Tim Farron: Only a People’s Vote can break the Brexit impasse and help to preserve Europe’s peace

How should Parliament respond to the Brexit crisis after Theresa May's EU Withdrawal Agreement was again voted down?
How should Parliament respond to the Brexit crisis after Theresa May's EU Withdrawal Agreement was again voted down?
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SO, there we have it. After a Hollywood-style last gasp dash trip to Strasbourg for supposedly game changing last minute talks with the European Union, we finally found out that nothing had changed when it came to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

So, the question is what the heck happens now after last night’s vote
on no deal? The option of leaving the biggest trading bloc in the world with
no deal has always been just a pretty useless negotiating tool for the Government.

Tim Farron MP is the former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Tim Farron MP is the former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Apart from a handful of MPs (the
sort of people my Mum would’ve called ‘a bit too keen...’), it is not something that MPs who care at all about the British car industry, farming sector and pharmaceutical industry are in favour of happening.

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We are now due to have the vote on a short extension to Article 50. The result of this will be much closer but should hopefully be in favour to help us eliminate the option of the UK crashing out on March 29.

So that leaves us with a few extra months to do something with a deal that Parliament has already binned twice.

This leaves us with two sensible options.

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The first is that Theresa May could rewrite her red lines and seek membership of the single market. This would give the EU good reason to re-open negotiations (something we haven’t currently given them). There would then be no need for a Northern Ireland backstop. This would allow us to pursue a version of Brexit that takes notice of the 48.1 per cent who voted Remain and might provide the basis of reconciliation and healing.

But there is no doubt that this would take a long time to achieve. And everywhere from Westmorland to Westminster, the message from the people I meet could not be clearer – ‘just get on with it’.

Which leads us to the final option which is to take the decision away from politicians and give it to the people. After all, they have failed over the past two
and a half years to come up with a solution which has the backing of the majority of either Parliament or the country.

If the people voted for our departure, they must also have the right to vote for our destination. The right to choose a better destination than the one that the Prime Minister presents to them, if they consider it not to be good enough.

Many people say that another referendum would be divisive. One of the most regrettable aspects of the EU debate over the last three years is that it has forced so many people into uncomfortable, black and white absolutist positions. We must either be Remain or Leave. We must love the EU or we must hate the EU.

All good liberals should be sceptical about those who exercise power, about all political institutions be they local, national or international.

So don’t get me wrong, I am no EU flag-waving federalist and nor am I an apologist for all that emanates from Brussels. I do not have Ode to Joy as my ring tone and I do not know a single word of Esperanto.

But I have never been more convinced that Britain’s future must lie in Europe and that to leave would be a tragic, tragic mistake.

I remember a Sunday in 1984. I was 14. As I was going down Fishergate Hill, just south of the station in Preston, I passed the old laundrette on the corner. I stopped and my jaw dropped. The laundrette wasn’t a laundrette any more. It was a showroom. A nuclear fall-out shelter showroom.

Back then, 11 of the countries that now make up the European Union
were behind the Iron Curtain. Six
of those countries had nuclear 
weapons on their soil pointed right at 
this country.

Just as the nations that fought two bloody wars in the 20th century sit together, so do those from either side of the Cold War divide – today instead of threatening one another with annihilation, we sit round a table and peacefully argue the toss about standard diameters for widgets. If that was the only reason for staying in the EU, it would do it for me.

The current impasse in Parliament means that there is still a final hope for us to be able to remain in and reform the European Union.

The dogged determination of ideological politicians to remove the non-existent threat of being tied into the backstop has locked the country into a constitutional crisis – only the people can now set us free.

Tim Farron is the Lib Dem MP for Westmorland 
and Lonsdale. His party’s former leader, he is a Remain campaigner.