Later this month – on the 22nd of May – we will have a hearing before the Court of Session in Edinburgh. It will decide whether to ask the Court of Justice in Luxembourg if we can withdraw our Article 50 notice – if Parliament decides Brexit is not in the national interest.
I am one of the petitioners – along with a handful of Scottish Members of the Parliaments of the UK, Scotland and Europe. Two English MPs are also intervening in support of the case. And a Welsh MP and a member of the Welsh Assembly are also supporting the case. They all want to know for sure that we can choose to remain.
As things stand, the other 27 member states of the EU say they would allow us to withdraw our notice if we wanted to. That they would permit us to. And this gives us real comfort that such a thing is possible. However, the case is about whether we can remain just because we choose to. And it is vitally important for three reasons.
First, Guy Verhofstadt has said that remaining now would mean the UK losing its valuable opt-outs and rebate. Of course, he does not speak for all of Europe. And (as far as I am aware) his language has not been repeated by other leaders. But we mustn’t lose the good deal we presently enjoy. If we can pull our notice unilaterally – just because we want to and without needing their permission – the consequence should be that we keep the same good deal. They would have no leverage to charge a price for us remaining.
Second, without a right unilaterally to withdraw the notice, any one Member State could block us remaining. Already, Brexit is causing an exodus of jobs in the finance and space sectors to the EU. And many more are likely to follow over time if we continue to allow the EU to tighten the screws on our economy. And the Japanese have given a very clear indication that car makers will move to Europe if we can’t get frictionless trade with the EU. And – remember David Cameron when he tried to ‘roll out the red carpet’ for high earners in France? – poor policy in one country creates winners in others.
So, how confident can we be that all 27 member states would allow us back? Can we be sure they would sacrifice their own interests to do so? Best we not rely on that hope.
Finally, third, this case is a chance to put debates about remaining back on the front pages of the newspapers. Although it cannot cause us to remain – that is rightly a matter for elected politicians and not judges – it will ensure we all know, particularly those who have changed their minds about the wisdom of Brexit, that remaining is possible.
But we need money to fund the case. I have provided a personal indemnity to the other Scottish petitioners – without it many or all would not be able to participate – but I do not know how long I can keep it open.
Please, if you believe the country’s interests are best served by remaining, help us continue here.