Theresa May’s deal could limp through but the political declaration could be ripped up by next Tory Prime Minister, warns Ian Murray
Did anyone notice anything different when our clocks struck 11pm on Friday, March 29? Me neither. That was supposed to be the time when the UK left the European Union.
Thankfully, we are still in the EU and have an extension until May 22 if the Prime Minister can get her agreement through, or next Friday for the government to indicate to the EU what the UK wishes to do next.
By the time you read this it may already be out of date, such is the fast-moving nature of events at Westminster, but parliament is starting to take back control from a prime minister and government that is out of control.
In the last week, parliament has voted to allow MPs to take over the Order Paper and conduct indicative votes on finding a way forward. It has involved endless hours of negotiation with all parties and none to try and reach a consensus.
The last session finished on Monday night and while there is, as yet, no overall consensus, I am pleased that a public confirmatory vote topped the poll on both occasions.
The minimum of a permanent Customs Union was unfortunately narrowly defeated by just three votes.
The third session of backbenchers taking control of parliamentary business sees my close colleague, Yvette Cooper MP, present a Bill to instruct the government to seek a long extension of Article 50. It is critical that this is passed to prevent a catastrophic no-deal scenario and give parliament time to find a way forward.
This mess is all at the door of the prime minister who, for the last two-and-a-half years, has refused to reach out across parliament to try and seek a way forward. On Tuesday night, after a seven-hour Cabinet meeting, she declared she would seek to find a consensus to allow the UK to leave the EU after a short extension.
It is too little too late, but she has committed to another indicative votes process on Monday that will be binding on the government.
I think this is a trap from the PM, as the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement cannot be re-opened – so all we are really discussing is the non-binding political declaration. This is where the problem and the trap lies for the Leader of the Opposition.
Theresa May has said she will stand down if she manages to get her deal through parliament. That means the non-legal, non-binding political declaration could be ripped up by whoever the next Tory PM is. If that is an arch-Brexiteer like Boris Johnson, then the consequences for the country will be profound. The best deal is the one we currently enjoy as a member of the EU. There is no such thing as a good Brexit. However, I’ve long believed, as a founding director of the Scottish Labour for the Single Market campaign, that if we are to leave the EU then the least worst option is the best option.
What is vital now, whatever the final withdrawal deal looks like, is that it must go back to the people in a confirmatory referendum to see if this is what the public wants. That is what happened with the Good Friday Agreement, and is common practice by trade unions, local associations and businesses.
All the promises of sunny uplands on leaving the EU have proved to be false; the consequences of any deal would be measurable and clear; so let the people decide.
MPs have rightly been criticised for this debacle, but I can assure you that many of us are working around the clock, working cross-party, to try to seek a consensus. We have achieved a lot against an all-powerful government machine, but we now must see it through by gaining a long extension, ruling out a no-deal, and finding a compromise that parliament can support so it can be put back to the people.
I will keep fighting for what is in the best interests of the country, Edinburgh and my constituents and if it means I lose my job to save theirs, that is a small price worth paying.
Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South