One year until our planned departure from the EU – but the mandate for Brexit is no longer valid

An article for

Published: 29th March 2018

Molly reflects on where we are one-year on from the triggering of Article 50. She argues the mandate for Brexit is no longer valid and we have 365 days left to campaign for a people’s poll on the final deal.

Today is the anniversary of the fateful decision by Theresa May to trigger Article 50 and begin our journey out of the European Union. In doing so she entered a negotiation with massive national importance but with no clear idea about what she was seeking to achieve and no agreement either in her party, her government or the country about what the negotiation was supposed to achieve. This was irresponsibility of the highest order so it is not surprising that halfway through the negotiating process things are not going well.

Many commentators and Brexiters are suggesting that we are progressing towards some distant sunlit Brexit nirvana. They celebrate each milestone in the negotiations ignoring the fact that it is the destination that matters. The question is, what lies at the end of the journey?

There are three stages to Brexit: exit, transition, and future relationship. The political agreement reached last week provides some clarity on the first two but confirm warnings made by Remainers that the Article 50 process would leave the power with the EU. This is why Theresa May and Brexit secretary David Davis have caved in on every single point from the sequencing of negotiations to the size of the exit payment.

Many regard the Transition deal as a sort of comfort blanket: they think we can jump into the abyss without a trade deal with the EU or with any other country because we have a transition period of nearly two years to sort all that out. But the reality is that the EU has agreed to this period to protect itself from the worst damage that Brexit might cause. They will spend those 21 months shifting contracts and supply chains out of the UK and into the single market. That means jobs and investment moving across the channel.

The trade deal is the least defined part of the arrangement but even here the outlines are hardening. The EU is making clear that if we want to continue exporting into their markets we will have to play on what the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier calls a level playing-field. So the dreams of the regulation burners and those who hope to turn us into a tax haven vanish into the mist. So, remind me, what exactly are the benefits of Brexit?

In the year since article 50 was triggered the meaning of Brexit has utterly changed as the promises made have been broken and the lies have unraveled: the business leader who believed David Davis’s claim that post-Brexit trade deals would be in place before we left the EU; the cash-strapped single mum who believed we would no longer have to send money to the EU and this would mean more for her and her family; and the fisherman who voted to have total control over UK waters. For each of these – and for millions more – the reason they chose to Vote Leave is no longer valid. This fundamentally undermines the mandate for Brexit and makes the case for a referendum on the final deal – on Brexit reality rather than Brexit fantasy – irrefutable.

The more we learn about the motivations of those who drove Brexit the less it seems like a democratic process and the more it begins to look like a soft coup. It’s now clear the Leave campaign used psychological manipulation rather than rational argument. The recent revelations about the breaking of spending rules and the involvement of companies whose speciality is distorting electoral processes utterly undermine any claim that the referendum was a free and fair process.

We still have time to save our country from the Brexit hubris. It’s down to us to save our people. We have 365 days to campaign for a people’s poll on the final deal and to keep our country a proud member of the European Union.