It must be Revoke – it’s too late for anything else….

When Jo Swinson meets Jeremy Corbyn next week there is only one message worth delivering: Article 50 must be revoked before the Brexit deadline. The time is long past for parliamentary jiggery-pokery and procedural sleight of hand, whether it be to bring about a further extension, a second referendum, a General Election, or all three. The country now needs a solution which is honourable, and removes the tyranny of an artificial deadline created only by the ineptitude of the May administration.

The overriding justification for revocation is that it is the only course of action which is neutral in its consequences. Legally we can revoke without any change in our relationship with the EU, and legally there is nothing to stop us restarting the Article 50 process in the future.

Its beauty is that it is blissfully simple, it requires no commitment to a leave or remain agenda, and if it is understood to be temporary, no one is bound or compromised. To be fair to the Leave factions, the Labour Party and others, it is likely to require a commitment by Parliament to a further referendum, and maybe also a General Election, but this would be for later, and with time to do it properly.

Of course, there will be the familiar outcry claiming betrayal of democracy, but such claims are tendentious and above all hypocritical. The leavers will have lost nothing, except the chance to squeeze through a flawed and massively unpopular decision by undemocratic means. There can be no honourable objection to restarting the process. Let the Leavers state their case again and demonstrate that they really do represent the will of the people.

Underlying this debacle is the way Parliament has sleepwalked into disaster. Whether through misplaced loyalty, inability to think outside the Westminster box, or simple inertia, our MPs have made a series of terrible mistakes. To troop through the lobbies in support of the flawed concept of the original referendum, then to sanction triggering article 50, without responding to the full implications of those decisions, is no less than an ongoing dereliction of duty.

The talks with Jeremy Corbyn next week may well be the most important event so far in the struggle to avoid disaster, but if no one cuts through the tangle of narrow self-interest and conflicting agendas which has bedevilled every previous proposal, they will dissolve into disaccord, recrimination and failure. We may well then be forced by the pressure of time to accept an irrevocable course which no one other than the most extreme of leavers really wants. There might just be time for all factions to unite, but it must be around revoking Article 50, the only solution which makes moral and political sense.

* Brian Edmonds is a newly re-joined LibDem member, who currently lives in France.

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45 Comments

  • Does anyone know of a more recent opinion poll? The following looks like there might be a majority in favour, but it is old (9 May 2019):

    https://whatukthinks.org/eu/questions/would-revoking-article-50-and-remaining-in-the-eu-be-an-acceptable-outcome-of-brexit-to-you/

    And of course what question you ask influences the result.

  • The idea of revoking while committing to launch a second referendum sounds superficially attractive. However, the ruling that the UK would be free to revoke came with a caveat: the decision to revoke must be a settled commitment. Theresa May well understood that she couldn’t just get an extension by the back door method of revoking and immediately then re-triggering Article 50. Were we to revoke as a back door tactic in order to then call a second referendum, we would equally find out that the lawyers, and probably the EU’s leaders too, would say that was inadmissible cheating.

  • Michael Berridge 23rd Aug '19 - 1:02pm

    “The leavers will have lost nothing, except the chance to squeeze through a flawed and massively unpopular decision by undemocratic means.” That makes perfect sense to this expat (now based in Germany). And in any new referendum, the Leave option must be more specific. Or, with a simple repeat of Remain/Leave, a successful “Leave” vote must lead to a multiple-choice process (in Parliament? in yet another plebiscite?) specifying on what model we are to leave: Norway, Switzerland, Canada and so on. Let’s talk to Jeremy Corbyn!

  • William Fowler 23rd Aug '19 - 1:11pm

    Be interesting to see if the “final” MP vote on this is no-deal v remain, with the polls maybe showing 60 percent in favour of the latter as justification for voting for revoke (though MP’s would have to be given a free vote rather than whipped – their constituents can do that later if so inclined).

    If Boris does get no-deal through by fair means then I think the issue is dead in GE terms, if he fiddles it with GE timing, etc then it would be still be a big factor in a subsequent GE. If revoke went through with a clear majority then the Tories would be hit in the next election for letting it happen but knowing that Labour were going to be restrained by EU rules would be mildly reassuring and, of course, if Sterling recovers from UK staying in EU there is always the option of escaping to 27 countries! Strange times!

  • Geoffrey Dron 23rd Aug '19 - 1:19pm
  • John Saunders 23rd Aug '19 - 1:22pm

    But what would anybody be able to do about our “inadmissible cheating”? Override our sovereign parliament and the wishes of the EU27 who don’t want Brexit to happen, and force us to leave? I think not.
    The real “inadmissible cheating” is the pretence that there is a democratic mandate for leaving without a deal, which was no part of the Leave prospectus in 2016.

