Earth to hard Brexiteers: It’s time to return to reality

Editorial

Pro-EU Conservative MPs are threatening to unite with the opposition to try to stop Brexit altogether if their hard-Brexit colleagues vote down May’s deal, we report today.

The Independent would welcome such an effort if it led to giving the people the final say over leaving the European Union. So perhaps we should refrain from pointing out to the isolationist fantasists that they are putting Brexit in danger.

However, we would rather, when parliament makes its historic decision on the nation’s future – expected next month – that it did so on the basis of reality. It cannot be in the national interest that the hard Brexiteers approach the so-called meaningful vote without understanding the basics of this negotiation.

Andrea Leadsom, who attends cabinet and who is trying to organise her fellow Leave-voting ministers to demand last-minute changes to the Brexit deal, said today: “There is still more to be done and we do still have more time before the EU Council at the end of the month.”

This implies more flexibility than is realistic. The special summit of EU leaders will take place next Sunday. The final text is being negotiated this weekend, and the only changes that can be made are to the non-binding political declaration on the future trade relationship between the UK and the EU. All the rest has already been signed off by the cabinet.

It is possible that the phrase in the political declaration that supposedly prompted Dominic Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary could be changed cosmetically. It talks of “customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in the withdrawal agreement”. But the part of the withdrawal agreement that Ms Leadsom does not like – the indefinite guarantee of an open border in Ireland – cannot be changed.

Theresa May was right to say at her press conference on Thursday: “Nobody has produced any alternative proposal which both delivers on the referendum and also ensures that there’s no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

She was right to reiterate in her interview on Saturday: “People say, ‘If you could only just do something slightly different, have a Norway model or a Canada model, this backstop issue would go away.’ It would not. That issue is still going to be there.”

It is time for the hard Brexiteers, in cabinet and out, to accept this reality and to argue for a no-deal Brexit, if that is what they really want. Equally, it is time for Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer, for the Labour Party, to drop the pretence that they could force the government to negotiate a different deal.

As we approach the momentous decision of parliament, MPs should argue for the options that are possible. They are a no-deal Brexit; Ms May’s deal; or a Final Say referendum with remaining in the EU as one of the choices.

Anyone who pretends that there are other possibilities is not being straight with the British people.