Ten days ago, I asked the Prime Minister, “will he send a letter to the EU to seek a Brexit extension to 31 January 2020 as per the ‘Benn’ Act”. He replied, “no” with uncharacteristic clarity.
Johnson was therefore indicating that he will not abide by the law that says he must either get a deal or approval for no deal through Parliament by October 19 or seek an extension. The Act is clear and watertight. Yesterday, Scotland’s Court of Session said that they would postpone ruling against the PM on this as they expect him to obey the law. However, they would return to it on Monday, October 21 if he doesn’t comply. As the lawyer leading the case, the wonderful Elaine Motion, said: “The sword of Damocles hangs over the PM.” And it does.
Parliament is now lawfully prorogued to prepare for Monday’s Queens speech. But, as many thousands of my constituents have been asking, “What next?” The simple answer is that I don’t know and, I guess, neither does the PM apart from the fact that he is hell-bent on taking the UK out of the EU with no deal.
But that is hugely controversial. Not only does no deal have no mandate and won’t get Brexit done – it will only be the beginning of damage and prolonged uncertainty for the country – but it’s not supported by a majority of the public. That’s why Parliament was right to pass the Benn Act.
That extension must be put in place, in the national interest, to prevent the economic catastrophe that a no deal will impose on the country. However, there is a part of me that thinks it will take an unprecedented economic shock for the lies and innuendo of the PM and his colleagues to be exposed.
Disgraceful and downright dangerous
The backdrop is that we have confirmed again what we have known for some time. Johnson has no intention of putting forward a credible compromise alternative to the EU.
Angela Merkel has called out Johnson more than once and now the EU has done the same. This week Johnson proposed not one but three borders in place of the now infamous ‘backstop’. “Clearance Centres” away from the border with the Northern Ireland Assembly, that hasn’t met for three years, giving regular approval. This is not a serious proposition and was designed to fail so Johnson could blame the EU.
EU President Donald Tusk was right to tweet, “what’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?”
It was disgraceful for Downing Street sources to say the UK would end all security co-operation with any country that agreed an extension. That’s just downright dangerous. The safety and security of the people of this country and the EU is not some bargaining chip that can be dispensed with by a tantrum in No 10.
So, where do we go now? That’s unclear, but we do know that the respected and independent think tank, The Institute for Fiscal Studies, says Brexit has already cost us £66 billion and we haven’t even left yet.
Parliament will be back on Monday and will sit in a special Saturday session to make sure the PM either complies with the law or we can get a final say public vote with the option to remain. Coincidentally, the same day as the national People’s Vote march.
When I helped set up the People’s Vote campaign in April 2018 we had no idea we would be where we are today. The good news is that we are tantalisingly close to getting a majority in Parliament to deliver a final say referendum with the option to remain. That’s what I am working around the clock to deliver and we may just about get there yet.
Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South