For many months the government has wielded a number of sticks to beat MPs into supporting its Withdrawal Agreement. It might be bad, they argue, but the alternative is worse. Remainers have been threatened with no deal. Leavers with no Brexit.
The latest big stick is the threat of having to participate in the European parliamentary elections. To avoid this the Government (and the EU’s) new deadline to get an agreement finalised is May 22nd, the day before the elections would take place.
What new madness is this? It must be crystal clear to everyone that this mess will not be sorted in six weeks. We are still miles from agreeing what Brexit might look like never mind approving legislation to make it happen. And supporters of another Brexit referendum are just 27 votes short of getting that approved by parliament.
So it time to stop kidding ourselves. These elections are going to happen. Best get used to it.
I find it bizarre that people who were elected in open democratic elections to Westminster are so alarmed at the prospect of people electing representatives to the European parliament. Being dragged kicking and screaming to the ballot box is not a good look for democrats. Better to now embrace these elections as a positive opportunity.
I appreciate that some will of course be exasperated that Brexit has not happened already. But that’s not a reason to avoid elections. Dry your eyes and move on.
We may end up staying in the European Union, or we may leave, but for as long as we are there our citizens have the same right to be represented as those in any other EU country. Indeed one of the main criticisms of the Withdrawal Agreement is that it provides for a transition period during which we are in effect part of the EU but without any say.
More importantly the elections will allow everyone to see what people views are now, not what they were three years ago. They provide an opportunity to change the narrative. To address the question of the UK – and Scotland’s - relationship with the continent in a reasoned and positive manner free from the intemperate language and dogmatic opinions that have soured this discourse in recent years.
Many fear that elections on 23rd May could unleash bigotry and see the extreme right run rampant. The reverse is the case. The turnout might be double the 35% achieved in 2014. And that means the main losers will be UKIP who will become a much smaller fish in that bigger electoral pool.
Written for The Times - 29th March 2019
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?