Westminster Must Follow Wales And Put Partisanship Aside To Solve Brexit Gridlock

History will judge us harshly if we did not do everything we could to stop this avoidable disaster – which is why we have joined Welsh Labour to call for a 'people's vote'
NurPhoto via Getty Images

It is difficult not to be a little depressed at this point in time.

Brexit started with people offering false and contradictory statements. We could leave the EU and still have unfettered access to its markets. We could have access to its markets without being subject to its laws. We could ignore its laws but need no borders. Repeat ad nauseum.

Westminster this week succumbed to this same strain of Brexit fantasy.

The UK Parliament voted on Tuesday night that: a) a no-deal Brexit is not an option; and b) the Irish backstop must be removed from the (final) withdrawal agreement.

The Tories and some Labour rebels did this knowing full well that the EU had already said, and repeated within minutes of the vote, that this is not an option.

We’ve gone from gridlock to Groundhog Day repeatedly throughout this sorry saga. And we’ll be there again in two weeks’ time. Westminster has kicked the can down the road so many times, can-kicking should become the new national sport.

Mrs May will now go back to Brussels for the second time and try, over the next fortnight, to convince her EU counterparts to reopen negotiations, which they will refuse to do. And the end result of this is that we are skidding toward a No Deal Brexit that Parliament said it doesn’t want, but will be the default outcome unless Article 50 is extended which Parliament voted against.

Westminster has in essence willed the end of blocking no-deal, without willing the means of backing a viable alternative. The Brady amendment is not only undeliverable, it’s indecipherable.

That would never deter the likes of Boris Johnson for whom having one’s cake and eating it is an article of faith. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the temporary coalition that Theresa May has cobbled together with the ERG and the DUP, is the unspeakable in pursuit of the unachievable.

What precisely are these alternative arrangements? Brexit negotiators spent two years trying to find these mythical alternatives to the backstop, and in the end even the British Government had to give up. Do we really believe they are now going to be miraculously discovered in the next two weeks?

The backstop is there to ensure that, if a broader trade agreement hasn’t been reached and other solutions can’t be found, Ireland, north and south, doesn’t see the return of a hard border. I.e. if alternative arrangements don’t work, the backstop kicks in. What the EU is now being invited to agree to is alternative arrangements in the event that alternative arrangements don’t work. In other words, an insurance policy without insurance. A safety net without a net. A backstop without any back.

Now some Tories fantasise that Mrs May is going to go to Brussels and extract a U-turn out of the EU on the scale of Mrs Thatcher’s Fountainebleau agreement.

But it is Mrs May that has just conducted the mother of all U-turns. Up until three days ago she was saying the backstop was necessary and she owed it to the people of northern Ireland. Now she wants it binned. No wonder the EU member states are unimpressed. The only real choices left now are a no-deal Brexit or a People’s Vote.

Politics is broken. But in 58 days time it’ll be more than mere politics that will be at stake. People will not forgive us and history will judge us harshly if we did not do everything we could to stop an avoidable disaster. Which is why it is right, with Westminster stuck, that we come together here to find a way out of the mire.

This is exactly what happened in the Welsh Assembly this week. My party, Plaid Cymru, put partisan differences to one side by working together with the Labour Welsh Government to deliver an unequivocal call for a People’s Vote preparations to begin.

The most important word in the motion we jointly agreed in relation to making preparations for a People’s Vote was ‘immediately’. We have so little time. We need to act decisively, without delay, now, today.

The result of our cooperation was a huge majority in favour of the consensus that was formed, namely that this was the only way to avert disaster following the failure of Westminster to find a way forward that is not a contradiction wrapped in paradox.

Labour in London must now listen to the definitive view of the Welsh parliament – where their own party leads the government – and support our call for a People’s Vote. It is their party that is the last roadblock to delivering a way out of this mess.

Politics does not have to take the form of ya-boo abuse shouted by charlatans unwilling to elevate pragmatism above partisan ideology-fuelled extremism. In a time of crisis, the people ought to be able to expect their elected representatives to take a grown-up approach and work together to secure their best interests.

We in Wales have shown this can be done. It is high time Westminster followed suit.

Adam Price is the leader of Plaid Cymru