Could Article 50 be revoked? A growing number of MPs think so

Revocation is not a majority position among MPs, but its popularity is growing. 

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Revoke Article 50: that’s the preferred way out of the Brexit mess as far as the 900,000 people who have signed a Commons petition to that effect are concerned.

But more importantly, a growing number of MPs think that revocation might be the only way to avoid no deal.

The question I keep asking MPs who oppose a no-deal exit, whether they backed a Remain vote, a Leave vote, want a second referendum, May’s deal, a Norway type arrangement or something else entirely, is: what if we get to the 28 March, or 23 May, or 31 December 2020, with no deal, no prospect of an extension or further extension to the Article 50 process and a choice between May’s deal and the cliff-edge? How would you vote?

And until relatively recently, the despairing answer from most Labour and Conservative MPs has been: well, I’d vote for the deal.

But there has been a shift in the last week. MPs are now giving a different answer: that exercising the United Kingdom’s unilateral right to revoke Article 50 is an option they can get behind.

That opinion is also starting to be aired by MPs who are still diehard opponents of a second referendum. Why? Well, it’s partly because some opponents of a second referendum opposed the first and still believe referendums to be innately undesirable. For others, it is because the calculation is, as one put it: “A second referendum will cause huge political damage and might not stop Brexit. No-deal Brexit causes huge economic damage and huge political damage. Revoking at the last minute just causes huge political damage.”

That’s not to say that there is a majority in the House of Commons for revocation today. But it is to say I find it more plausible to imagine the emergence of a pro-revocation majority over the coming days than a pro-referendum one.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.