March 29th and Brexit Endgame

Trevor Fisher says no other options will mean anything unless Parliament extends Article 50

February 14th’s Valentine’s Day massacre in the Commons marked the point where May finally lost control of Brexit and the Tory Party split into warring factions. The comment by Defence Minister Tobias Ellmore that the 72 Brexiteers who did not back May were “a party within a party” was well founded, but there will be no dividend for Labour. The bigger picture got lost in the scramble. March 29th is now 40 days away, and May is playing Russian Roulette.

A slowly dawning consciousness that the end is near is sparking a limited recognition that the only game in town is extending the deadline. Gary Younge in the Guardian wrote that this has to happen but not with May in charge. There is a reality gap here. There is no alternative Prime Minister that the Guardian readership would like. But the other options have closed down. It is now delay or else risk No Deal. May has to be overridden. She cannot be replaced.

Certainly the People’s Vote campaign has no chance unless this happens. Adonis told a meeting on February 2nd the best estimate of  PV-voting MPs is 160. With the arguments inside the Labour Party becoming self-defeating, only an extension – preferably for a year – can create a space to build. If May continues to lose votes for her options, the choices will be No Deal or an Extension.

An extension would not be a walk in the park – the Sun attacked it before Christmas and the far right call of “BETRAYAL” will echo far and wide. But let us be clear: there was NO deadline in the Referendum motion and Parliament can change the date it chose and ask the EU 27 to comply. The far right will have to be faced down. But as neither a general election nor a referendum cannot be held in 40 days, the choice is clear.

 Jeremy Corbyn said on Valentine’s Day that Mrs May “cannot keep on running down the clock and hope something will turn up”. Yes she can! Running down the clock can only be stopped by extending the deadline. Then the other options – general election, referendum, citizens’ assemblies, etc. – become worth discussing.

This was made clear in a letter to the Guardian on 16th January signed by notables including John Palmer ex Guardian European editor – and myself. It had no impact whatsoever. Yet if there is no extension Britain is heading for a bungee jump with no bungee. Perhaps the promised March 23rd demo could be a lever, but so far there is no sign Millbank has understood that the PV campaign has to be put on the back burner and an Extension put on the front of the political hob. It is now essential this happens.


Suggested motion from the South Staffordshire EU group follows. Colleagues who can put motions through branches are invited to contact me.

This meeting notes that the best estimate of MPs supporting the People’s Vote is 160 (Andrew Adonis National PV meeting 2nd February). There is no majority for a PV or any deal in the Commons in sight. However Jeremy Hunt the Foreign Secretary and many Labour and Progressive MPs have called for an extension of the deadline from March 29th.

This should now be the Campaign priority with all options to be considered including a General Election, People’s Vote and Citizens Assemblies. This meeting calls for national action up to March 29th including a mass demonstration on March 23rd to prioritise extending the Article 50 deadline preferably for a year.


  1. My view is that we should not prioritise extending Article 50. Simply to extend without a clear reason would feed the (well founded) public frustration that the government should have got on with things, and a delay will add another year to the process without any indication that the extra time would be used usefully. An extra year would also require the UK to hold elections for the European Parliament, and hard-Brexit supporters could expect to do well, at least in England.

    However, I do think we should be prepared to change tack, and if necessary compromise, particularly given that we currently only have about a quarter of the House supporting PV. There are 2 ways we could get PV through:
    1. Corbyn could come round and support PV, or
    2. PV supporters should amend a motion to support May’s deal, but make this support conditional on a referendum.

    1 would be great if it happened, but I am not holding my breath.

    2 might be a better option. It would require Labour support, but that would be less of a problem for MPs in Leave-supporting seats, as they would be helping to deliver the possibility of a deal-based Brexit, which the government alone has clearly failed to do. Such a referendum would give the electorate 2 options – accept May’s deal, or continue as EU members. It would eliminate the possibility of a No Deal exit. PV supporters would have to allow the motion of support for May’s Deal to pass, but that is a small price to pay for a 3rd referendum.

    Once parliament had established a purpose for a delay, extending Article 50 would be an uncontroversial formality, and everyone would move on to fighting the referendum.

    If possible, the referendum should be held no later than the European elections at the end of May.

  2. Graham is right that an extension without an object would merely intensify public ianger. The intensions are clear A to stop being railroaded into a disasterous May solution possibly a no deal, as the ERG are in control of government B to allow debate and decision – General Election, Referendum or Citizens Assemblies (getting 43% support in the last poll I saw).

    But the essential is to stop the 29th deadline. Labour backed the Cooper Boles amendment as it realised its policy of a General Election cannot happen without more time. ERG Stitched us up with the legally binding deadline. Its like being on the titanic and knowing exactly when the ship will hit the iceberg. Turn the wheel or sink without trace.

    Everything else can be discussed when parliament has shown it is sovereign and extended the deadline.

    Trevor Fisher

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