It has been Liberal Democrat policy right from the beginning. Yet now Remainers across the political divide are slowly coalescing upon a “deal or remain” referendum as one of the few avenues to oppose Brexit without outright demanding for the referendum vote to be annulled. Today, Owen Smith has become the latest to demand the British people get a final say on the final deal.
It is a very politically-attractive strategy: they can legitimately dodge accusations that instead of frustrating democracy, they’re in fact demanding more of it. The only problem, obviously a tiny one, is that such a referendum would be impossible.
Free trade agreements don’t happen quickly, as Remainers rightly argued in the referendum. The “final deal” will certainly not be available by March 2019, never mind months prior to that in time for a referendum. The transitional deal which, if it happens, will amount to “EU membership without a say” might be, but nobody is asking for a referendum on that. The EU’s deal with Canada took seven years from the beginning of negotiations to the conclusion and it was famously nearly killed off when a region of Belgium refused to sign up to it. Whatever Liam Fox says, negotiating a free-trade deal will be anything but “the easiest in human history”.
This leaves Remainers with two viable options. The first is to campaign for an extension of Article 50, which would of course have to be mutually agreed by the British government and the EU27. Currently, not even the Lib Dems are pursuing this. The second is to accept that by the time any deal will be near completion, Brexit will have already happened. There is, in that scenario, no possible way it can be “cancelled”.
Becoming a member of the European Union following Brexit means reapplying under the provisions of Article 49 - the same article under which any other country applies to become a member of the EU. This will take years and any suggestion of a fast-track relies upon the goodwill of those running the Union at that time. It’s no good pointing to the generous words of Juncker and Barnier when in 2019 the EU27 will appoint an entirely new Commission, the people will elect an entirely new Parliament and that Parliament will elect an entirely new EU Commission President.
Under the “reapplication” scenario, there is absolutely no way Britain will enjoy the very generous exemptions and rebates it had previously as an EU member and, if it tries to negotiate them, they’ll find more opposition than just the Walloon region of Belgium.
Today’s good soundbite means very little if it achieves nothing in the long run. If Remainer politicians want to oppose Brexit, there are means of doing so, but not one of them will give them the political ease of this logically impossible demand for a “Deal or Remain” referendum. Remainers may have never brazenly printed lies onto a bus, but if they dream of bringing the UK back into the European fold, they must do so with honesty.