We’re nearly there, thank goodness. The EU Withdrawal Bill is down to the final, short strokes of its journey through Parliament and into law.
And in spite of all the polarised, divisive Brexit rhetoric, there’s a much broader consensus than the smoke and flames of bitter battles about customs-union-this, or single-market-that, would suggest.
Why? Because most voters, and the MPs they elect, are democrats first and foremost. Whether you voted ‘remain’ in the EU referendum like I did, or ‘leave’, most of us think the question was decided in June 2016. It’s done. Very few people really want to go back and refight the same ghastly, divisive battles all over again. Once was quite enough, thank you very much.
It’s a simple truth which makes the final debates about the Bill much easier. It creates a prism to view the hundred-plus proposed amendments through; a test which each one must pass or fail. Does it stop us leaving, or not?
If, six months after we’ve officially left, MEPs in Brussels can still pass laws which have effect in Britain, or European judges can decide cases on British soil, then most voters will conclude we’re still part of the EU club, whether our name appears on the membership list or not.
That’s the importance of Theresa May’s ‘3 freedoms’: to set our own laws, manage our own money and taxes, and police our own borders. If the hundred-plus amendments deliver those things then they’re fine. If they don’t, then we’re betraying what voters chose.
So the choice isn’t between ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. It’s between the minimum steps necessary to deliver the democratic referendum decision, or snub it.
Looked at this way, there’s far more wriggle-room than the ultras on either side will admit. Because, once we’ve done the bare minimum needed to deliver the 3 freedoms, we can go for the softest, most frictionless, cleanest Brexit we want.
The test strips away a lot of fuzzy thinking by remainers and leavers alike. Most importantly of all, it shows trust in voters’ ability to take a decision. British elections are a contact sport, whether we’re choosing a Government or deciding a referendum. There are claims, counter-claims, facts and fake news, truth and lies and a huge amount of hot air from both sides. Not just sometimes: every time.
And we rely on the good sense of British voters to pick their way through all the rubbish to a collective, agreed decision. I may not agree with it. You may not agree with it either. But it’s still valid. No-one; no politician, no judge, no journalist, gets to look inside the black box of any individual voter’s personal choice and say it’s wrong, or that one person’s vote shouldn’t count as much as another’s.
The test accepts that central, democratic truth. If we find excuses to undermine or deny the referendum decision, it will be like acid eating away at the heart of our democracy.
British politics only works if people trust the system, and the reputation of Britain’s politicians is already at a shockingly low ebb. Let’s not add fuel to that fire. Let’s trust the people, and what they chose on June 23, 2016.