Last Friday Lord Kerr gave a powerful speech confirming that the UK’s notification of the intention to leave the EU can be withdrawn at any time before 29th March 2019. This intervention was a firm challenge to the Brexiteers’ narrative that the decision to leave the EU is irreversible now that Article 50 has been triggered.
If anyone knows the intentions of those that drafted Article 50 then it is Lord Kerr. Why? Because he wrote it. He told the audience that, “The Article is about voluntary withdrawal. It is not about expulsion. We don’t have to go if at any stage within the two years we decide that we don’t want to go.”
Brexit is not a foregone conclusion
He is not alone in this interpretation which is shared by lawyers and politicians alike. Indeed, in recent weeks the government has come under pressure to publish legal advice that it has been given on this precise point. Some may argue that the status of Article 50 is a purely legal concern, yet the question of whether the UK can undo its decision to leave is really a matter of politics. If there is the political will for the UK to remain it can and will happen.
Significantly, a number of EU leaders have made clear that, if the UK wants to change its mind, they will not block us from remaining. Brexit is not a foregone conclusion.
On the same day that Lord Kerr gave his speech, Theresa May published an article saying that she intends to fix in law the date and time that the UK will leave the EU. Another attempt to give the impression that the decision cannot be undone. Yet the reality is that Parliament is, and always has been, sovereign. Whatever is passed into law today can be repealed in the future. So enshrining a leaving date in law counts for little. It does not make leaving any more inevitable.
EU Withdrawal Bill puts our rights at risk
The next significant event in the Brexit process is Parliament’s debate of the EU Withdrawal Bill. Contrary to statements from some members of the Conservative Party, seeking to amend this Bill is not an attempt to circumvent ‘the will of the people’. Those that took part in the referendum voted, by a small majority, to leave the EU. But there was nothing on the ballot paper about how this should happen. How can it legitimately be argued that the vote to leave the EU was a vote to give the government the power to take away many of our rights and protections without proper scrutiny and debate by our elected representatives? It can’t, but that is ultimately what will happen if the Bill passes unamended.
A re-think is needed
Every day we hear more news reports of how the economy is being affected by the decision to leave the EU and how our international reputation is being damaged. Despite a binding vote in Parliament, the government has so far refused to publish the 58 impact studies we had been assured existed. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that negotiations with the EU are going well. A re-think is required as it becomes increasingly apparent that the promises made by Brexiteers during the referendum campaign cannot possibly be delivered.
It is crucial that in the coming weeks and months MPs argue and vote for what they know to be in the best interests of the country, not what is in the short-term interests of their own party. That is certainly what our Lib Dem MPs will be doing.