It’s not about sticking it to Farage. It’s definitely not an attempt to split the divide yet further by telling leavers that they were wrong. It’s not about remaining in the EU or even (really) about telling MPs to do their job correctly. This is about upholding the democracy that our country is built upon, to allow the people of the United Kingdom to have the final say on something that will alter our citizenship, our rights, our economy, our freedom to travel, and our international standing, reputation and diplomacy for decades to come.
For almost 3 years parliament has tried to navigate the utter shit-show that is Brexit. The lies and deceit of the Vote Leave campaign have been (mostly) exposed; within the seemingly endless shambles of negotiations, a shoddy deal has been cobbled together -and rejected overwhelmingly twice by Parliament; a no-deal Brexit, agreed by any reputable source to be dire for all involved on either side of the English Channel, has been taken “off the table” (though this would be the default outcome on 29th March if nothing is agreed upon by then); and any hypothetical “softer” Brexit deal to be conjured up from nowhere within the next seven days before the big day effectively would be a worst of all worlds:
— Brexit hardliners wouldn’t get the economic freedom to pursue the independent trade deals they desire, nor would their delusions of grandeur towards an Empire 2.0 be fulfilled (because it’s 2019 – nobody cares about the UK any more. The British Empire is done. Good riddance to colonialism. Get used to it). EU funding would be in tatters – good luck to British farmers after they lose their € 22.5 billion from The European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, and to less developed regions in the UK after they lose their €17.2 billion from European Structural and Investment Fund. We would still be under the arm of the EU, but will have lost our seat(s) at the table to have our say in EU affairs, despite being directly affected by any decisions made. Though, it might mellow rising tensions in Northern Ireland, allowing the peace process to continue. Potential for hard borders, customs checks, and imbalanced and undemocratic preferential treatment of DUP demands in order for them to prop up May’s minority government is hardly a soothing tonic to a delicately held peace. A hard Brexit is as much help on the island of Britain as it is across the Irish Sea.
So where does that leave us? Labour has finally edged towards supporting the idea of a Peoples’ Vote. All minor parties represented in Parliament, including the new breakaway Independent Group, and a good handful of centrist Tory MPs fully support it. The Speaker, John Bercow, has refused Theresa May’s attempts to thwart the democratic process by putting her deal to MPs repeatedly until she gets the support she wants. Parliament is at a stalemate; all options and avenues have been explored and discussed, and no consensus in Parliament can be found. Leaving the European Union has proven an astonishingly complicated task, and inexecutable in the simplistic “Take back control” manner in which the Leave Campaign suggested. Parliament needs to see that the desire of the people is for a public vote now, so that whatever new deal, potentially to be struck in the coming months, provided an Article 50 extension is permitted by the EU, is put to the people to decide.
The people of the United Kingdom were clear that they wanted to leave the European Union in June of 2016. The referendum result HAS been honoured – there can be no suggestion otherwise after painstaking conviction towards Brexit for almost 3 years. After an undeniably misled vote in 2016, in March of 2019 it is time to demand the right to our democracy again, to confirm that we still wish to leave the EU, now that we are fully aware of what that entails. No funny business, no “voting again until we get what we want”. A simple confirmatory vote for the people. The world has changed in 3 years, and the question has changed. “This is the deal: Do you still want that?” Leavers and Remainers alike should embrace this opportunity for clarity. If you are convinced that the 17.4 million who voted to leave still feel the same way, then let them say so again. We should accept whatever the result is, as a hypothetical 2nd vote to leave the EU would confirm the unchanged will of the British people. There should be no fear that the vote would be “lost” a second time, as fears that the vote would now swing resoundingly towards remaining, with all the information in front of us, in 2019, would simply mean that the will of the people has changed. Honouring that is honouring democracy. It is why we hold elections every five years, to ask the people “Are you happy with the government you currently have?” We do the same as members of the EU, holding elections for our members of the European Parliament every five years.
