Andrew Adonis: This is why we must stop the cautious Theresa May driving Britain at 100mph towards a cliff-edge no-deal Brexit

The House of Lords was packed for the latest debate on Brexit.
The House of Lords was packed for the latest debate on Brexit.
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IT is said that the Prime Minister had the reputation of being the most law-abiding person in the country who, even when she was late for an engagement, travelled at precisely 29 miles per hour in her official car.

As a former Secretary of State for Transport, I am delighted that she observes the speed limit in that way. However, the big problem that we in this country face at the moment is that she is accelerating the country at about 100 miles per hour towards the cliff edge.

Andrew Adonis is a Labour peer who is opposed to Brexit and advocates a second referendum.

Andrew Adonis is a Labour peer who is opposed to Brexit and advocates a second referendum.

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It is why we are seeking to decelerate the car very rapidly to see that we do not go off the edge of a cliff but stop, take stock as a country and do something far more sane and sensible than that.

It is very important to address the underlying issue, which is the crisis facing the country: does Parliament want no deal? The House of Commons could not have ​been more emphatic on that. It does not want no deal. However, because it does not have sufficient trust in the Prime Minister to ensure that no deal is removed from the equation, we need to leglislate.

The big question which then faces us as a country is: what do we do once we have this long extension? We are in the middle of a very deep political and constitutional crisis because of our inability to light on a policy which is sustainable for the nation.

A pro EU campaigner outside the Houses of Parliament.

A pro EU campaigner outside the Houses of Parliament.

Three years ago, all that the country was asked to vote on – the only option people were given – was four words: leave the European Union. That was the option on the ballot paper. There was no detail.

As has now become clear, the people behind the Leave campaign all had inconsistent and often contradictory objectives about what they wanted. Some said we would stay in the customs union and keep freedom of movement; some said we would not.

As the negotiations have proceeded – I give the Prime Minister credit for doing her best in the negotiations – it has become clear that we cannot achieve the objectives set out three years ago. Not only that, but the Prime Minister’s own objectives, set out in her Lancaster House speech of January 2017, cannot be achieved either.

When faced with a situation in which promises made cannot be kept, the country faces a very deep crisis and circumstances have changed radically, what do you do?

Do you continue to accelerate at 100 miles an hour towards the edge of a cliff? Or do you decelerate, stop, take stock, be reasonable and – this is highly appropriate – give the country the opportunity to make a judgment on whether it wants to proceed with Brexit on the terms negotiated by the Prime Minister or stay in the European Union?​

The situation we face reminds me very much of a Sherlock Holmes novel. I was reminded of it because I have been speaking up and down the country on Brexit recently. Two weeks ago, I was in Crowborough where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived. Indeed, I had my photograph taken next to his statue.

In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock says: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

That is the situation the country now faces. The impossible have been eliminated: no deal; the Prime Minister’s deal; different variations of the Prime Minister’s deal; and supposed alternatives to the backstop, which simply have to be called alternative arrangements because they do not exist and cannot be defined.

In a wonderful Orwellian twist, not having any alternative arrangements, what have the Government done? They have set up an alternative arrangements working group. You could not make it up. But there are no alternative arrangements. We will not have a frictionless border in Northern Ireland in the cloud and so on – it does not exist.

In this situation, the only sensible policy for the state that now exists is to take the best deal that can be negotiated, which is the Prime Minister’s existing one – at least that is technically possible to implement, because it has been negotiated – and put that to the people, with the alternative being to remain in the EU.

Brexit has not been got over the line; it will probably never happen. The right thing for the nation, and maybe even for the Conservative Party, is for it to be buried, for the nightmare to end and for us then to carry on our national life in a much better prospect.

Andrew Adonis is a Labour peer and former Cabinet minister. He spoke in the House of Lords debate to block a no-deal Brexit. This is an edited version.