Pressure appears to be mounting on British Prime Minister Theresa May to review the Brexit decision, which her critics say was not “irreversible or irrevocable” and thus, not cast in stone. However, the British Prime Minister, who is struggling to maintain the fragile equilibrium of her government following the resignation of two Cabinet colleagues in the past few weeks, is adamant and has declared that there is no going back.
Lord Kerr, former Ambassador to the European Union, who drew up legislation to trigger Brexit, has accused May of creating a false impression amongst the people regarding the irreversibility of the process and has noted, “we can change our mind anytime”.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a staunch Remain campaigner, has stated that the entire issue should be reviewed next summer, so as to examine whether the promises made by the Brexiteers had been kept. Accordingly, the matter could be halted and if the need be, a second referendum could be held in the light of changed circumstances. There was certainly a scope for re-assessment, he added.
The renewed opposition to the Brexit proposal is aimed at impacting the talks being held in Brussels next month between Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU’s chief negotiator Michael Barnier. May has gone on record to say that “we will exit EU on March 29, 2019”.
Lord Kerr has disputed May’s intent, and in an interview to BBC Radio 4, commented that the impression that Britain was bound to leave by March 2019 was both misleading and erroneous. “UK could opt to reverse Brexit up to the moment we leave, even if the date for the country’s departure was added to the draft bill...we can change our mind at any stage.”
Responding in the interview to the views expressed by David Davis, Brexit Secretary, that the referendum result was an “irrevocable moment”, Kerr observed, the “The David Davis quote I would offer you comes from 2012 when he said: ‘A democracy that has lost the right to change its mind has ceased to be a democracy’.” He further added: “I’m not a politician. I’m just the guy who wrote the treaty telling you what the treaty means.” In other words, the logic behind this meaning, that the treaty does not bind one to any specific date, which can always be altered or done away with. The letter written by the government to the EU president on 29 March 2017 could be recalled. While the final call is that of the government, the option of holding a second referendum always remains. Kerr reiterated, “I’m not today arguing for a second referendum, I’m saying if we wanted to have a second referendum, there is nothing in the treaty, or in the attitude of EU partners, that would prevent us taking the time to have one.” Leading Brexiteers have branded his intervention as nothing short of treachery.
There were new facts pertaining to the economic fall-out of the decision, as well as the impact on education, housing and health issues that were emerging, which were unknown at the time when the Brexit matter was put to vote. Therefore, the government and the people had every right to change their mind if they were convinced that Brexit would not serve the purpose it was meant for.
The renewed debate has been triggered by the growing perception regarding the stability of the May government. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was forced to quit after allegations surfaced pertaining to his moral conduct, which precipitated a crisis of sorts. Shortly after, Priti Patel, the international development minister, was sacked for meeting Israeli politicians while on a holiday; without the knowledge of the Foreign Office. She is understood to have had 12 meetings, including one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Her actions were termed inappropriate and some of her colleagues were of the view that her forced resignation was to preserve the integrity of the British foreign policy.
Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary, has also been under attack for a remark that could have endangered the safety of the British Iranian national, Nazanin Zagheri-Ratcliffe, who is under detention in Iran on charges of espionage. Though he has apologised to her family and retracted his earlier statement, his political opponents have been demanding his resignation.
Theresa May’s deputy, Damian Green as well is facing charges that have been a source of both concern and political embarrassment. Thus, it is not surprising that the Brexit debate has been reignited when the Prime Minister and her government are looking vulnerable.
Meanwhile, EU president Donald Tusk said that the UK government had the power to halt the exit process.
The short point is that the last word on Brexit has not been heard. The debate shall continue, with both sides giving varied opinions.