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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Marching for democracy and clarity

Unfortunately, I was abroad last week and was still disembarking at Bristol airport as 700,000 people marched through central London demanding a people's vote on Brexit.

If I had been in the country I would have joined them, because we are still looking for clarity as to what exactly Brexit means. And once we know then surely we have the right to vote on whether it is acceptable to us and anything like what was sold to voters in June 2016.

Some commentators and all the Brexiteers, when faced with this argument, tell us that we have already had a people's vote and that they voted to leave the EU. There is no doubting this, but putting aside the lies, the cheating and the illegal activity on the leave side, nobody is asking for a rerun.

In a nutshell, people voted on a non-specific proposition that we should leave the EU. There were no choices on that ballot paper as to what arrangements would be put in place following this exodus, only vague promises, none of which have proved to be possible.

A people's vote should be on the specific exit proposals, so that we have a democratic choice as to whether they are acceptable to us or not, and if not to stay in the EU.

Brexiteers also argue that if remain had won the 2016 plebiscite then we would not have countenanced a further referendum. That is correct. A remain victory would have been for the status quo. A leave vote however will lead to fundamental change and it is right that voters have a say on whether that change is acceptable or not.

Of course that leaves us with the question as to whether a people's vote will ever happen? Politicians have a habit of ignoring large demonstrations. It is only when they start to lose at the ballot box that they sit up and take notice. Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer has it about right:

Marches are good for the morale of a cause. They can give momentum and energy to a campaign. It can be a fun and sociable way to spend a Saturday. But those campaigning for another referendum need to know this. Marches by themselves are never going to produce another plebiscite. It is possible that the country will get a last-gasp chance to change its mind and call the whole damn thing off, but that opportunity depends on MPs. It can happen only if sufficient of them are persuaded that a further referendum is the right thing to do or the expedient thing to do. And if not those, then that throwing the question back to the people is the only thing left to do. 

As Rawnsley suggests the focus of the campaign now has to shift towards persuading the MPs that that best way out of the impasse they find themselves in is another referendum. More importantly, Labour have to get off the fence.

Surely Corbyn must realise that one of the reasons his party are still 4 points behind this shambolic government in the polls is because of his insistence on ignoring the logic of the position the country is in and failing to respect the views of left-leaning voters that we need to revisit Brexit at the polls.

There is still time to pull this country back from the Brexit-shaped abyss that faces it. But only if the politicians step up to the mark and make themselves heard as well.
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