The battle to stop Brexit gathers speed

SINCE the EU referendum in 2016, I almost feel like I’ve been walking around with “Scotland voted to Remain” tattooed on my forehead and in my heart, so often am I reminding my friends, colleagues and chunks of the media of this. It’s not a clever-clever argument for Scottish-European exceptionalism – it’s just a fact, and a situation that’s in danger of being railroaded through by this zombie UK Government.

One tiny, tiny glimmer of good news is that we’ve got more people talking about the EU, discussing it, analysing it, and debating whether we can stop Brexit.

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First published in The National, 11 April 2018

The EU is, among other things, a legal construct. As you likely already know, I’m one of the litigants in the court case that’s trying to establish whether Article 50 can be revoked by the UK unilaterally.

This isn’t a hypothetical question – and it’s not an attempt to “overturn” Brexit either. It’s a crucial question, and one the UK Government doesn’t seem keen to answer. We’re not asking if it will revoke Article 50; we’re asking if it can revoke Article 50. That’s the only way Brexit can be stopped, and the MPs need to know whether that’s possible before they vote on the withdrawal agreement.

For a group that demanded the UK Parliament“take back control” of its laws, the Brexiteers don’t seem very happy with the idea of clarifying an issue of parliamentary sovereignty.

If the people decide they want to stop Brexit, we need Westminster MPs to either vote against the withdrawal agreement or to vote to give the people a final say on it. This would probably mean that the Article 50 negotiation period would need to be extended, but there is already contingency planning going on behind the scenes in Brussels for that possibility.

There’s no consensus in Westminster: the crumbling UK Government is held together with tape, string and the DUP, and whatever deal Theresa Maybrings back is going to be deeply unpopular. Unless she faces down her European Research Group (ERG) ultras, caves on the Northern Ireland-Ireland border, and ditches the dead-on-arrival three-baskets policy, there may well not be one.

If there’s no agreement, no remotely responsible Parliament could allow the car crash of a no-deal Brexit to happen and I do not see how my Parliament in Brussels could in all conscience allow the UK to crash out without a managed process. Brexit is not just a UK problem.

Nothing is set in stone, and that’s why I’m trying to get a bit of clarity.

However, I can’t claim to be an unbiased party here. I’m opposed to Brexit. It has nothing but downsides and a “least-harmful” option isn’t good enough for my country. Despite that, I’m hopeful. Just like we reached out to No voters after the 2014 independence referendum, we should be reaching out to Leave voters. It’s a sign of strength to change your mind when new facts become available, and we’re already seeing the polls shifting towards Remain, with former Leave voters joining those of us who have been looking askance at the manoeuvrings of the Brexiteers and UK Government these past 18 months.

UK political parties need to get out and start – belatedly – explaining the significance of what is going to be lost with Brexit. Hey, I’ve got some tips that I’m happy to share – did I mention that Scotland voted to remain? – and it starts with fewer photo-ops and more chapping on doors, getting out there and actually talking to people.

Maybe we’ll fail. Maybe the court case will be rejected. Maybe the UK Government will steamroller ahead with no deal. Maybe we’ll end up with the hardest of Brexits with no counter vote. But we’re going down fighting.