  • David Allen 23rd Aug '19 - 1:28pm

    Thanks Geoffrey Dron, that’s what I was referring to, above.

  • Geoffrey Dron 23rd Aug '19 - 1:41pm

    Greg Hands, whose report on alternative arrangements has been endorsed by Boris Johnson, has claimed that unlike “ideological technocrats in Brussels”, Germany was willing to explore ways of breaking the impasse.

    After Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron said they were willing to listen to new proposals in the next 30 days, Mr Hands said that his report, co-led by Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, could provide the blueprint for unlocking talks with the EU.

    Mr Hands, a former chief secretary to the Treasury, has said the German Chancellor had been “indicating her willingness to be more practical for some time.”

    Let’s await the response from Brussels and Dublin.

  • William Fowler 23rd Aug '19 - 2:45pm

    If Boris was going to spend 30 days locked in a room with Macron and Merkel then it might get done but the EU member state leaders are not doing the negotiation… Junker and Tusk don’t have a mandate for a new negotiation, so Boris may well end up running around in circles…

  • Bless hope springs eternal to our Brexi’s and Lexi’s. Our EU friends will give us cake, but the hard right will want more cake and then more cake. The final destination is hard Brexit, and then dear Brexi’s and Lexi’s the consequences roll in and the blame game starts. Will I be hated frankie, I fear that is indeed your fate my dearest Brexi and Lexi’s.

  • Brian Edmonds 23rd Aug '19 - 3:16pm

    I’ve had a quick look at the ruling, and I see no mention of the caveat David Allen refers to. Clauses 39 – 42 deal with submissions by the Commission over concerns of abuse of the process, but I would have thought that a bona fide plan to resolve the current mess could be powerfully argued.

  • Our country is independent now. If we have agreements with other countries, we can see that as a limitation of our sovereignty. The difference with the EU is the democratic decision making.

  • Would revoke and referendum be rejected by the EU, well that would be a political decsion and my guess is they’d OK it ( could be wrong, the Brexiteers are really pissing the EU off) . But, but what about the lawyers, well what about them, they’d effectively be kicked into the long grass and any decsion would be an afterthought long after the real decsion has been made.

  • @Tom
    I agree. I think the democratic deficit argument is overdone. As Wikipedia notes:

    “the European Commission, the only institution empowered to *propose* legislation, serves as the Guardian of the Treaties … It turns the consensus objectives of the European Council into legislative proposals.”

    but

    “the Council of the European Union brings together ministers of member states governments’ departments. It serves to represent the various governments directly and its *approval is required* for any proposal to enter into law.”

    The one omission I see is Parliament. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe its job in this is to take legislation from the EU and find a way to incorporate it into UK law. It has no say on what the legislation should be. The European Parliament of course does have a say, but that won’t stop MPs feeling left out.

    Does this explain why UK Governments have tended to be more pro-EU (they have a voice), while the back benches are more hostile?

  • David Allen 23rd Aug '19 - 8:18pm

    Brian Edmonds “I’ve had a quick look at the ruling, and I see no mention of the caveat David Allen refers to. ”

    If you go to clause 74, as Geoffrey Dron cited, you will find:

    “the revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw must, first, be submitted in writing to the European Council and, secondly, be unequivocal and unconditional, that is to say that the purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State, and that revocation brings the withdrawal procedure to an end.”

    If we did it in order to hold a referendum, or indeed a General Election in which a leading party was campaigning to withdraw, then our revocation would not be “unequivocal”.

    John Saunders suggests that the EU would break its own rules in order to accept the revocation, because they don’t want us to leave. I disagree. First, they can’t just break their own rules. They proved that when they insisted in UK participation in the 2019 Euro Elections, having been warned by their lawyers that if they didn’t do things strictly by the book, their newly elected Parliament would lose legitimacy and every ruling it made would be open to legal challenge. Somthing similar would happen if they illegally accepted a UK revocation which was clearly not “unequivocal”.

    The EU would surely say “So, you say you’re doing this in order to hold a referendum (or a GE)? Well, then, instead of trying to revoke first, just do the blindingly obvious, go ahead and hold that referendum (or that GE) first. Then, if that referendum comes up with a decision to revoke, THEN you can revoke, and we shall have confidence that your decision is indeed “unequivocal”. But you’ve got to make that decision, as a nation, first!”

