basement stuff. We are told repeatedly that crashing out of the EU without a deal represents an existential threat to our way of life. Medicines and food will run short, house prices will nosedive and tariffs for selling our goods will spring up like topsy.
And yet the UK government is striking deals which you might expect to see brokered in a spam email from a mythical West African prince hiding out in Lagos and asking you to help him stash his money.
Part of me hopes this means the UK government has no intention of leaving without a deal; that it is going through the theatrics of preparation for no deal to frighten MPs into voting for the PM’s deal. But there’s part of me that genuinely worries that this is all there is. We are led by a Conservative Party at war with itself – riven beyond the reach of unity and no deal could actually be our fate. This is scary stuff.
Given the impasse in parliament, it’s time to give the final decision on Brexit back to the people. Liberal Democrats have always argued that the final terms of EU withdrawal should be subject to a referendum with the option to cancel Brexit entirely. Support for a People’s Vote is gathering steam but the time for one is running out. Theresa May was too frit to put her deal with the EU 27 before Parliament, knowing that she’d lose by a country mile. By putting that vote off, she burned a whole month of the four we had left before Brexit day on March 29th. It may be that she is deliberately stalling until there is no time left for the Commons to come to any other kind of view than hers.
What is absolutely mindboggling about this situation is that she seems to be ably assisted in that endeavour by the leader of her majesty’s opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. While the Labour membership are in step with the Lib Dems in calling for a People’s Vote on the final terms of Brexit, their leader is not. Corbyn has stated that he won’t back a People’s Vote until they’ve tried to force an election. By refusing to trigger the no-confidence vote which would bring that election about, he is acting as a firewall between Theresa May and the swelling numbers of MPs who’d back a People’s Vote.
Thousands of Labour members have defected to the Lib Dems over the festive break, so disgusted are they at Corbyn’s capitulation with May in protecting Brexit. Whilst that’s great for my party, it’s terrible for my country and I’d gladly swap the gains that are coming for my party for the Labour leadership to swing behind a People’sVote.
A good Brexit is like an imaginary ferry – no such thing exists. We have to put this back in the hands of the people, in the hope and belief that they will return us to EU membership. Labour are key to doing that. If they refuse to help, they will never be forgiven.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.