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Britain's democratically elected Parliament once again took back control of the Brexit agenda from a bullying executive on Oct. 19, 2019, to ensure proper scrutiny of a hastily made deal that has epochal implications for both Britain and Europe. Regardless of the Brexit outcome, the U.K.'s democratic processes must be allowed to play out, Timothy Garton Ash writes.Jessica Taylor/House of Commons/The Associated Press

Timothy Garton Ash is a professor of European studies at Oxford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Granted, Brexit is driving everyone mad. We Brits owe all our European friends a sincere apology, a bottle of whisky and complimentary tickets to a Royal Shakespeare Company performance. For Britain is now Hamlet, forever agonizing over whether Brexit is to be or not to be. So I can perfectly understand why Europeans such as French President Emmanuel Macron just want to be rid of us, so as to push ahead with an important, ambitious agenda for the whole European Union. Nonetheless, it remains in Europe’s own enlightened, long-term interest to go the extra kilometre. This means, concretely, that if the British Parliament does not approve Boris Johnson’s new deal this week, the EU should offer an Article 50 extension, as formally requested in the letter sent (although childishly not signed) by Mr. Johnson to the European Council President, Donald Tusk.

A no-deal Brexit would be hugely damaging to Ireland and other parts of Europe geographically close to the United Kingdom. The amendment proposed by the independent Conservative Oliver Letwin and passed by Parliament on Saturday is intended above all to preclude no deal.

But who takes the blame? We know from a leaked document that the Johnson team of hard Brexiters was preparing to blame any failure to get a deal on the “crazy” intransigence of Brussels. If, however, Mr. Macron were to make an unholy alliance with Mr. Johnson to push Britain out of the door on Oct. 31, then my side of the Brexit argument – for referendum, remain and reform – would be bound to place part of the blame on our European partners.

There is no good outcome to Brexit, but the least worst way forward is for Britain to vote in a second referendum to remain, or not, in the EU. And the best way to achieve that is for Parliament to vote for Mr. Johnson’s deal, subject to a confirmatory referendum in which the British public would be asked a single, clear question: Do you want Britain to leave the EU on the terms negotiated by this government, or do you want it to stay in the EU? To be or not to be.

Since this government is dominated by hard Brexiters and what is envisaged in the new deal is in fact a hard Brexit for England, Wales and Scotland, with a softer one only for Northern Ireland, no Leave voter could plausibly complain that they were only being offered the choice between a flaccid BrINO (Brexit in Name Only) and staying in the EU. Hundreds of thousands rallied outside Parliament on Saturday to show their support for such a people’s vote. Even more important than the activists are the opinion polls that now consistently show a majority for remaining in the EU. How absurd it would be if the U.K. was to leave the EU, in the name of respecting “the will of the people,” at precisely the moment when the will of the people had changed.

I know that many continental European friends who were once sympathetic to a second referendum now think the EU would be better off without us.

If Britain leaves now, it will take another five years to work out what the new economic relationship with the EU will be and whether Scotland will leave the United Kingdom, and then a further five years to see how all this beds down in practice.

By that time, the EU and what is left of the U.K. will certainly have diverged. Britain will be worse off economically than it might have been, but probably not so badly off that stubborn English voters, in particular, would swiftly choose to return with, so to speak, their tails between their legs.

If Brexit goes badly for Britain, that will ensure a thoroughly unhappy and bad-tempered relationship across the Channel, negatively affecting the vital co-operation on foreign and security policy. If, against the odds, Brexit goes well for Britannia, then nationalist populists such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the Italian Matteo Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen will start to say, in those immortal words from the movie When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Either way, it’s bad for the EU.

Fortunately, the checks and balances of British liberal democracy are working. In a magnificent, muscular verdict, the Supreme Court found Mr. Johnson acted unlawfully in trying to prorogue Parliament for five weeks. And on Saturday, a democratically elected Parliament once again took back control from a bullying executive, to ensure proper scrutiny of a hastily made deal that has epochal implications for both Britain and Europe. Whether this ends with a confirmatory referendum, as I hope, or with a general election, which seems more likely, or with Parliament narrowly approving Mr. Johnson’s deal, it will be a lawful, democratic process. And a lawful, democratic process is something Europe should always support, even if it takes a little longer.

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