The Guardian Brexit Panel
The EU has given Britain until 31 October to find a way out of the current crisis, after Theresa May met leaders in Brussels.
Simon Jenkins: The only thing that matters now is votes in the House of Commons
Suddenly the wind dies. The ship is becalmed. Will the crew return to squabbling? The second postponement of Brexit seems likely to bring out the worst in parliament. Theresa May will be under resumed pressure to resign, which will solve nothing. Remainers and no-dealers will return to their tribes. It is hard to disagree with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, that a six-month delay beyond June will merely encourage them.
The one thing that matters now is votes in the House of Commons. The prime minister has lost her party. If she wants to be true custodian of Brexit, the only requisite votes are sitting opposite her in her talks with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. They depend on the UK negotiating to remain in some form of European customs union and/or single market. It might not be ideal, but it is the only deal in sight.
May must keep talking to Corbyn. He is the one guarantee to the EU that Britain will stay more or less of one mind over the year ahead. May must come up with something she can put urgently to the commons – and on a free vote – to avoid the next deadline of the European elections in May. If in return the commons demands a referendum, so be it. That is a political process, not a deal to put to Brussels.
On Brexit, parliament collectively is currently the UK’s only “government”. It must come of age. So far all we see is it sitting with its hands over it ears, screaming.
• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist
Gina Miller: MPs must make the hard decision to revoke article 50
Six months gives us little time to save the country from a calamitous no-deal Brexit. But it is just enough time for the Tories to install an ideologue prime minister who will take Britain so far to the right that it will have even Margaret Thatcher turning in her grave.
As exhausted as they may be after so many late-night sittings, our MPs cannot afford to put their feet up. They need to recognise, and quickly, that as things stand they are still facing only two legal options – revoke article 50 or reconcile themselves to no deal.
Those who see a confirmatory vote as the solution do not have time on their side, either. With the Easter and summer parliamentary breaks and the suggested minimum time period of 22 weeks to pass an act, and allow the Electoral Commission to stress test it and establish the rules of a new referendum, as well as campaigning, there is no time to waste.
Too many of our politicians are currently tiptoeing around Brexit, mainly because they know they can never satisfy all factions in their parties. They need to recognise that public opinion on Brexit has shifted since the 2016 referendum.
Since the start of 2018, 113 out of 125 polls have favoured remaining in the EU. Only three polls have shown a majority wanting to leave. Right-minded MPs have to take on any short-term backlash and pain they may face and make the hard decision to revoke article 50 and reform. We look to them to keep Britain great – a player on the world stage and not merely an onlooker.
• Gina Miller is a transparency activist and the founder of Lead Not Leave
Sonia Sodha: The case for a confirmatory referendum only gets stronger
Another cliff edge, another 11th-hour reprieve. Thanks to Emmanuel Macron putting his foot down, it’s a six-month extension we’ve been offered rather than the 12 month one the majority of EU leaders wanted. But it’s hard to see anything fundamental enough shifting in the next few months that would see a Brexit deal get through parliament.
If recent weeks have shown anything, it’s that even the threat of a no-deal cliff edge is not enough to get a majority of MPs rallying behind some sort of deal. EU leaders have been clear there’ll be no reopening of the withdrawal agreement, and so the hard Eurosceptic flank of the Conservatives will hold out for their favoured prospect – a no-deal Brexit. Equally, we’re highly unlikely to see a Brexit compromise between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn: it would divide both of their parties, perhaps irrevocably.
Something big has to change if we’re to avoid ending up in exactly the same predicament in six months’ time. A general election would likely deliver another hung parliament, and it’s hard to see how you even get to one in the first place – Tory MPs are unlikely to want to risk their own seats by voting for an election or against the government in a no-confidence vote. Hard Brexiters are better off just waiting for the next cliff edge.
So the case for a confirmatory referendum on a Brexit deal only gets stronger. The principled case has always been watertight: there was no firm leave proposition on the table when people voted in 2016 – and now one exists, it’s only democratic that people get a chance to ratify or reject it. But with every week that passes, the pragmatic argument grows in importance: there just isn’t any other way of breaking the gridlock. That’s why we may see even more MPs come round to this in the coming weeks. But they’d better get a move on: holding a referendum would take at least six months, according to the Electoral Commission.
• Sonia Sodha is chief leader writer at the Observer, and deputy opinion editor at the Guardian
Stella Creasy: A citizens’ assembly would be a better way of doing politics
A long extension will not break the Brexit gridlock – unless MPs break with the way we make decisions. Instead of using it to talk at each other for longer, we could do worse than spend some time hearing what the public have to say first.
Around the world citizens’ assemblies are used to examine the will of the people on issues about which politicians are stuck. It would be 250 members of the public randomly selected from across the UK in the same way a jury is to hear evidence in public on all the options for Brexit. Chaired by an independent person, these panels wouldn’t replace MPs – parliament could either reject or act on their recommendations. But they would help strip away the party politics and prevarication that has come to define issues such as Brexit.
Some – especially sitting politicians – react with horror. They claim Westminster is the “citizens’ assembly” and dismiss them as a mere talking shop. The status quo might be shaking under the Brexit impasse, but there remains a comfort zone. Sticking with what we know means continuing to battle over amendments, whipping arrangements and eyeballing either a second referendum or a general election if all else fails.
Others see citizens’ assemblies for what they are – a better way of doing politics. Something that could not only generate public buy-in for any Brexit solution including a referendum, but also mend public disquiet with democracy itself. Previously time has been the barrier – setting one up on Brexit options would require at least 12 weeks from start to finish. But time is now what we have. The real question is: do we have the political will and courage to match?
• Stella Creasy is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Walthamstow
Henry Newman: Parliament will dither rather than decide
More delay, more deferral. Wednesday’s summit pushed Brexit ever further away and achieved precious little. Neither short enough really to put pressure on MPs to make actual decisions, nor long enough to offer much space for a fundamental change in the UK political landscape – this is an anti-Goldilocks Brexit delay.
Britain will now have to hold costly elections for the European parliament, which an Open Europe poll on Wednesday showed could give a national platform to new parties on both extremes of the Brexit debate – Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, and the pro-second referendum Change UK – the Independent Group.
Meanwhile in Westminster, MPs continue to avoid the actual choices. All the calls for a softer Brexit – customs union this or common market that – are diversions. The only path to each is based on the exact same withdrawal agreement, which includes the backstop. All that can be changed is the non-binding political declaration. And as long as Labour are committed to ending free movement, which they broadly claim to be, a single market relationship is off the table.
There are only really three options – leave without a deal (which parliament will surely prevent), leave with a version of the current deal, or don’t leave (by revoking article 50, perhaps after a second referendum). That’s it. I would say it’s make your mind up time, but it seems more probable that parliament will dither rather than decide.
• Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He has worked in the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Justice