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A free nation on March 29 — or the far right will rise

DOUG NICHOLLS argues if Parliament does not secure leaving the EU on March 29 as already agreed, sinister new political dangers will emerge

THE working-class vote to leave the EU is holding MPs’ hands like a teacher with a crocodile of infants behind it. No matter how much the anti-democratic Remainer MPs throw tantrums, refuse to walk, pout, sob and seek to break ranks and bolt off, we will lead them out of the mess they have created and set the country free on March 29.

As all trade union negotiators know, when you are caught between a rock and a hard place you can’t wish your way out of it.

The government will not call a general election under any circumstances pre-Brexit. The favoured position of the government is to sit out its term of office under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act.

The shortest time between calling and holding an election is about 25 days.

A motion of no confidence in the government would be unsuccessful. Labour was right to resist previous calls for one.

If the government puts an EU deal to Parliament and it is voted down it is different. Government will have failed, so the opposition should express its lack of confidence. But even if it does, the government won’t fall as the required two-thirds majority will not be reached.

Parliament and opposition parties could coalesce around attempts to negotiate a new deal. All 27 EU member countries, which would have to approve any new settlement, may not do so and certainly would be hard pushed to approve by March 29. This option won’t happen.

Parliament currently has a majority against a clean Brexit. The Cabinet has been correct to prepare for a differently managed Brexit. It is clearly the most likely scenario and socialists and many business leaders, especially in manufacturing, are not disconcerted.

Parliament also has a majority against the Prime Minister’s latest deal. This is likely to remain the case for a while. The only change would be if the DUP accepted some assurances to the political declaration about the backstop. We wait with bated breath for that as discussions in Brussels continue. At this point an amended deal remains a possibility.

Importantly Parliament has a majority against a second referendum. This too is likely to remain the firm position. No serious politician is in favour of this option and it would scupper any chances of a general election to get behind Labour.

According to the University College London Constitution Unit, technically and practically, a fair referendum would take 22 weeks to organise.

A second referendum would deepen divisions at a time when, as Jeremy Corbyn said in Wakefield, national unity is needed and it would foster the negative frustration preyed upon by the far right.

Article 50 is an EU device to keep member states imprisoned. To seek its extension, especially in the context of the EU’s absolute refusal to renegotiate, could only be argued if you were seeking a referendum and a Remain vote.

Anyone who tries to extend Article 50 or the leaving date would commit political suicide. The backlash would be immense. The real treachery against the people’s vote would be to use an extension of Article 50 as a ruse for delaying March 29 and campaigning to Remain.

This is the biggest threat democracy faces, but looks very unlikely.

The fact that Parliament has messed up the implementation of its mandate does not mean the mandate was wrong.

The 2016 referendum was organised on the basis that its result would be respected by Parliament. The two major parties accepted this in their manifestos.

Besides, how many referendums will we really have, best of five? The second referendum option has in reality disappeared.

The best gift to the far right would be for Parliament to fail to implement Brexit.

To dislodge March 29, EU leaving day, there needs to be primary legislation, just as there would have to be for a referendum. The Constitutional Affairs Committee has made this clear and no motions to the House proposing an alternative to what is already law will be acceptable.

In reality new legislation would have to be instigated by the government. It is unlikely to do this.

In this frantic context, it has therefore been very astute for the Labour Party leader to recognise that a Labour government would have to implement Brexit and that if the current government’s proposed deal is rejected by Parliament it should return to renegotiate with the EU.

This is a right and proper assertion of parliamentary sovereignty that avoids hysterical sectarianism. It is about carrying out a mandate.

The government and the EU are rightly preparing for all no-deal scenarios. These are not dramatic, and defaulting to the WTO arrangements is in many ways better than both the EU tariff system and May’s deal.

The combined effect of removing EU VAT and tariffs on basic living items such as food and clothing could be tremendous.

There’s other comfort too, the Lisbon Treaty in fact commits the EU to act co-operatively with its neighbours outside its club and the ports in Calais and the Netherlands have made it clear they have no intention of creating queues etc. The EU is a net exporter to Britain.

Therefore, assuming there will be no attempt to introduce primary legislation to move the leaving date of March 29, Parliament will have to vote on May’s possibly slightly amended deal, or leaving deal without a deal with the EU, a clean Brexit.

So it is clear, despite Parliamentary machinations, we are out of the EU under the terms of the Withdrawal Act, already passed, on March 29.

Should a future Labour government seek to rebuild and transform the country, particularly during the transition period designed under the Withdrawal Agreement, in the ways outlined in the party’s last manifesto, the EU would have a choice whether to intervene and curtail our government’s spending and nationalisation plans, or whether not to; just as our government would have the choice of complying with, or defying any EU attempt to undermine it.

No future Labour government should have to bear the ignominy of submitting its proposed national budget to Jean Claude Juncker for approval. Juncker is not the complete fool he appears to be, he transformed Luxembourg into the most important inland tax-avoiding haven for the corporations behind the EU.

The politicians who proclaim the primacy of the referendum result and vote to honour the existing parliamentary decision to leave on March 29 will be the winners.

Remain MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party have more in common with May’s deal than with their own party leader and a whip to abstain on the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement may eventually be the best way through that particular rock and hard place.

With Parliament united in leaving the EU on March 29, we can then focus on the cruel and discredited home-grown neoliberal government, build up the head of steam needed to get the general election, reunite our unions and members around a new deal for workers and get Labour in power committed to rebuilding Britain in a new internationalist spirit of friendship and peace with all other nations.


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