The whole country must be heard on Brexit, not just the Tories. That's why we need a Final Say

Our future as a country is now in the hands of 160,000 mainly English, mainly white, mainly male, members of the Conservative Party – many of whom didn’t even vote for the party at the last election, opting instead for the Brexit Party

Vince Cable
Friday 28 June 2019 09:23
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This weekend, as the Tory party leadership contest adds a rich layer of farce upon the tragedy of Brexit, I will be escaping London to address a People’s Vote rally in Cheltenham in the southwest.

This is one of 15 People’s Vote rallies happening across the UK, part of an all-out nationwide offensive over the next few months that will culminate in one of the biggest demonstrations Britain has ever seen on 12 October before the crunch decision on Brexit.

These rallies will help to mobilise all those who feel their voice is being ignored during this Conservative leadership election as both candidates court the hardliners in their party and seem hell-bent on imposing the hardest possible form of Brexit on our country without the public being given a final say.

Cheltenham may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think about radical politics, although the struggles of the Chartists, a movement to obtain electoral reform, in the first half of the 19th century are still celebrated in the town to this day.

In places like Cheltenham, there is a spirit of frustration with our current politics that easily matches those early fights for suffrage and is driven by the same democratic instinct.

Democracy does not simply stop when you hold a vote on an issue. Matters are rarely settled once and for all, for a lifetime with no time or space for further debate and reflection, and nor should they be.

The Brexit promised in 2016 bears no resemblance to the crash-out no-deal we now face. There is no mandate for no deal and no majority for it in either parliament or the country.

Crashing out on WTO terms is a nonsense. The World Trade Organisation, the global body overseeing a rules-based system, is sadly now a weak, ineffectual organisation whose rules are widely flouted. It is being effectively destroyed by Donald Trump who has no time for international rules if they conflict with America First. WTO rules is the trading equivalent of abandoning the army and Nato and relying for our national security on speeches in the general assembly of the United Nations. We would be left with whatever trading relationships the Trump administration, the Chinese and our former friends in the EU decide to throw in our direction.

But our future as a country is now in the hands of 160,000 mainly English, mainly white, mainly male, members of the Conservative Party – many of whom didn’t even vote for the party at the last election, opting instead for the Brexit Party.

You could be forgiven for thinking we have barely moved on from the rotten boroughs, riotous hustings and show of hands voting before the Reform Act of 1832.

I have genuinely never understood the argument that it is in some way undemocratic to take the final decision on our future as a European nation back to another public vote.

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The people did not vote for the kind of no-deal Brexit now favoured by Nigel Farage and the one that Boris Johnson is flirting dangerously with. There is certainly no mandate for that, nor was there a mandate for the blind Brexit negotiated by Theresa May that Jeremy Hunt might be tempted to revive. It promises years of uncertainty as we negotiate a new relationship from outside the European Union.

Under those circumstances, the idea that you simply plough on regardless and impose a Brexit on the UK that will jeopardise our future trading and security partnerships for generations to come is the most undemocratic outcome I can imagine.

Whether you want Brexit to go ahead or would prefer to stay in, the only way to unlock the political impasse, secure a stable majority in parliament and legitimise the outcome is to let the people have the final say. As the Chartists might have said, let us be heard.

Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Twickenham

The Independent’s Final Say campaign, in partnership with the People’s Vote organisation, has announced the Let Us Be Heard march will take place on Saturday 12 October – 19 days before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union on 31 October. For more info, see this article

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