It’s time for Theresa May to stop pretending the UK is united in its desire to leave the European Union. It never was and the public mood is radically different to three years ago, writes Christine Jardine MP.
I could not believe how quickly the numbers were rising. It was changing so quickly that every time you said the latest figure out loud it was instantly out of date.
Less than 24 hours after the Prime Minister had appealed above the heads of the people’s elected representatives directly to the public themselves they were giving her their answer. Stop.
The petition to revoke Article 50 and halt our departure from the EU was rocketing past a million by lunchtime on Thursday. At the same time, my email inbox was filing with scores of constituents keen to tell me that they had signed it, or that they wanted me, and all MPs to find a way of avoiding crashing out without a deal. It made me want to cry with relief.
The night before, I had watched in utter incredulity as the Prime Minister repeated the mantra that had already been rejected twice. How could a woman so intelligent, so politically astute that she had worked her way to the highest political office in the country, fail to see what is so blindingly obvious to everyone else?
She needs to find consensus. In truth that consensus should have been a priority two years ago. But even as late as Wednesday, just nine days before our scheduled exit date, it seemed to pass her by.
If reports we have seen are true, the heads of the other EU states are equally puzzled by her stance, and lack of a plan B. Apparently she had nothing to offer when asked what she will do if her plan fails to win parliamentary approval. Again
But here we are. Five days from the brink and a possible, yes only possible, extension. And only the short one the PM favours. Not one long enough to make a significant difference and give us time to reconsider properly.
To get that extension, the PM has to get her deal through parliament. But how?
Until now there were real offers of compromise. Each of the party leaders in turn, the Cabinet and many of her own backbench MPs have met the Prime Minister and proposed various ways forward.
Many have also been offered in public in parliament and broadcast on TV. A different deal. The Norwegian model. Stay in the customs Union.
My own party, the Liberal Democrats, has always said that if a referendum to give the people the final say on the deal was part of the package we would want that to happen. That was still on the table this weekend.
As is the suggestion of a series of indicative votes on all of these models, and variations of them. All have been rejected by the PM.
I know it’s a difficult job. I understand the stress at the moment is appalling. I appreciate that Theresa May’s own MPs are not making life easy for her and contributing to the danger of crashing out.
And neither does Jeremy Corbyn taking a schoolboy-like tantrum because one of his own former MPs is given the respect of a meeting with the Prime Minister. But surely it’s time for this to stop.
We are all well rehearsed by now on the economic implications of crashing out, but there is also a daily impact on what we are able to achieve for our constituents. There is already a backlog of progressive Private Members’ Bills building up.
I have three – on outlawing gender-based pricing, allowing asylum seekers to work and pay tax, and changing the name of the House of Lords to something less gender-specific.
But there are others. My colleague Alistair Carmichael has a Plastic Pollution Bill. Jo Swinson has a bill on Parental Leave and Pay. Ed Davey has one on providing end-of-life care for homeless people who might not otherwise receive it. Tim Farron has his Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill while Wera Hobhouse is proposing improved postnatal mental health check-ups.
And there are many, many more which could be consigned to the dustbin because this Government, in cahoots with Labour, has not agreed the normal amount of time in the parliamentary timetable to discuss non-government business.
It might not be quite so frustrating if we had not spent so much time not discussing all the necessary Brexit legislation, to the extent that the House was adjourned one day just after lunchtime because we had run out of business.
There are important issues we are seeing not receive the attention they deserve. I wonder if Northern Ireland would have had its devolution restored by now if it had not been for Brexit.
And perhaps we would be investing the money in the Universal Credit system that it needs to work, if so much was not being spent on contingency planning for a “no deal” that only a handful of Brexiteers find an acceptable prospect.
I am not surprised the public is voting with their keyboards and telling us what they want. Tens of thousands of people in Edinburgh alone have signed the petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister repeated her conviction that she is implementing the ‘will of the people’. Perhaps it is time that her Government listened to the people who are saying that their will has changed.
Since the moment the votes were counted on 23 June, 2016, it has been clear that the only thing we could say with any certainty was that we are divided on the EU.
More than 17 million against. More than 16 million for.
There is no solution that will please everyone. But the time has come to stop pretending that this is some widespread, united national call to leave at whatever the cost.
Surely the time has come for that exit from Brexit.