The People’s Vote March
London – Saturday 20th October 2018
This was the second major march organised around the Peoples Vote: a call for a second referendum on the terms of Brexit. Almost three quarters of a million people attended – so many that the organisers were overwhelmed by the numbers and Parliament Square was unable to contain everyone.
Many of the marchers carried home made banners and placards and they spanned all ages and came from all walks of life – including many from all over Europe who were denied a vote in the 2016.
The campaign is calling for a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal that is currently in the final stages of negotiation. The argument is that the expected deal will bear little resemblance to the utopian promises made by the leave campaign in the 2016 referendum, and therefore it is extremely likely that there is no popular mandate for its implementation. This is not a “re-run” of the non-binding 2016 consultation, but a concrete evaluation as to whether or not the negotiated deal is what voters had understood they were voting for.
The exact wording of the People’s Vote is not yet decided, but it is likely to present two simple choices: do you want to proceed with Theresa May’s negotiated Brexit settlement, or do you want the government to request that Britain remains in the EU.
The original referendum was deeply flawed. It presented a binary choice between a concrete, known position and a relatively undefined proposition that boiled down to simply “leaving”. As the last two years have shown, the idea that what is meant by “leaving this EU” is far from clear, and people voting for it did so on numerous different assumptions ranging from establishing a Norwegian or Swiss-style relationship with the EU through to simply walking away with no agreement and no formal relationship at all.
The referendum campaigns were fought on outright lies and misinformation, while the leave campaign also violated electoral finance laws to such an extent that the electoral commission has requested a criminal investigation of the campaign and its funding (rumoured to be Russian in origin – a rumour which Aaron Banks has failed to quash by his refusals to give information about their source). If this was another country or any other UK election, politicians would already have called for the result to be annulled and a new vote held.
Those UK nationals who live in the EU know all too well the referendum campaign lies about the economic impact of migration and the EU obligations on freedom of movement, healthcare and access to benefits. In short, pretty much everything that you heard about EU laws making migrants a drain on healthcare and benefits were outright lies, as anyone who has to pay 300€ a month to access the Spanish healthcare system knows. And those of us who actually bother to get out and vote in European elections also understand that the EU is not the undemocratic dictatorship portrayed by politicians such as Farage or Johnson.
EU migrants on average pay more tax than UK nationals, and they are net contributors to government funding. Furthermore, they fill many skilled and unskilled jobs ranging from medical services to fruit picking – jobs which are unlikely to be filled by UK nationals any time soon. And then there is also the notorious claim of 350 million pounds a week extra for the NHS. This claim was was grounded in no factual basis whatsoever, and it was also used to imply that the cost of EU membership was vast (it is not – for example, the NHS alone currently costs around 15 times as much as the UK pays for its EU membership).
Claims that there was no benefit from the cost of EU membership have also been resoundingly shown to be false. Aside from the impact on the economy, leaving also means that the UK needs to recreate (or continue to pay for access to) services ranging from medical drug certification through to aircraft safety measures. It is highly unlikely that any of this will be as cost effective as the pooling of resources across Europe.
There were also false economic claims of the benefits of Brexit, based in the same risible nationalist and nativist notions of English exceptionalism that have parallels in the Catalan Independence movement and also in Trumps “Make America Great Again” politics. These claims are largely unfounded in economic reality, but emotionally seek to justify all the UKs industrial and economic inequalities as the consequences not of British decisions, but of someone else. Unfortunately, leaving will only augment the economic pressures, while the political misappropriation of blame means that it is unlikely that the fundamental problems will be addressed.
There were also cataclysmic claims of recession from the remain camp – a recession that has so far failed to arrive. This is in part due to a global boom, and in part because the Bank of England immediately started to inject more liquidity in the wake of the referendum result (in effect printing money, given the vanishing low probability of these cash injections ever being “sterilised”). Despite this, the UK has flipped from having one of the highest performing established economies to one of the worst – leaving UK GDP an estimated 500 million pounds a week worse off as a result.
And this is still before the UK has even left.
The reality is that Britain’s economic success over the last forty years has been precisely because of its relationship with the EU, for which it has acted as the pre-eminent gateway for businesses around the world to access the huge European markets. This role has been one of the most significant drivers behind the UK’s transformation from the “sick man of Europe” in the 1970’s to its relative economic prosperity today. This was explicitly recognised by the Thatcher government who used the smooth access to European markets as one of the incentives to draw international manufacturers such as Nissan to the UK in the 1980’s.
No number of trade deals are going to compensate for the loss of frictionless access to European markets that hard Brexiters are happy to reject in the name of “sovereignty”. The FT has noted that leaving the EU also implicitly means that the UK will loose access to more than 750 deals that it currently accesses through EU membership – all of which will need to be individually renegotiated from scratch once the UK has left. Negotiating these deals with a population 1/10th that of Europe is unlikely to be easy, and even less likely to yield anything anywhere as near favourable than those deals that already exist. A foretaste of this can be seen in the attempts to negotiate the division of tariffs between the UK, the EU in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These are problematic not because of the EU, but because other countries see this as an opportunity for themselves – including supposedly Brexit friendly countries such as the USA and New Zealand, as well as a decidedly less friendly Russia.
A further complication is that it may be impossible for Theresa May to negotiate any agreement with the EU that can be agreed by all parties. From the EU side, agreement is needed both from the remaining 27 member countries as well as the EU parliament, while on the UK side, the minority conservative government has to contend with its own backbenchers as well as a the far right DUP that effectively holds a veto over any agreement that might be attempted.
Indeed, there is a serious question as to whether there is any majority in the UK parliament for any deal whatsoever – with the result that people are now taking no-deal preparations seriously. And for clarity, it is worth noting that those no-deal preparations include stockpiling medicines, appointing a minister for “food supply security”, as well as the conversion of a large chunk of Kent’s motorway network in to a giant lorry park.
None of this is the result of a natural disaster, nor is it the result of an unexpected war. But it is the result of an ideologically far right UK government using the result of a deeply flawed and illegally funded referendum to justify ideological choices, which in the manner of 1930’s Germany, are frequently justified as “The Will of the People”. This despite the fact that the referendum results says nothing about the detailed political choices that have lead to the current calamitous situation, and that only 1/3 of the population actually voted to leave.
The People’s Vote march took place on the same day as a rival “Leave means Leave” protest organised by Nigel Farrage. The event shown here outnumbered Farrage’s gathering by 500 to 1. Unsurprisingly, pro-Brexit politicians desperately want to avoid any further public vote on the issue, as events such as these – as well as numerous opinion polls – clearly show that there is no public will to proceed.
Politicians that fall back on appeals to the “Will of the People” should be reminded that the people will undoubtably show their will at the next general election.
Those of us who are British migrants living in Europe are amongst the worst affected by brexit – and also the least represented. The loss of free movement for work is particularly disastrous for people such as myself and the issue is doubly compounded by the risk of a no-deal which leaves basic issues such as rights of residence, access to healthcare and access to pensions completely unclear.
The People’s Vote offers politicians a way back from the precipice – and it is possibly the only viable solution in the time remaining now before Article 50 unceremoniously dumps the UK out of the EU.
I and many others will continue to support those working daily to stop this disaster, and to ensure that the politicians that have lied to and who have misled the public never hold office again.