ANDREW ADONIS: Remain must march again before it's too late

PUBLISHED: 09:38 14 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:47 14 February 2019

Anti-Brexit campaigners take part in the People's Vote march through central London. (Photograph by Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Anti-Brexit campaigners take part in the People's Vote march through central London. (Photograph by Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media

It's time to march in the final race, writes ANDREW ADONIS.

I don’t think Milton had Theresa May in mind when he famously observed: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Stubborn immobility is her only skill. But can she spin it out for six weeks and get her appalling Brexit through by default?

The problem for us is that her strategy is tentatively endorsed by the arbiters of Europe. Donald Tusk hit the headlines last week for his “special place in hell” for Brexiter leaders. But more important were his remarks that Remain has no leadership and he didn’t think, to his regret, that there would be a second referendum.

Angela Merkel appears to think the same, which accords with her general instinct to let events congeal. She and Tusk have done a classic Brussels manoeuvre, saying ‘no more negotiations’ while in fact starting negotiations on a ‘codicil’ to May’s Withdrawal Agreement which, like the codicil to a will, has the same legal force as the main text.

This will enable May to retable her largely unchanged deal to parliament at the end of the March while claiming to have a weaker legal version of the Irish backstop, to please the European Research Group.

The Irish are none too happy sacrificial lambs. If Leo Varadkar were wise he would still veto the whole codicil concept, since it will end in tears for Ireland if ever implemented. But he has been leaned on and so far is going along with it.

A poison pill is envisaged which could be lethal to us in the Resistance. Everyone knows that Article 50 needs to be extended from the end of March in any event, since the statute book will not be ready for Brexit even if May’s deal passes at the last minute. However, May is angling to persuade Tusk and Merkel to make the offer of a temporary extension of Article 50 contingent upon her deal passing, arguing that there is no other viable course. Then she really can present it to MPs as “my deal or no deal – next week!”

I am not pretending this is anything other than a desperate situation, created largely by parliament’s failure to follow through on its overwhelming rejection of May’s deal on January 15. The narrow defeat on January 29 of the Cooper-Boles proposal to end no-deal gave May a new lease of life. Her ‘stand and stare’ policy has been gaining traction ever since.

However, it can be defeated. First, it is imperative and right that our EU partners agree a second option for an extension of Article 50, namely a referendum to be held within the extension period. This gives parliament a choice between the two credible options facing Britain and the EU, which are May’s deal or continued British membership.

For this to happen, the Resistance needs to show it is once again capable of resisting. We need to turn out in force for another mass public demonstration in London before she takes us to the precipice.

We also need to make a better job, in the next parliamentary votes to be held on February 27, of ruling out no-deal and requesting an extension of Article 50 irrespective of whether the May deal passes or not. If parliament votes decisively for a new version of Cooper-Boles in a fortnight, it will strongly encourage those, particularly Varadkar, who want to enable a second referendum and not just May’s deal.

All this is possible; we just need to get on it. For parliamentarians, it requires far more self-discipline than seen so far.

The reason for the January 29 fiasco was that four separate resolutions to end no-deal were put to the vote, all with ego-driven sponsors. Only the weakest, moved by former Tory minister Caroline Spelman, passed, but narrowly and overshadowed by the defeat of the other three, especially Cooper-Boles which included machinery for actually requiring an extension of Article 50 to be secured.

As for any future big demo, it has to have as much impact as the great October 20 People’s Vote march. As soon as the new date is announced, every reader of The New European needs to make plans to be there, taking at least 20 friends and colleagues each!

Remember who Milton set in contrast to the immobile: “Thousands at his bidding speed / And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest.” The least we can do is march again on London, so that May doesn’t get Brexit through by default and wreck our country.

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