My bill stops drift and damage – not Brexit | Yvette Cooper

The prime minister cannot play at brinkmanship any longer. No-deal must be off the table

With less than six weeks to go until Brexit, our country is drifting without any idea of where we are heading or whether we are about to crash. The prime minister seems determined to leave everything to a last-minute crisis in the final few days of March, and content to risk no-deal, despite the damage it would do. But this is a terrible way to make decisions and an irresponsible way to govern. If she cannot resolve things soon, we need some parliamentary safeguards in place instead.

Already even the threat of no-deal is causing huge problems. Businesses don’t know what to do about their April orders. Leading British manufacturers said last week that they were spending tens of millions of pounds on preparing for no-deal, but were hoping the money would be wasted. Police officers don’t know if European arrest warrants they have issued for criminals will be torn up overnight.

I want to see a workable deal that supports manufacturing and can sustain a consensus. But the prime minister’s refusal to change her red lines, her refusal even to consider a customs union, and her determination to pander only to the hardline European Research Group within her own party make me deeply worried. The votes last week show that the ERG will not be satisfied with any sensible plan. Its members advocate no-deal, but they won’t be the ones who suffer if food prices go up as a result of WTO tariffs and border delays to food, and they won’t be the ones who are hit if manufacturing jobs are lost.

The government has a basic responsibility to keep us safe, to make sure the poorest families can afford food in the shops, or that patients can get their medicines, or that our businesses can trade. Yet, even with all those things potentially at risk in just over five weeks’ time, the cabinet didn’t even discuss Brexit last week. Ministers talk about plans and negotiations, but sound like they are praising the emperor’s new clothes, not daring to admit the emperor is stark naked.

That is why we have published a cross-party bill which would force the prime minister to take key decisions by the middle of March, rather than taking brinkmanship games right up to the line. If a deal isn’t approved by 13 March, she would have to choose whether she wants the default option to be no-deal or whether – and for how long – to request an extension of article 50, and parliament will get to vote on her choice. It provides a chance to pause for breath if we have run out of time, and a chance for the prime minister to finally admit that her approach isn’t working and reset the debate.

The bill doesn’t revoke article 50, block Brexit or resolve the question of what kind of deal we should have. It is just a commonsense safeguard to prevent a last-minute crisis or no-deal by accident on 29 March. The government isn’t behaving responsibly, so MPs of all parties will have to do so, so that we can try to find a sensible way through the chaos before it is too late.

• Yvette Cooper is the Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford


Yvette Cooper

The GuardianTramp

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