Does protesting change anything? Sometimes, yes. Marches and protest can and do bring rapid political change – there are no rules about that. The louder, the more insistent, the more compelling the argument, the more chance of it prevailing. More than anything, a march is a visible symbol and is hard to ignore. So it is with a final say on Brexit.
That is why The Independent is joining forces with the People’s Vote March for the Future, taking place in London on Saturday 20 October. People’s Vote has similar objectives to The Independent’s Final Say campaign, which calls for a public vote on a Brexit deal. Many other organisations, such as trade unions, professional associations and others in civic society, share those goals. Today we report that Community, the union for steelworkers and other trades, supports a final say for the British people, joining bodies as diverse as the British Medical Association and the National Union of Students in this broad-based coalition.
The Independent’s petition for a final say numbers 615,000 signatures and counting: if you have signed it already, we thank you; if you haven’t yet and would like to do so, please follow the link below. When it reaches critical mass we will present it to government. The petition sponsored by People’s Vote meanwhile boasts around 260,000 signatures. Even allowing for some overlap, that represents a powerful body of opinion – and that is before any further debacles in parliament. The signatories will be well represented on the October march.
With such support across so many bodies, it makes sense to come together at moments such as these to make the call for democracy loud and clear. It is becoming, indeed, almost a duty for anyone who cares about the future of Britain – and an urgent one. Should you feel moved to join us on the march, it would help from an organisational point of view if you registered your intention via the link at the end of this article. You can also, if you wish to, donate to help cover the costs of putting on the event: again, details are available below.
In the present uncertainty, the democratic case for a final say makes itself. Our political leaders, collectively, have proved unable to deal with the challenges facing the nation. The divisors within parties do not suit the Westminster system; the methods of debate and voting are also ill-suited to settling this sort of policy.
Today an outcome that seemed unlikely, even unthinkable, a mere two years ago is spoken about as a real prospect: a no-deal Brexit. Where once he thought a deal would be the easiest negotiation in human history, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, puts the odds of a no-deal outcome at 60 per cent. The British foreign secretary, once such a power on the world stage, a figure who held the balance of power in Europe and at the centre of a vast global empire, flies to Riga to ask the Latvian government for support over Brexit. In response, that country’s foreign minister, Edgar Rinkevics, tells the British public that Britain has a 50 per cent chance of crashing out of the EU next March – with no transition deal. We are grateful to him for his candour, but it should tell us something about the contemporary balance of power between Britain and, 10 times its size, the remaining EU.
Suddenly Brexit has turned Europe’s leaders into amateur bookmakers, laying odds on economic catastrophe. Thus has diplomacy been devalued.
The reason for this gloom over impending disaster is plain: Britain’s leaders in government and in parliament, across parties, have been unable to agree on the way forward, whether between themselves or with the EU27. So far from “taking back control”, we have had indecision, chaos and a series of failed British initiatives. Ministers and civil servants can blame Brussels and the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier all they like – but much of the confusion about UK policy derives from the nature of Brexit itself. So often British policy is an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, to have your cake and eat it, that it seems obvious that the real obstacle to a “red, white and blue” Brexit isn’t the adamantine autocrats or treacherous Conservative Brexit rebels, but the laws of logic themselves.
The unacknowledged truth is that the British constitution, unwritten and flexible as it is, changed on Thursday 23 June 2016. The EU referendum, de facto if not de jure, transferred sovereignty from the British parliament to the British people.
The British people are badly divided. Not all, obviously, want to leave; but some, with great passion and sincerity, wish to do so, and at any economic cost. Some would, in fact, welcome a no-deal Brexit, which they regard as a misnomer in any case. They argue that the UK will have a deal – World Trade Organisation terms of trade, plus various other vestigial agreements. They too are entitled to their say, and they too can argue the case for their vision of Brexit when the time arrives for a final say. They, after all, were some of the most sunnily optimistic during the 2016 referendum. Now the time has come for them to make their case for the reality of Brexit as it will be in 2019.
The next referendum will be different from the one that went before. The options for the country will be better understood; and the vote will be only representative of the options facing the UK if it includes an option to remain in the EU. Where the single market and customs union were, if at all, only vaguely comprehended in 2016, they are now debated in sometimes painful detail. The economic relationships of non-EU members such as Norway and Switzerland have been subjected to unprecedented scrutiny. The consequences for the Irish border and for Gibraltar, previously fringe issues, are now raised to the importance they deserve.
It is a different referendum in more ways than one then, but it must be one where the public is given the options it has a right to expect. We should not have to demand it; but, come 20 October, demand it we shall.
To register for the march in London on 20 October please click here
The People’s Vote campaign has organised the March for the Future – please help it meet the cost by donating here