Theresa May has given up on selling her deal. As politicians from across the political spectrum denounce her proposals and calls for a People’s Vote - led by young people and students - grow louder and louder, the Prime Minister is going on the attack. She will tell MPs today that giving the public a final say on Brexit will ‘break faith with the British people’ and ‘damage the integrity of our politics’.
In reality, it is the behaviour of the Prime Minister over the last two and a half year’s which is an affront to our democracy. Rather than acknowledge the closeness of the referendum result and engage constructively with Remainers to find a way forward, she instead sought to placate hard-right Brexiters in her party. The result? A deal that has succeeded only in uniting everyone against it. After two and a half years of negotiation, the withdrawal agreement and political declaration are a stunning failure by the Government to deliver on 2016’s promises. The Government’s own analysis shows that it will leave our country poorer. It generates no Brexit dividend for the NHS. Trade deals with the rest of the world are nowhere to be seen.
Delaying the vote buys May more time but will ultimately achieve nothing. EU leaders have said again and again that the withdrawal agreement cannot be changed. Placatory language and clarifications will satisfy neither the DUP nor rabid Tory Brexiters desperate to see changes to the Irish backstop. With just over 100 days before we are due to leave the European Union, the Commons is deadlocked. Without urgent action, we face national catastrophe. There is no majority for the Prime Minister’s deal. There is no majority for ‘Norway Plus’ style deal. There is no majority for a no-deal. Going back to the people is the only way out of the current chaos.
Those who have spent the last two years proclaiming that they are delivering on the ‘will of the people’, now no longer want those very same people to express their views two years on. But democracy didn’t stop in June 2016 and polls show the majority of the public support a People’s Vote over a calamitous no-deal or the Prime Minister’s Brexit fudge.
Of course, serious debate will need to be had on the referendum question; and undoubtedly, a People’s Vote would be divisive – to suggest otherwise is churlish. But the reality is that neither Theresa May’s deal nor a no-deal Brexit will do anything to unify the country. We have far more to fear from the country falling into the hands of the far right, with their plans to slash key protections and regulations, than a difficult referendum debate. Labour politicians who talk of building a more just and equitable society must ask themselves how that will be achieved by giving in to the likes of Farage, Johnson and Mogg. A ‘jobs first’ Brexit does not exist.
The consequences of Brexit will be felt by our country for decades. So what of the will of young people, those who will feel its effects the longest? They don’t want it. Seventy per cent voted to Remain in 2016 and polls show their opposition to Brexit has only hardened since then. Close to two million young people who weren’t old enough to vote haven’t had their voices heard. We look on in frustration and dismay, our best interests betrayed. Neither the withdrawal agreement nor the lightweight political declaration provide any comfort to those who see are seeing opportunities to live, work and travel freely in twenty seven other European countries taken away. However, through the work of campaigns like For our Future’s Sake, more and more young people are making their voices heard and are demanding a final say on any Brexit deal, with the option to stay.
What will ultimately damage the integrity of our politics will be if the Prime Minister continues to engage in fantasy politics and refuses to pull the country back from the brink of catastrophe. If the Prime Minister wishes to unite the country, she should start by offering the public a vote on the Brexit Deal. If she refuses to, the young, who will be forced to suffer Brexit’s disastrous effects for years to come, will neither forgive nor forget quickly.