Waiting for Godot

We have one shot at revocation. Here’s how we take it

Picture this.

It’s Wednesday next week and Theresa May has once again failed to get her deal through Parliament – perhaps the Speaker has made good on his promise to rule it out of order or perhaps MPs have rejected it a third time. So she’s not in a position to meet the conditions imposed by the EU for an extension of time.

Let’s stop the clock here and take a look around.

Our options have shrunk to two. There is no time for a referendum. There is no time to negotiate some magical new deal that had eluded Parliament hitherto. There is no time left for a General Election. So our choices are either to leave with No Deal or to Revoke.

Revocation – cancelling Brexit – returns us to where we were before we triggered Article 50. All of the special benefits – the rebate, the opt-outs, the derogations – that we had negotiated for ourselves over the years are ours to keep. And the immediate outcome – remain – is supported, according to all recent polling, by an overwhelming majority.

What’s more, the choice whether to revoke is entirely for us. We don’t need the permission of the EU. The decision over the future of the United Kingdom rests where it should: in our hands.

And Parliament has already voted to reject No Deal.

So what does the Prime Minister do?

In the world I have described, where the sunlit uplands have vanished to be replaced by what every neutral economic forecaster sees as our economy tumbling over the cliff edge of No Deal, and with serious medicine shortages in the offing, I think she would put the question before Parliament. No Prime Minister would choose further to weigh down her legacy as the person who inflicted No Deal on the people with the additional millstone of having done so in the face of the clearly expressed will of Parliament.

In these circumstances, for her to choose No Deal would be the act of a dictator. It lacks any sort of mandate and would defy the clearly expressed will of Parliament. It would be an act from which democracy in the United Kingdom would take lifetimes to recover. And I do not believe she would do it.

I believe she would choose to put the question before Parliament. Thirty three long months after the referendum it would at last be ‘make up your mind time’ for MPs.

What then?

Revocation leaves open the door to a conversation about what we really want our country to be – the conversation we are so often really having when we think we’re talking about Brexit. Revocation does not rule out re-notifying in the future – I do not think there is any serious doubt about this – so long as the decision to re-notify is independent of the decision to revoke. I have discussed this in more detail here.

It also seems to me that the PM could do it. I do not believe – although there are other views – that if revocation by the PM was challenged a court would decide it required an Act of Parliament. I have discussed this in more detail here. If this is right, revocation requires no formality. It could be on crested letterhead, by text message or even carrier pigeon, right up until the last second before we leave on Friday.

But will MPs choose it?

It has always been clear to me that MPs could only choose revocation in an emergency. But if they were asked that question in an emergency – when all other options have vanished, when they were peering over the precipice – I believe they would choose it over No Deal. But only if asked it at the right time.

We will get only one shot.

 

To add your name to the Government hosted petition please click here.

To email your MP please click here.

To support the work of the Good Law Project, which established our right unilaterally to revoke, please click here.