For a long time, I opposed the idea of a Peoples’ Vote for fear it would further polarise the society we live in. I am still concerned about this, and thanks to chief Leave campaigners loaded with false promises and driven by pure passion rather than fact, a rift in society was created where it never truly existed before. The issues many wanted addressed wasn’t the EU, but rather it was immigration, and the changing demographics of the country. It was fear of terror attacks on British soil and a resignation to lower standards of living and rising costs brought about by Tory austerity. The cause and effect of these problems felt by a large sphere of British society was mis-sold to them, convincing them that EU membership was at the heart of all of these problems. It wasn’t. It still isn’t. However, the “alternative facts” were very well delivered and – credit to them here – neither Boris, Michael, Nigel, David, Liam, Jacob or any other (note the lack of diversity there, though that is another discussion for another day…) could have predicted it would break Britain and our political institution as it has done. At least, for the sake of all that is good in the world I hope they weren’t so mind numbingly self-destructive to have wanted *this* all along.
Nonetheless, five working days before Brexit day, this is where we are. All of the frustration, all of the smugness, the arguing, and again I repeat, the polarisation of our country, and what is left? May’s deal has been defeated in more so than any other motion in parliamentary history. No-deal swings, like a Sword of Damocles over our parliamentarians, as a blackmailing tool for our beloved Theresa to use in one final, foul, desperate and bullying ploy to get MPs to pervert the course of democracy by voting for her deal – a deal which they fundamentally do not agree with. 68% of the general public don’t support her deal either according to the latest YouGov poll. The damage of an impending Brexit is blatantly clear, with over $1 trillion in banking assets having moved to EU financial centres already, car manufacturing plants (see Swindon, Sunderland) closing down, airline companies going bust (see Cobalt, Flybmi), and the pound at its weakest buying power abroad in 33 years. I can tell you first hand from my adventures Busking the Globe in nearly 60 countries since the vote, that we are an utter laughing stock. The country has lost all credibility (please know this, any Empire 2.0 fantasisers out there). It’s an utter embarrassment. We can’t just revoke article 50 off the cuff because of the uproar it will cause. We need a fair and democratic solution, as we certainly can’t continue down this reckless and fruitless Brexit road any longer, just as much as we can’t just return to how things were before the vote, to business as usual: the businesses are already closing, the wounds are wide open and consensus about anything still does not exist. The Prime Minister has failed. Brexit has failed. No matter what approach we take here, the country and our political institutions will be reeling for years to come. Society is already as divided and confused as it could possibly be. Having respected the referendum result for three years it’s time to consider the best deal that exists for all parties involved here, and that deal might just be the one we already had in 2016. Let’s stop kidding ourselves by accepting a weak deal because “At least it’s better than no deal”. It’s not good enough.
Corbyn has shown himself to be an impossibly inflexible Eurosceptic incapable of – or unwilling to see -the damage that any kind of Brexit could do to the lower income families and younger voters he claims to care about most. We need to accept that his socialist dream just cannot be implemented in 2019. There is no space for it in a country and parliament so impossibly divided. He has waited too long to swing the full oomph of the Labour party behind a public vote, and so it is down to the people to make their voices heard, to let Parliament and the European Union know what it is that is wanted at this point. Corbyn is not the magic making compassionate grandpa we’d all willed him to be. This may well be the largest political moment we live through – at least until the climate crisis actually starts to be talked about… It’s also the most confused, divided and unrepresented we have ever been. This isn’t about a shoddy government that could be voted out again in 5 years. It isn’t about rising student fees for which we came out in our 100s of thousands to contest (it didn’t turn out all that bad for us in the end though did it? I’ve still not paid back a penny of my student loans and as a badly paid musician I probably never will). This is about permanent change to our citizenship. It is about permanent change to our freedom to live, travel and work in the largest economy this world has ever known; the most densely culturally diverse region on this planet. It is about turning our backs during the longest reign of peace Europe has seen in over 2000 years. All of this in the name of sovereignty (which we already had.)
Do not allow Brexit lethargy to win. Do not allow Theresa May’s reckless, authoritarian scaremongering prevail. Stare down that no-deal Brexit and let May, her government, our parliament and our EU see that the only fair, democratic way out of this mess is to bring it back to the people. On Saturday, in our 100s of thousands, we can do exactly that. March for the United Kingdom. March for Europe. March for a People’s Vote in London on Saturday.