  • Paul Barker 23rd Aug '19 - 8:49pm

    It seems that “Revoke to have a Referendum later” would be Illegal. Asking for another Extension ( would that be the 3rd or 4th ? Ive lost count ) to hold a Referendum would only work if it was at least 9 Months & there’s no guarantee we would get it.That only leaves having an Election before Halloween or a change of mind to genuine Revocation by hundreds of MPs, something I can only imagine if things got really bad.
    The Early Election looks like the best option to me, for now but its going to be very hard to get through The Commons.

  • John Marriott 23rd Aug '19 - 10:13pm

    I see that Mr Edmonds currently resides in France. This is probably not going to go down well; but am I the only person, who wonders whether he has more of an ulterior motive to want the status quo than those of us still living in the U.K.?

  • Johnny McDermott 24th Aug '19 - 12:12am

    But I wonder if it’s a case of last one holding the bag? Who would challenge decision to revoke even if unconditional? Brexiteers at home and possibly exhausted Europeans on continent. Former certain, but with little recourse; latter? I don’t see it. If they’ll grant an extension for ref/ GE, why would they block revoke if for same purpose?

  • My problem is that I had not looked carefully enough at the reality of the governance of the U.K. I had assumed that the only reason that the government was able to get its own way was that they had a working majority in Parliament. I had not realised how the lack of a written constitution meant that in fact we appear to have an (indirectly) elected dictator. The idea of strong and stable government is something that I now understand better.
    The European Union is not a sovereign power, but Alan alliance built on treaties. The treaties have to be approved by the sovereign governments which are members of the EU. Decisions are made according to the treaties. Directives are put into practice by individual governments, according to their interpretation. There is a court whose job it is to enforce the agreements on those who have agreed.
    I can see the democracy in the EU, I am having increasing problems in seeing democracy in the U.K.

  • Brian Edmonds 24th Aug '19 - 8:57am

    A fascinating debate so far – I seem to have some support, and a number of sceptics. Much of the doubt seems to turn on speculation as to possible interpretations of the word ‘unequivocal’ – speculative, and if I may say so, depressingly defeatist. As I say, there is no caveat in the final judgement, and so far, the EU has been reasonably sympathetic to genuine efforts to reach a solution. As for ‘ulterior motives’, I have little to gain or lose either way as it happens. I regard the EU and its principal actors as self-aggrandising, protectionist, self-serving and incapable of finding solutions for the pressing financial and humanitarian problems we face in Europe, yet I have no doubt that it is in Britain’s best interests to remain a member. I continue to engage with British politics because I am British, and I see a nation in a hopeless tangle, attempting to reach some resolution by a stultifying mixture of concocted compromises, parliamentary manoeuvring and procedural sleight of hand. Time is running out, thanks to the tyranny of PM May’s artificial deadline A fresh new solution is desperately needed.

  • Sandra Hammett 24th Aug '19 - 9:55am

    Request another extension in order to have a two stage referendum

    No Deal Leave vs Remain/Deal

    Remain vs Deal

    Anything else would look like a stitch up.

  • John Marriott 24th Aug '19 - 10:14am

    @Martin
    Call it jealousy if you like, although in my case, I have absolutely no desire permanently to live ‘la vie en rose’. Harold Wilson used to refuse to criticise the U.K. when he was abroad. It’s a pity other politicians and expats whom I have known over the years don’t follow that example.

    I’m sorry if I sound deeply ‘illiberal’; but Mr Edmonds has clearly escaped the trauma that many of us are about to face, revocation or not. After four years living and working abroad in the early 1970s, I chose to return to a country, which, despite its many faults, I considered as my true home and spent the next forty or so years as a Liberal/SDP/Lib Dem member actively trying to improve. I have never regretted that choice. I do NOT want to be told what to do by someone, whose affection for the country of his birth does not stretch as far as actually living there any more. Sorry if that offends some people.

  • Peter Martin 24th Aug '19 - 10:34am

    @ Tom Harney,

    “I can see the democracy in the EU………

    I’m not sure where! Boris Johnson has recently been in discussion with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Their democratic legitimacy ends at the borders of Germany and France respectively. So why are they involved?

    Why isn’t he talking mainly to the leaders of the European Parliament? Presumably they would have to include Ursula von der Leyen and perhaps the– European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Euro Summit, Donald Tusk, the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

    I’m not sure how much democracy has been involved in the ‘election’ of these politicians, but at least it would be a start if the leaders of the EU weren’t simply the leaders of the EU’s biggest countries.

    It was the same story during the 2015 Greek crisis. If there was a problem between Greece and Germany the dispute should have been resolved legally by the European courts with the mediation of the European Parliament. As it was the EU stood aside, and let the Germans bully the Greeks into submission.

  • Denis Loretto 24th Aug '19 - 11:04am

    I cannot see any chance of putting together a Commons majority for revoking Article 50.

