With fewer than 10 months until Britain is set to quit the European Union, one billionaire investor and a throng of political activists are trying desperately to scupper the departure. Can Brexit really be stopped?
George Soros Intervention
Last week, investor George Soros published a plan to reverse the UK’s EU exit – on the one-year anniversary of the historic Brexit vote.
At an event on Friday in London, Best for Britain, the anti-Brexit campaign group that is partly bankrolled by Soros, mapped out its blueprint for a referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated by Britain, led by prime minster Theresa May and Brussels.
The billionaire and his group want people to choose between that deal and staying in the EU – the outcome it is ultimately seeking. The mooted vote would take place before March 29, 2019, when Britain will formally leave the bloc.
Soros said: “Best for Britain fought for and helped to win a meaningful parliamentary vote which includes the option of not leaving at all.
“This would be good for Britain but would also render Europe a great service by rescinding Brexit and not creating a hard-to-fill hole in the European budget.
“The British public must express its support by a convincing margin in order to be taken seriously by Europe. That’s what Best for Britain is aiming for by engaging the electorate.”
British MPs Scrapping over Terms of EU Exit
Soros’ anti-EU sentiment is no secret – the investor donated at least £700,000 to Best for Britain, a group set up to oppose Brexit. It was established by Gina Miller, a former banker who successfully to the UK government to court over Brexit. But his recent intervention has stoked tension among British MPs, who are already scrapping over the terms of the EU exit, or whether there should be one at all.
Soros’ published roadmap sought to distance Best for Britain from the so-called “soft Brexit” strategy that some Remain-backing MPs in the House of Commons advocate for. MPs from the Conservative, Labour and other parties are planning to vote for amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. The bill seeks to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU, and inside the £11tn single trading market.
Best for Britain’s strategy marks a departure from other Brexit opposition groups, which have largely accepted that the legal routes to halting the EU exit are spent. They are instead focusing their attention on the terms of the deal negotiated by May and her Brexit transition team, led by David Davis.
But some commentators believe this is a mistake; wrong on principle and practically ineffective. “The odds are against stopping Brexit. They always have been, but it can still happen,” wrote Steve Bullock, a former negotiator for the UK in the EU, in an opinion piece for the Guardian newspaper.
“The main obstacles are political, not legal. For example, were the Labour party leadership to significantly alter its position, the odds could shift considerably in favour of remaining.”
He pointed out that successive statements by EU leaders have made it clear that the UK abandoning Brexit is still a preferred option, adding that the UK can agree to an extension of two years, allowed by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Arguments for Halting Brexit
Another argument put forward for halting Brexit is that the UK government’s mandate to execute the will of the people is diminished as a result of their disastrous election campaign last year, in which May failed to achieve a majority in parliament and was propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party. Some have argued, too, that the Brexit camp campaigned dishonestly and allegedly were involved in wrongdoing in the 2016 referendum, suggesting the outcome may be different a second time round.
“Remain campaigners are having an effect. [But] it may not be enough, and the odds are always stacked against us,” wrote Bullock.
‘Brexit Could Come off the Rails in 2018’
Eloise Todd, CEO of the Best for Britain campaign, believes that “2018 is the year Brexit could come off the rails”. She wrote in the Independent: “…The wisdom of the people will continue to shift, and save us from the most calamitous, elite-made act of self-harm in modern political history.”
Todd believes that the Labour party’s line on Brexit is still the most important piece of the puzzle. Labour’s Owen Smith, who stood for the leadership in 2016, has called for the party to take a more explicit position opposing Brexit. Writing in the Guardian, he said that “the country has a vote on whether to accept the terms and [the] true costs of that choice, once they are clear”.
Todd reckons that there is a huge electoral opportunity for Labour to change its position on Brexit – one motivating factor for it to do so.
Labour’s Potential Monumental Impact
She said: “The only way Labour was able to gain seats from a Conservative party that enjoyed a 6.5% increase in voters from 2015 was because of Remainers switching, including in northern seats where that tactical vote often had most impact, even in so-called ‘Leave’ constituencies.
“Without a real shift in the Labour position that keeps the door open to all options – including staying in the EU – it’s possible that Labour’s support from those tactical voters will drain away.”
Whether it is politically advantageous or not for Labour to back a second referendum, the pros and cons of such a move for all of Britain – not just one party – will need to be debated.
Soros, a billionaire investor and his activist group will not achieve halting Brexit on their own, but they have ignited a debate. That is surely a good thing for the whole of the UK.