Catherine Stihler: Brexit is not inevitable – UK can change its mind

Theresa May has been criticised over the policy. (Picture: AFP/Getty)
Theresa May has been criticised over the policy. (Picture: AFP/Getty)
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With the Brexit talks between the UK and EU seeminly deadlocked and starting to run out of time, Catherine Stihler says Britain should not be afraid to change its mind over leaving the EU by holding a People’s Vote referendum.

We need more time. That is the message coming from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier as the Brexit negotiations enter a crucial stage.

We need more time. That is also the message coming from the Prime Minister, whose spokesperson claimed today’s EU summit is just “part of the process” and not the final decision-making event.

It’s the same message from DUP politicians, who aren’t ready to sign up to something they fear will undermine Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.

And it’s the same message from businesses, universities, farmers, migrant workers and others across the UK, who still can’t prepare for the Brexit calamity until they know the precise details of the deal.

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Winding up the Brexit alarm clock in March 2017 by activating Article 50 was a reckless decision. It was always going to be incredibly difficult to secure a withdrawal agreement within a timeframe of just two years.

And while the EU member states have approached the negotiations in a comradely spirit, the UK Tory government has done its very best to erode any goodwill in Brussels.

As each day passes with no agreement, a ‘no deal’ scenario becomes ever more likely. That would be catastrophic for jobs, the economy and consumer rights.

But there are ways to secure more time. One is to extend the Article 50 timetable.

As Nicola Sturgeon said this week, the only deal that is likely to secure Commons support is one where we remain in both the Single Market and the Customs Union. There is no such thing as a good Brexit, but this is the least-worst option for the UK’s economy.

If the Article 50 timetable is extended, it may give us time for this more sensible solution to be agreed.

Or, ideally, we could stop the clock altogether.

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I am part of a group of cross-party politicians who launched legal action to establish whether the UK can unilaterally halt Brexit. Last month, Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, found in our favour and said: “It seems neither academic nor premature to ask whether it is legally competent to revoke the notification and thus to remain in the EU.”

The case has now been referred to the European Court of Justice to offer a definitive ruling.

The UK Government can, however, appeal to the Supreme Court. To do so would be a disgraceful attack on democracy, seeking to take away the legitimate right for us to change our minds.

It was former Brexit Secretary David Davis who once said countries which cannot change their minds “cease to be democracies”.

While the clock ticks on, and the reality of Brexit becomes clearer by the minute, support for a People’s Vote on remaining in the EU continues to grow.

Brexit is not inevitable. There is still time to stop the ticking clock.

Catherine Stihler is a Labour MEP for Scotland