THOM Brooks is Dean of Durham Law School at Durham University

The Northern Echo:

Dean of Durham Law School, Thom Brooks

TODAY should have been Brexit Day.

When Prime Minister Theresa May finally triggered Article 50, the march towards the exit date of March 29, 2019, started.

Some called for a second vote days after the first. They claimed either voters did not understand the issues or were lied to. Or both. Calls for a new referendum became immediately tied to wanting to Remain in the EU.

Most accepted the referendum result regardless of how they voted, but disagreed sometimes bitterly on what Brexit should look like.

This disagreement has only intensified since.

I stood alone in acknowledging Leave won but predicting Brexit would not be delivered, at least not by March 29.

Before Article 50 was triggered more than two years ago, my prediction was attacked by the Daily Mail and my views firmly denied by government officials at the Foreign Office and Department for Exiting the European Union saying “Brexit means Brexit.”

But Brexit meant no more than gobbledygook.

It should have clear before Brexit was triggered that there was no single vision articulated for what it should look like.

A referendum doesn’t need a manifesto setting out policies to be valid, but without such a platform Brexit means different things to whoever you asked.

Nor did it help that the main players like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were quick to quit leadership positions within hours or days of the result.

This meant those left with the responsibility for making Brexit happen neither wanted it nor had a vision for how it might work.

Perhaps no such clear vision was ever held.

All we had were red lines to say what Brexit would prevent, not create.

As an immigration law expert, these lines seemed to crash into each other.

One red line was to take back control of our borders by increasing immigration restrictions.

But a second was to keep a completely open border in Northern Ireland, a contradiction that I was raising during the EU referendum campaign years before the Irish backstop became recognised as a major stumbling block.

In rushing to begin the process of leaving the European Union, not enough time was spent getting clear about what we wanted from talks and the country we wanted to become.

In failing to do our homework, Brexit talks started with an unprepared team.

A positive result uniting a divided country was beyond our grasp from the moment we sat at the table in Brussels.

These problems led me to predict correctly no Brexit would happen by March 29, but they also show the only lifeline available to May’s deal if she wants it passed by the new extended deadline in June.

Parliament is deadlocked.

May’s deal has suffered two historic defeats.

The vote coming closest to a majority is for a second referendum, but this still lost.

Calls for a second referendum carry baggage as the knee-jerk response to overturning a disliked first vote.

If the Prime Minister wants to get her deal passed, she needs to look past this and see a second referendum as her last chance.

MPs would be under sufficient pressure to pass her deal if the public confirmed their support for it, just like how MPs voted to trigger Brexit whether or not they individually supported it because of the public vote.

The risks are that another referendum can’t be a re-run of the first.

As a former advisor to the Electoral Commission on the original referendum, a second ballot should offer the new option of being a decision between staying in the EU or leaving under May’s deal.

There is every possibility the result will be the UK stops Brexit if remain wins.

But there seems no possibility that May’s deal or any other will win in Parliament any other way.

My recommendation carries with it the added advantage of forcing May’s pro-Brexit critics to rally behind her leadership.

If her deal is the only ticket out of the EU, then Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg will need to nail their colours to May’s mast.

Another such vote will undoubtedly be heated like the first.

This won’t be avoided by other means and a second vote can be carried out quickly with the bonus of drawing a firm line under Brexit by June.

May might be forgiven for accepting my prediction there would be no Brexit today.

But if she doesn’t take my advice now there won’t be any possibility of Brexit this year either.