Thursday, 2 February 2017

Brexit: what should happen now?

Brexit - that is, the UK leaving the European Union - is one step closer after the vote by MPs last night. So what should happen now?

I believe we should indeed leave the European Union. It's not what I want, but it's what people voted for - by a narrow but clear majority of those voting.

I don't think the voting public should be treated like children, who often need to be protected from their own decisions, but as adults who decide for ourselves and live with it. So, even though many people feel they were misled, the referendum should be final. (Although that does not rule out the UK rejoining the EU one day.)

But "hard Brexit" is not the only possible Brexit. The voters have not expressed a view about what should happen next - we have not had the opportunity to do so - and Theresa May's government does not have a mandate for anything other than leaving.

So, what I would like to happen is for Theresa May's government to continue to negotiate their version of Brexit, but for parallel negotiations to take place to come up with another option.

Let's get those who want a different sort of Brexit to join together and offer us a different sort of Brexit. No extra taxpayers' money should be spent on it, so it should be self-funded, perhaps by crowdsourcing the funds.

The SNP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens - even those Tories who oppose the sort of Brexit the present Government is planning to negotiate - could all put forward a nominee to agree a common position, and then choose someone to negotiate with the EU.

This is playing fantasy politics... but we could have Angus Robertson, Keir Starmer or John McDonnell (and I was going to say "or Diane Abbott" but today's controversy makes that more difficult), Nick Clegg, Caroline Lucas and Anna Soubry all deciding on a negotiating stance, publishing it, and then picking someone to take part in real negotiations with the EU.

At the end of the parallel negotiations there would be two options. Unlike the Brexit referendum last June, those options would both be clear - and opportunistic politicians would therefore not be able to promise things that could never be delivered.

Both the options would be for leaving the EU, as that has already been decided, but it would be up to the two negotiating teams to get the best deals they could. Then we could be given the choice.

All the talk of whether or not people would get what they voted for could end: we would leave the EU. But we wouldn't be giving a "blank cheque" to Theresa May's government to negotiate the Brexit they want to impose on the country. The parallel negotiations would give us a genuine alternative.

Could it happen? It requires 3 things: a mandate from parliament, willingness of the EU to participate, and the ability of politicians to work together. Parliament could, I believe, give these alternative negotiations a mandate; and I hope the EU would agree to take part, because it might well result in a deal that is better for both sides.

Then it's just down to the politicians who want a better Brexit to put their reputations on the line for the sake of the country. It would be hard for them to agree - but not as hard as Theresa May's Brexit will be.