When the People’s Vote campaign was launched, we were compared to those Japanese prisoners of war who couldn’t quite accept the war was over. Both frontbenches and almost all of the media were certain: another referendum cannot, will not happen.
They are not so sure now.
As the vast crowds dispersed after last October’s Final Say march, I had an immediate worry: we would have to do bigger and better next time. Peak people’s vote. I worried we had hit it.
But I believe you will see on Saturday that “peak people’s vote” is yet to come. Because the country is not taking this Brexit farce lying down. And Theresa May’s truly dreadful handling of the issue has been the best recruiting sergeant we could have hoped for.
On Saturday, she will hear and see that – whatever the outcome of the process that is doing so much damage to our economy, our politics, our standing in the world – the demand to Put it to the People is growing.
Labour will see that while there may be a price to pay for failing to go along with a unicorn approach to Brexit, there will be an even bigger price to pay if they facilitate it.
And Europe’s leaders – who have been told so often by our government and our opposition, by their ambassadors and by our media – that there simply is not the demand for a Final Say referendum, will see just how far from the truth that assessment actually is.
It is one of the many myths Saturday will dispel, including the idea that the north is all Brexit and the south is all for remaining. Quite the opposite: the numbers coming in – from the north, the Midlands, the West Country – are huge. And every single penny that will fund the staging, the security, the marketing – the whole event – has been raised by crowdfunding.
Compare and contrast the March to Leave, launched amid a typical Nigel Farage fanfare, but with marchers outnumbered by stewards. As we saw, Farage could not get back to the warmth and safety of a metropolitan elite radio studio fast enough .
It’s also a myth that this campaign is some kind of metropolitan elite trying to thwart the will of the people. This is the people taking on the Brexit establishment, refusing any more to tolerate their lies, their fantasies and, for some, their crimes and misdemeanours.
And there’s the myth that somehow if May’s deal passes, the Brexit debate will be over – when we know it is just beginning. In reality, her deal provides none of the clarity she promised about the future.
Opponents of a referendum argue that it will be divisive, expensive, and anti-democratic. It will certainly be divisive – but does anyone think we are united now, or that we are likely to unite around any of the options currently being debated?
The costs will be as nothing compared with the tens of billions Brexit has already cost us, and the economic decline that will follow. Far from another referendum being undemocratic – how can it be when so much time has passed and so much more is known? – now is the time to ask: “Based on what you now know, do you wish to proceed?”
The real reason May fears this is that she knows if her agreement is put to the public, it will be rejected; and the reason hard Brexiteers hate the idea of another vote is that they would not win support for their approach either.
May talks a lot about the damage to democracy that another Brexit referendum would do, seemingly oblivious to the damage she is doing to our democracy herself. This is a prime minister whose flagship policy has now won first and fourth place in the “biggest defeat in parliamentary history” contest. Who has lost control not just of parliament but of her cabinet. Who has lost the respect of fellow EU leaders who see someone out of her depth, unable to deliver what she promises, and unable to keep her word. Who is helping to reduce the UK, whose politics historically are respected around the world, to a global laughing stock.
Her entire strategy is to keep asking MPs the same question, a few weeks and, until the speaker stepped in, just a few days apart, when nothing has changed, in the hope they change their minds; but it is an affront to democracy that the British people, almost three years on, when so much has changed, and so much more is known about what Brexit actually means, should be allowed to express a view.
May and her awful approach to this process has been the finest incentive for a Final Say we could have hoped for. See you on Saturday.
Alastair Campbell is an adviser to the People’s Vote campaign
For more details about the Put It To The People march – and to sign up – please visit https://www.peoples-vote.uk/march
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