Brexit is not inevitable and the UK should now grasp the opportunity to remain within the EU, writes Catherine Stihler MEP, one of six Scottish parliamentarians who won a ruling from the European Court of Justice that the UK was legally able to stop the process of leaving without any change in its current membership conditions.
What an utter shambles. Just one day before the most momentous vote in modern times, Theresa May cancelled it in a futile attempt to renegotiate with the EU.
She is a Prime Minister in office but not in power, and the question now is whether she will still be Tory leader when MPs do finally get to vote on the Brexit deal?
We live in chaotic times, led by the most incompetent Government in living memory. Yesterday’s delay was a sign of weakness because the vote will still have to happen eventually. But it’s worth remembering that, originally, the UK Government desperately wanted to bypass parliament.
It was a legal challenge by Gina Miller that forced Theresa May to accept that her final deal must be put before both Houses of Parliament. It’s extraordinary that it took a court case to secure this. Left to her own devices, rather than returning to Brussels with her tail between her legs, the Prime Minister would right now be railroading the UK into a bad deal that is the worst-of-all-worlds – outside the EU, yet transformed into a long-term rule taker with no say.
I pay tribute to Gina Miller for fighting to uphold the democratic rights of our parliament, and I hope MPs reject the Prime Minister’s deal when they do finally get the chance.
But, as if there wasn’t already enough drama this week, I’ve been involved in another Brexit legal battle which reached its dramatic climax yesterday at the European Court of Justice.
Along with five other Scottish parliamentarians – my Labour colleague David Martin; the SNP’s Joanna Cherry and Alyn Smith; and the Greens’ Andy Wightman and Ross Greer – we asked if Westminster could unilaterally stop the Article 50 process.
It is, after all, the first time it has been used by a member state of the EU. The result? Yes, it can.
Theresa May launched the Article 50 process on March 29, 2017, which started the two-year ticking clock. She did so without any knowledge of what the Brexit deal would look like. There were no negotiations with EU member states and no agreement within her Cabinet.
But while the Tory Government gave the impression that the decision was final, others – including the author of the Article 50 notice Lord Kerr – argued otherwise.
Last week, in a landmark opinion, the European Court of Justice’s Advocate General said the UK should be able to unilaterally cancel its withdrawal from the EU. Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona said “the dispute is genuine, the question is not merely academic, nor premature or superfluous, but has obvious practical importance and is essential in order to resolve the dispute”. He proposed that the court should declare that Article 50 “allows the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU”.
Yesterday, in a fast turn-around, the court agreed with him. It ruled “the United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU” and would therefore remain in the EU “under terms that are unchanged” – ie, it would keep the euro opt-out.
This resounding victory means the UK can stop the ticking clock of Brexit before it is too late. And the timing of this announcement is perfect. MPs know they now have a choice.
Yes, they can eventually back the Prime Minister’s flawed deal and take us out of the EU, jeopardising the very future of the United Kingdom in the process.
Or they can reject it and assert the authority and sovereignty of the House of Commons, paving the way for Britain to remain in the EU.
The suggestion put forward by both Tory backbenchers and Labour frontbenchers that a ‘better’ Brexit deal can be secured is nonsense.
It has been a painful effort to get to a point where there is an agreement that member states will accept, and – as the EU made clear yesterday – there is no more room for manoeuvre. The only realistic alternative that still involves leaving the EU is a Norway-style agreement.
That would be far from perfect, but it is the least-worst option for our economy, and would allow for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market.
However, the best option we can choose is to have a People’s Vote with the option of remaining in the EU on the same terms we currently enjoy. If – as I hope and expect – the British people subsequently opt to stop Brexit, we now know this is legally possible.
Failing to stop Brexit means the poorest in society will suffer, with thousands of job losses and an erosion of workers’ rights. For the sake of the workers of this country, and the generations to come, I have never been prepared to sit back and accept that Brexit is inevitable.
Over 20 years, I have witnessed the EU expand and reform to bring nations closer together in the interests of co-operation and peace. I am incredibly proud to have been involved with what is the most importance peace process the world has ever known.
But, whatever happens, I am leaving the European Parliament at the end of January. I had always planned on leaving in 2019 to take on a new challenge, and I’m incredibly excited to have been offered an amazing new opportunity with Open Knowledge International, where I will start as chief executive officer in February.
I hope I have been a relatable role model for young women during my two decades in frontline politics, and have proved that as a young woman you can hold elected office and have a family. I hope, in the years ahead, that more young women from across Europe become MEPs and join the European Parliament which has delivered so much for half-a-billion European citizens.
And I hope, following a People’s Vote, that Britain will reverse the reckless plan to walk away from this unique union of nations. If MPs give us the chance to choose the best deal – the one we currently have – then we can give the next generation the same opportunities that we all enjoy today: to travel, explore, work in, live in, and fall in love with the countries of the European Union.
Catherine Stihler is a Labour party MEP for Scotland