What seems an eternity ago, I voted Leave in the EU referendum. If I knew then what I knew now, I would not have done so.
When people say that the British people are not being given “the Brexit they voted for” that is certainly true in my case: I didn’t vote for this mess. I want my people’s vote, please, because otherwise I’ll be getting precisely what I did not vote for – as a Leaver. I am going to go on the march and sign the petitions to help secure my say. You should do the same, however you voted.
What is happening is so momentous it demands informed democratic validation. The 2016 mandate, such as it was, has plainly run its course.
Columnists, as with voters, are not fortune tellers, or the gods. We cannot “know” what will happen. So we cannot be said to have necessarily voted, or not, for what we have today. Did we vote, for example, on a divorce bill of £39 billion? Or whatever turns out to be built on the Irish border? Of course not.
I wasn’t what you’d call a rabid Leaver. It was a marginal decision. I thought, perhaps naively, that one of a few things might happen. David Cameron might get a better deal from the EU as a result, and a quick second vote to settle things – standard EU procedure hitherto. Or we might get a generous trade offer from the EU. Or the EU itself might decide to reform to accommodate the British and the discontents of many of its peoples. I did not expect to see Her Majesty’s government botch everything.
I wanted a Brexit that wouldn't wreck the economy, or threaten the very integrity of the country.
What is happening now, I have to say to Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, David Davis and the rest, is certainly not what I had in mind.
From what one can see happening in parliament, a democratic mugging is about to take place in which even the House of Commons itself won’t be allowed the option of deciding to stay in the EU – never mind giving the people that option. It is virtually a coup executed by a minority of a minority – hard line Tory MPs imposing their ideological agenda on parliament and the rest of us.
Of course the march will see a lot of European Union flags and starry-eyed European idealists, declaring their “love” for the EU. I respect them, though I can’t share that emotional pull.
The European Union has its faults, substantial ones. One day the flaws could be enough to change it radically. It is remote, and it hasn’t been the force for free trade some claim it to be. In many ways it holds its member states back in an increasingly competitive world economy.
And yet, it is still better than the alternatives. We have a choice – or should have – between what we have now, and a future that is, at best, uncertain, and may be a looming disaster, economically and politically.
There is, to be fair, a constituency who only care about sovereignty and, frankly, ending immigration. We have to respect their right to their point of view.
Meanwhile, though, most sensible, pragmatic British voters did not vote to become poorer and have dismal public services as a result of stagnant growth.
In time, the UK economy may well fix itself, but, as Jacob Rees-Mogg admits, it could take a half century. With a time horizon so distant, the benefits of Leave – and they would eventually transpire – are so uncertain as to render them chimerical.
On the other hand, the risk of immediate chaos is so terrifyingly real, and the medium to long-term trend towards permanently sluggish, disappointing growth so likely, we have a new balance of probabilities to weigh for our national future – ones we did not fully perceive in 2016.
A Final Say is about three things. First, recognising that sovereignty in fact rests with the people, as it did in 2016, and they cannot be denied their opportunity to exercise it whenever and however they wish. Sovereignty is not there to be rationed – one person, one vote, once only.
Second, the British people will never be at ease with themselves without one. It would represent a final act of healing after this national trauma.
Third, a simple faith that it is never too late for democracy, whatever they try to tell you.
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