  • Denis Loretto 24th Aug '19 - 12:21pm

    I also think that the recent remarks by Merkel and Macron ,open to different interpretations as they are, challenging the British Government to come up with alternatives to the Irish backstop within 30 days kill off any chance of a vote of no confidence in early September. Just about every Conservative MP will want to give Johnson a chance to come up with something at this stage.

  • Johnny McDermott”Who would challenge decision to revoke even if unconditional?”

    Nobody from the EU side would challenge an unconditional decision to revoke. But that’s not what is being proposed here. Brian Edmonds specifies that “if it is understood to be temporary, no one is bound or compromised”. Well, if it is going to be temporary and immediately reversible should the referendum result in another Leave vote, then it’s not unconditional or unequivocal, is it?

    Brian Edmonds, “Much of the doubt seems to turn on speculation as to possible interpretations of the word ‘unequivocal’ – speculative, and if I may say so, depressingly defeatist.”

    Frankly, it would be really difficult to conceive of anything less “unequivocal” than what Edmonds is proposing. What I find depressing is – wishful thinking, clutching at straws, and the investment of time, effort and commitment into wrong-headed rescue plans which cannot possibly work. It’s counter-productive, because it diverts attention from alternative plans that might genuinely work.

  • David Allen 24th Aug '19 - 1:29pm

    Denis Loretto 12.21 makes an important point. Johnson’s “Wir schaffen uns” escapade is a charade, but one thing it does is to postpone a Tory VONC rebellion. No doubt Johnson hopes that, by the time it becomes obvious to all that he has no chance of striking a deal, it will be too late for a VONC.

    It follows, however, that a can-kicking approach starts to make more sense. The Tory rebels could, without totally abandoning party loyalty, vote with the Opposition parties to mandate the Government to ask for an A50 extension. They could argue that Johnson’s embryonic (and mythical!) new-Deal-with-no-backstop-as-such will need more time, to get the loose ends tidied up and the process all ratified. They would also be able to quote Johnson, who has just said “We are making progress but I am just telling people not to hold their breath, because I have seen the way these Brussels negotiations work. I must urge people – we are going to be working very hard on this but they shouldn’t necessarily get their hopes up too soon.” So the rebels could say: “Take another six months over it, Boris. Honestly, we’re just helping make sure you get this done well!”

    The wheels would then gradually fall off the Boris bandwagon, as Merkel and Macron would show their terrible disappontment that Boris had still come up with nothing new, despite having had the 30 days and plenty more to do it. No doubt there would be lots of meetings with nil outcomes. Boris would begin to look more like Theresa. The Brexit Party from one side, and the Rory Stewarts from the other, would be emboldened to attack. By April 2020, the threat of a Boris triumph at a snap General Election would have receded. We would be arguing about which of various less disastrous consequences should prevail – May’s Deal, or a referendum, or an election likely to create a “balanced” parliament with a Remain majority.

    Best way to go?

  • Paul Barker 24th Aug '19 - 1:50pm

    My Daughter works in Europe & for one of those ghastly Pan-European Institutions too. By John Marriotts twisted logic I have no right to comment on Brexit.
    Oddly, I am going to continue commenting on Brexit.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Aug '19 - 3:02pm

    We are generally a cautious nation and actions by our politicians are often for political rather than policy reasons. Revoke is the cautious approach as long as it is accompanied by reassurances that the process will continue. We need to obtain a definitive answer for whether we leave or remain at least for this decade and in some ways the longer it takes the better.

  • John Marriott 24th Aug '19 - 3:51pm

    @Paul Barker
    “My daughter works in Europe”. Good for her. So did I a few years ago. Is she planning to comment on this thread then? I guess not. Do you live in Europe? I assume not, so carry on commentating, by all means! Now, whose logic is actually twisted?

  • Brian Edmonds 24th Aug '19 - 4:59pm

    David Allen -“Frankly, it would be really difficult to conceive of anything less “unequivocal” than what Edmonds is proposing”. I’ll just say this and then let it lie: clause 74 goes on to end ” that the purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State, and that revocation brings the withdrawal procedure to an end”. Yes, the current disastrous procedure should be brought to an end, and the sooner the better. I still don’t see anything which precludes the possibility of beginning a new process at some point in the future, indeed I doubt it would be possible for the court to bind a Member State in that way. I seem to have touched a nerve to provoke the following from Mr Allen: ” What I find depressing is – wishful thinking, clutching at straws, and the investment of time, effort and commitment into wrong-headed rescue plans which cannot possibly work. It’s counter-productive, because it diverts attention from alternative plans that might genuinely work.” I could barely have put it better myself Mr Allen – where have you been for the last three years?
    Mr Marriott: “I chose to return to a country, which, despite its many faults, I considered as my true home and spent the next forty or so years as a Liberal/SDP/Lib Dem member actively trying to improve.” Funnily enough I was there too, tramping the streets and working the Shuttleworths (though I wouldn’t seek particular credit for that)and I may well return one day. I wrote earlier: “I continue to engage with British politics because I am British”. I will stand by that, and let the tone of your posts speak for itself.

