Boris Johnson’s government is hastening towards a no-deal Brexit. All MPs who oppose this catastrophic national danger must cooperate in the cause of preventing it
Britain’s exit from the European Union without a withdrawal deal would be an unequivocal national calamity. It must be stopped by parliament as soon and as decisively as possible. It is the duty of all MPs who oppose no deal to work together over the coming weeks, making necessary compromises, to ensure this outcome.
The former chancellor Philip Hammond set out the case against no deal in a steely intervention this week. No deal would damage the British economy, he said, in both the short and long term. No deal makes the breakup of the United Kingdom more likely. No deal would threaten the Irish peace process. No deal weakens Britain’s security and standing. No deal was not offered by the leave campaign and there is no mandate for it. A sovereign parliament has the right and duty to stop it.
Mr Hammond may have been the most downbeat chancellor since Sir Geoffrey Howe, but his defiance of Boris Johnson is almost on a par with Howe’s demolition of Margaret Thatcher a generation ago. It was also triggered by exactly the same issue – Britain’s enduringly provocative and fractious relationship with Europe under reckless Conservative prime ministers.
Mr Johnson captured the prime ministership promising to deliver Brexit by 31 October but saying no deal was a “million-to-one chance”. Yet since he took office he has done everything he can to make no deal much more likely. Work on getting a deal has been all but abandoned. European leaders have been dismissively ignored. Supporters of a deal have been dismissed as collaborators. His own precondition for talks about a deal, the abandonment of the Irish backstop, is a deliberate wrecking ball because, as Mr Hammond said, there is no chance of agreement on those terms. Instead, no deal is increasingly presented as the government’s default option. Millions are being spent on preparations and on softening up the public. On the Tory right, no deal has morphed from being an option that was dismissed as a Project Fear scare tactic to a new article of dogma in the one true Brexit faith.
The importance of stopping a no-deal exit is overwhelming and urgent. The clock is ticking towards 31 October. Only parliament has the necessary authority and means to prevent the government from such an irreversibly damaging act. It follows that effective cooperation between the anti-no-deal parties and anti-no-deal MPs in pro-Brexit parties is the supreme political need. There are good grounds for believing that a majority of MPs oppose no deal. It is therefore essential that every form of proper pressure is brought to bear on MPs to ensure that this majority is mobilised in the most effective way.
No partisan interest should be allowed to deflect this priority effort. Neither this nor future generations will forgive those who put party advantage before the national need. That means the focus should be on specific and effective measures that avoid giving advantage to one or other of the parties involved. No one, Labour, Tory or Liberal Democrat, should refuse to sit down with anyone else. All must accept that Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the largest pool of potential votes. But no one has a monopoly of virtue or wisdom, the Labour leader included. All must be open and pragmatic about building a majority.
The main immediate priorities are to postpone the deadline beyond 31 October, to resume meaningful talks with the EU, and to lock down the prevention of no deal. The party conference recess should be cancelled, to give MPs as much time as possible. No-confidence votes, attempts to force a general election, and the possibility of a further referendum, should at this stage be treated as means to the above ends. Their day may come. For now, though, the shared purpose is that the elected parliament must stop Mr Johnson’s no deal absolutely dead in its tracks. This would not be a coup. It would be parliament acting as it should, to hold the government to account.