Time to choose3 December 2018 | 13:24 | The Guardian
The question that faces MPs is whether the EU withdrawal agreement and the declaration on the future framework of relations, both of which were signed off by the EU and the UK last month, are an acceptable basis for Brexit to go ahead. In this newspaper’s view they are not. The Guardian opposed and opposes withdrawal. The declaration, in particular, is simply too vague a prospectus for relations with the EU to be an acceptable basis for Brexit. It does nothing to protect the economy through commitments to remain in the single market and customs union. It offers no guarantee that jobs, interests and regulatory regimes are protected from the fanatics and fantasists who want to drive wages and standards down and turn our backs on Europe.
The events of the next week will be increasingly fast-moving. The precise political options and effects of the votes on 11 December will be difficult to judge until the day itself. At the outset, however, there seem currently to be four main options: no deal at all, Mrs May’s deal, a softer form of Brexit deal, and a second referendum. Of these, two are clearly ruled out. No pro-European and no social justice supporter should countenance the multiple risks and damage of no deal under any circumstances, while Mrs May’s deal is, as stated above, too full of dangerous holes.
The two options that deserve more thought by MPs are a softer deal and a second referendum. The choice will depend, in part, on how the domestic Brexit endgame evolves over the next week. The way the Commons votes on Tuesday to sequence the different amendments to the May deal will have significant consequences. Given the vital importance of Britain’s relations with Europe, and the existence of the 2016 vote to leave, it is important that this hung parliament comes together across party lines as much as it can.
The most viable form of softer Brexit on offer now would have Britain leaving the EU on the basis of Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement. But it would also specify that, at the end of the planned withdrawal transition, the UK would rejoin the European Free Trade Association (of which Norway is the most important current member) and join the European Economic Area and the single market. In addition, under this “Norway plus” option, the UK would remain in a customs union with the EU. Economic integration and freedom of movement would continue, largely on EU terms, but Britain would have left the EU. This would draw the sting of the Northern Ireland border argument. It would leave Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade largely redundant.
A second referendum has growing support outside parliament and backing within it. It is the only route open to MPs to keep the UK in the EU. Yet that outcome is not certain. Leave could win again. Either way it is a daunting prospect. It would deepen bitter national arguments still further. It would demand a far better and more reasoned pro-European campaign. But we can see more starkly now what Brexit would actually mean. If MPs do not support the May deal or the Norway-plus option, there are clear circumstances in which a second referendum becomes the only supportable alternative to no deal.
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