Theresa May has dismissed the will of the people even with over 1m Final Say signatures – don’t let her

The only unity Theresa May has delivered is between Leavers and Remainers, united in seeing her plan as a rotten deal

Alastair Campbell
Monday 03 December 2018 11:17
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More than 700,000 protesters march on Westminster calling for a Final Say on Brexit deal

Theresa May likes to dismiss the People’s Vote campaign as “the politicians’ vote”. If only. The campaign for a referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations has been waged with the support of few MPs and, for most of the journey, strong opposition by both government and opposition frontbenches.

It is politician power, not least the power of the prime minister herself, that is ensuring the government is – for now – holding firm against any idea that the public should have another say. She may believe in a second vote if her deal is defeated in the Commons next Tuesday, but she doesn’t believe in them for the people who have to live with the consequences. But people power is steadily asserting itself. What seemed impossible not long ago is fast developing a sense of inevitability.

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It is people power that has taken the support for a new referendum from a standing start not many months ago, to now being the most popular route out of the Brexit mess in which the country finds itself, and The Independent’s Final Say petition is a powerful expression of that people power.

It is people power, not least the clear views of Labour members and supporters, many of whom have signed The Independent’s petition, that has shifted the opposition to a place where the leadership seems to be edging closer to the People’s Vote option.

In these clicktivist days, it is not hard to organise a petition, and there are plenty of them constantly doing the rounds. But very few attract the kind of response that this one did. Might it be that the will of the people is that the will of the people is tested again? When more than a million readers of a newspaper like The Independent think so strongly to put pen to paper, you have to think so.

Ah, go the Brextremists and government ministers alike, but the people have spoken. They spoke on 23 June 2016, and they said they wanted out. Indeed they did. But a lot has happened since then. We know more. We know about the lies and the unicorns and some of the alleged crimes. We know of the circles that cannot be squared. We also have a real deal, not a theoretical one, that can be debated, assessed, voted on.

That deal is so damaging, and so different to the Brexit that was promised by the Leave campaign, and to the Brexit that was offered by May when she was pandering to the hard-right and promising the undeliverable. Far from it being anti-democratic to take Brexit back to the people, it is frankly anti-democratic not to.

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The prime minister says that her deal allows the country to unite and move on. It doesn’t, because it is a blind Brexit. It fails on her promise to deliver clarity about future trade arrangements alongside the divorce bill. The only unity she has delivered is between Leavers and Remainers, united in seeing it as a rotten deal. For Leavers, it is not Brexit, and surrenders control when the promise was to take it back. Remainers, given the hit on the economy and on our standing in the world, ask “what is the point?” How can it be right to insist this is the only deal possible, when both sides of the divide see it as unworkable and wrong?

May cannot unite her cabinet, with ministers already plotting for what happens when the deal is voted down. Parliament has reached an impasse. Now that we the people know so much more than we did, we the people should be asked if we still want to go ahead.

Yes, it will be divisive and difficult. There are no easy ways out of this mess. But the people who gave the government the task of negotiating Brexit should have the Final Say on whether this is what they meant, and whether it’s what they want. If not, they should be entitled to say that we should stay, especially now we know for a fact, courtesy of the government itself, that all versions of Brexit leave us worse off.

Alastair Campbell is an advisor to the People’s Vote campaign

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