Over 80% of those DiEM25 members from across Europe who voted to update their stance on Brexit this month chose the call by Yanis Varoufakis for the UK and EU to agree an extension of Article 50 for at least one year.
DiEM25 is launching a national campaign to postpone the Brexit date by a year, by means of a parliamentary petition urging the UK Parliament to request an extension of Article 50 in order to hold a general election.
DiEM25 will do so together with a group of EU citizens living in the UK; UK citizens living across the EU, and UK citizens too young to vote at the time of the Brexit referendum who want to have a voice in a debate which has too often excluded them. With this campaign we seek the support of all British and Northern Irish democrats and indeed of all democrats within and outside the EU.
We respect the choice of all those who voted in the referendum and we recognise the democratic outcome of the vote. All of us sympathise with the valid reasons of many of those who voted Remain, and understand and share the motives of many of those who voted Leave. Fundamentally, we believe in democracy.
But in less than six months, the UK is scheduled to exit the EU. Article 50 requires the UK government signing a deal with the EU before March 29, 2019, or leaving with No Deal. During the summer, the government suffered significant resignations over its Chequers plan which is widely criticised within the parties supporting the government and vehemently opposed by all the opposition parties. There is no convergence in sight on the terms of the Brexit bill and the Tory rightwing is increasingly committed to a No Deal Brexit.
This is why the state of the negotiations between the UK and the EU leaves us deeply concerned about the absence of honest debate about Brexit in Britain. More than two years after the referendum and one and a half after triggering Article 50, there is still no clarity about what the government, the Parliament, and the country as a whole, want. There is, in fact, utter confusion and division at all levels.
The only thing that is clear, despite the Prime Minister’s insistence that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, is that a No Deal would be a catastrophe for most of us. From one day to the next about £554 billion in trade between the UK and the EU would be subject to customs and levies under WTO rules with likely disruptions in many chains of production and distribution. The free movement of people between the UK and the EU would come to an end with obvious consequences in harbours and airports. The EU legislation protecting fundamental workers, environmental and human rights would come to an end, with unpredictable consequences in all parts of society. All EU grants supporting UK institutions and other EU-funded activities would be suspended simultaneously generating chaos in all sorts of institutions. Most worryingly, a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would come into force, endangering the Good Friday Agreement which put an end to 40 years of Troubles. All of these events have real repercussions on every person in the UK, but none of them was democratically discussed during the referendum, none of them will address the legitimate concerns expressed by millions of leave voters and none of them is remotely close to the notion of “taking back control”.
Much of the confusion and the division that we are seeing in the Brexit debate are due to the duress of an arbitrary deadline which has effectively stifled debate. No one really needs to finalise Brexit before March 29, 2019, which is an arbitrary cut-off date in any case. A proper democratic debate across the UK is now the priority, even for Leavers who rightly complain about the undemocratic nature and opacity of the current process. But democracy needs time that has now run out.
This is why we think as citizens we should agree to Take a Break from Brexit, postponing the Brexit deadline for a year (as allowed by Article 50 if the seceding country requests it and the EU council agrees) in order to hold a general election. This is the only genuinely inclusive democratic process which can clear the air, getting rid of a failed government oscillating between two extremes: recalcitrant Brexiteers, for whom mass suffering is a political opportunity, and those willing to accept a Brussels fudge that keeps Britain in limbo and without a viable long term relationship with the EU.
In a joint letter to the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the 3Million and the coalition of British in Europe, who together represent almost 3 million EU citizens in the UK and more than 1 million UK citizens in the EU, highlighted the risk that the rights of those citizens might become “collateral damage” in a “dangerous political game” ending up in a No Deal Brexit. We share their concerns.
An extension of Article 50 would allow democracy the time it needs to navigate toward an agreement that minimises human costs and paves the ground for a decent long-term arrangement between the UK and the EU. The window of opportunity to shape an inclusive democratic process is slim. This is why we must act now.
We have set up a Facebook page and a platform to crowdfund our campaign. We will welcome everyone who wants to join us, whether a Leaver or a Remainer, British or non-British European, conservative or progressive. We are determined to be listened to and for our ideas to be discussed by all Citizens as well as in Parliament. Neither the flaws of the EU, nor those of the UK will be tackled by rushing this historical decision.
Yanis Varoufakis is the former finance minister of Greece, Professor of Economics at the University of Athens, Visiting Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson Graduate School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin and co-founder of DiEM25. He is the author of Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe's Deep Establishment.( Bodley Head, 2017) and Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism (Bodley Head, 2017). His blog is here.