It's time the public had a say.
It seems never-ending, doesn’t it? Whilst the world quite literally burns around us, child poverty is on the rise, racism and xenophobia creeps across western democracies and inequality reaches ever-more staggering heights each year,
Britain remains paralysed by the constitutional crisis that never had to be. Extensions, negotiations, resignations, even elections… all have come and gone, and yet British politics still remains rooted in place by the now almost mythical status the 2016 referendum holds, like a hallowed legend akin to the Boston tea party or the French Revolution – unquestionable, undeniable, irrevocable. As long as we continue to build a solution within the edifice of the 2016 vote, we’ll remain in this mess.
Many voted Leave based on legitimate concerns about the EU and were right when they argued not respecting the result would set a dangerous precedent. Brexit is a terrible idea, but it’s people’s right in a democracy to make bad decisions – our commitment to democratic principles has to be strong enough to weather that. There was a time, maybe even a long time, after the referendum in which ‘respecting the result’ was the right position to take, although this should always have involved more public input given the binary, vague nature of the original referendum. However, that time has long since passed.
Look where we’ve come to – a Prime Minister with no public mandate, leading a government without a majority, securing approval from an unelected head of state to shut down our democratically elected national body, in order to force through a scenario that there is no evidence the majority of the public wants.
All of this to supposedly honour a referendum held three years and two Prime Ministers ago, which gave us a vague answer at best, during which the winning side has subsequently been found to have severely misled the public and committed electoral fraud.
The road here has hardly been paved with a regard for the democratic process. Theresa May had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the point where parliament was given a say over how Brexit progressed. Her government was held in contempt of parliament, the first time in British history, and fought tooth and nail to pass a deal that there was little parliamentary or public support for.
For months, I’ve asked no-deal Brexiteers, implored them, to outline a democratic, legitimate way out of this constitutional quagmire, and simply been screamed at that we’ve had a vote, get over it, with them displaying no evident concern for what other people actually want.
Viewing Leave, which has increasingly become synonymous with no deal, as the default ‘democratic option’ is no longer a legitimate position to take, wishing to honour the referendum result no longer the surest way to preserve democracy.
We need to shed our politics of this bizarre fixation with the immutability of the 2016 ballot – there’s been too much misinformation and dodgy campaigning exposed, too much new information about the reality of Brexit, too many changes in wider British politics and too many subversions of the democratic process for us to any longer assume that any next steps, from the point we’re at now, have any legitimacy.
This has become even more apparent now that Brexit has become the very thing it promised to save us from – the curtailment of parliamentary sovereignty. We need a reset, a chance for the whole process to be re-informed by the public will – it’s time for a new vote.
We get there by a no-confidence vote in the government, a caretaker government that negotiates a Brexit extension, justified to the EU by promising to hold a general election (in which Labour pledges referendum, remain, reform) and then a referendum, therefore proposing a genuine path to progressing on this issue, and allowing British politics and society to move past this paralysis. We get there by joining local protests and signing the petition against Boris Johnson’s latest move. By contacting our MP’s (of whatever side) imploring them to support a no-confidence motion. By starting a campaign of mass civil unrest if Johnson attempts to run down the clock by ignoring a no confidence vote or calling an election for after the 31st. By doing whatever we can to make it clear this will not stand.
Many of those that voted Leave did so out of legitimate concerns with how the EU operates, and deep disillusionment with mainstream politics. Many people that voted Remain did so out of the fear for migrant rights, or economic dislocation, or out of a sense of European identity. Many didn’t vote at all in the last referendum, but over the years since that day have watched and formed opinions of their own.
All of these people deserve better than a no deal Brexit rammed through by bypassing their elected representatives. They all deserve a voice.
Bradley Allsop is a PhD student and a committee member for Student Left Network.
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