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Where Now?

The government and others have put out a wide range of unpalatable options for the future as part of their campaign to try to get more MPs to vote for their Withdrawal Agreement. It is time for cool heads to work out what might happen next and what is the best course for our country and our democracy.

The government this week was threatening MPs with a no deal Brexit and with no Brexit, with a long delay or the wrong kind of Brexit depending on who they were talking to. They kept all the threats on the table, which has kept the public guessing as to their likely course of action now. It is time to talk positively about what we can do, and rule out some of the options.

Some say we should revoke Article 50 and abandon Brexit. That would be quite wrong given the promises made to voters in the referendum by all parties, and by the clear promise to see Brexit through made by both Labour and the Conservatives in the General Election which followed. I think we can rule out either Mrs May or Mr Corbyn legislating to revoke Article 50.

Some say including Labour we need a new election to ask the people. I am not sure it is wise of Mr Corbyn to want this, as current polls show both main parties have suffered from the failure to implement the Brexit they both promised in time. What is clear is the overwhelming number of Conservative MPs think we have to sort this out now in this Parliament and are against a new election. It would take their votes in Parliament to overturn the 5 year Parliament Act, so that looks unlikely.

Some say we should hold a second referendum. That would require long and highly contentious legislation. It has twice been voted down in the Commons recently. Mrs May has always strongly ruled out any such move. It was widely debated in the last General election and was not popular. We should rule this out as well.

This then leaves us with a simple binary choice. Do we leave without the Withdrawal Agreement on April 12th, or seek a delay to our departure?

Those who favour delay do not agree about how long or for what reason we would want a delay. The EU has stated often that it does not intend to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, so it would not presumably offer delay for some kind of renegotiation. The UK if it wants to change what kind of future partnership it wants – to say a customs union – would still need to sign the Withdrawal Treaty first which Parliament has rightly just turned down again. The EU has in mind a long delay in order to have a General election or second referendum to overturn Brexit altogether. It is difficult to see how Mrs May could accept that.

I favour tabling a comprehensive trade agreement next week with the EU. Then we should leave on April 12th. If the EU just agreed to trade talks there would be no need under WTO rules to impose any new tariffs or other barriers on each other whilst the trade talks were underway. This would unite Leave voters who just want us out with many moderate Remain voters who are concerned about new barriers to trade.


Sir John Redwood MP

Sir John Redwood has been Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987 and is a former Secretary of State for Wales, having held a variety of ministerial roles in the 1980s and 1990s. A former Head of Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit, he is Chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Economic Affairs Committee and wrote We Don’t Believe You: Why Populists and the Establishment See the World Differently (Bite-Sized Books, 2019). His Politeia publications include How to Take Back Control: Trading Globally Through the WTO (2018) and Trading Truths: The Treasury, Trade and the City (2016).

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