  • Brian Edmonds 24th Aug '19 - 5:15pm

    Sandra Hammett: The nature of the question in a further referendum is interesting, and of course a three-way choice would be all but certain to throw up a minority winner – unsatisfactory in every way. I think a two-stage process might work, if it began with a simple leave or remain, but was then followed, in the case of another leave majority, by a choice of how to leave. A ponderous option for those accustomed to FPTP shoot-outs, but a process which works well enough, for example, in the French Presidential Elections.

  • David Allen 24th Aug '19 - 5:24pm

    Brian Edmonds: “I still don’t see anything which precludes the possibility of beginning a new process at some point in the future, indeed I doubt it would be possible for the court to bind a Member State in that way.”

    I’d agree with that. To look at the ruling again:

    “the revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw must, first, be submitted in writing to the European Council and, secondly, be unequivocal and unconditional, that is to say that the purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State, and that revocation brings the withdrawal procedure to an end.”

    Now, it would certainly be a nonsense to suggest that a Member State could only ever use the A50 process once: such that a State which invoked A50 and then revoked it would never, for a thousand years, ever be allowed to invoke A50 again! But, what about in five years’ time, or in one year’s time?

    The answer is that in borderline circumstances, lawyers would have to argue the question of whether the first A50 process had truly been unequivocally revoked, and had been brought to an end, or whether the second A50 was really carrying on some form of unfinished business arising from the incomplete resolution of the first A50.

    There could, in principle, be circumstances such a judgment could be difficult to make. But in the circumstances put forward here, the intention is clearly only to put the first A50 only hold in a “temporary” way (to quote your word), while a referendum is to be undertaken. It would be very clear that the first A50 had not been legitimately and unequivocally revoked and brought to an end. Sorry, but it’s really a legal no-brainer!

  • David Allen 24th Aug '19 - 5:26pm

    Typo in my last paragraph – it should read “to put the first A50 on hold in a “temporary” way” – Sorry

  • David Allen 24th Aug '19 - 7:18pm

    If you don’t want argy-bargy, and you don’t want the EU telling you your revocation is invalid, then you need to vote for a permanent revocation. The EU will accept that.

    Then you need to persuade a majority of the present House to vote likewise, which you will never manage to achieve.

    So all you’ll achieve is a storm of condemnation for being “Liberal Democrats” who would overturn the democratic vote of 2016, without (as per our current policy) first asking the people if that is what they want.

  • Brian Edmonds 25th Aug '19 - 9:43am

    Peter Wrigley – I agree with every word of your post. In the original piece I said that our MPs have have blundered into a series of terrible mistakes, which amount to no less than dereliction of their democratic duty. To my list of probable reasons, you add pusillanimous electoral self-interest; I agree, it has clearly skewed the judgement of many MPs in Leave constituencies who themselves backed remain.

    The time pressure of the May deadline is Johnson’s strongest ally, but even if MPs manage to apply the sticking plaster of forbidding No Deal, it does precisely nothing to move nearer to a genuine solution. MPs have already wasted far too much time bogged down in concocted compromises and arcane parliamentary manoeuvring. Will Johnson wake up to his moral duty and take his trusty blade to the Gordian knot? I think we know the answer to that – our fate will remain hostage to the whims and prejudices of those who have served us so badly so far. Someone must show the courage to make the clear case for a fresh start, and I think it should be us.

  • Peter Martin 26th Aug '19 - 9:44am

    @ Martin,

    “Brexiter, unconvincingly claiming to be left wing”

    My, mainly more right wing, friends an family members would have a chuckle at the suggestion I was anything other than firmly ensconced on the left. Having said that, I have received quite a lot of flak from those who, like you, have a problem with the concept that the case against the EU could be anything other than led from the right.

    Have you forgotten the names of Micheal Foot, Barbara Castle, and Tony Benn? Or even Tony Blair who was first elected to Parliament on a left platform which included an anti-EU manifesto? I suppose Tony Blair would argue that times, and the EU, have changed. So they have, but, in the case of the EU, it hasn’t been for the better.

    The left case against the EU is stonger now that it was then.

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