After Saturday’s huge event in London calling for a People’s Vote on Brexit, there have been some predictable responses from Team Leave, both officially, from figures such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, and from individuals on social media.
“You lost, get over it,” seems to be the chorus of the Leave anthem, which is a typical refrain in a political climate that polarises every single issue, denies nuance, seeks an easy bite-sized response to complex situations, and relies on a ‘winners vs losers’ dichotomy. So much winning, right? An easy lie is far more appealing than a complex truth. As much as some on the Leave side want to persist with a straightforward take about winning, that’s only going to make us all losers in the end.
That’s what the People’s Vote is all about. It’s a frank look at the mess we are all in. It’s an opportunity for a final ‘are you sure?’ check, before we reach a stage where we can’t go back. That’s all it is.
It is not undemocratic to call for more democracy.
The 2016 referendum was a simple question: in or out? That simplicity masked a thousand complexities, both logistically and ideologically. Chief among these was the lack of a ‘how’. In second place was the lack of a clear vision of what Brexit might mean. That clarity took months to emerge. Let’s not forget that the best we could get from the Prime Minister for a long time was that “Brexit means Brexit.”
That’s not to say that the voters didn’t have their own interpretation of what it might mean. This was evident on both sides. Team Remain predicted economic doom and gloom, and Team Leave predicted a nice easy departure, followed by an economic wonderland, and a huge boost in funding for the NHS. Remain’s arguments were dismissed as Project Fear by Leavers. How dare Remainers piss on Leavers’ dreams?
Two years later, we know now what Brexit might actually mean. We have some (sort of) plans to look at: May’s Chequers plan, and the harsh reality of a no-deal Brexit. Now we can see that it’s not that Remainers were pissing on Brexity dreams, but that the stink of ammonia was there from the very beginning. It is attached to those dreams at the molecular level. It was hidden by some ideological Febreze, and deliberately obscured by liars who said it smelt like roses. Some of the MPs waving those pissy dreams around kind of liked the smell and expected everyone else to love it too.
Leavers, you should be furious. You should be utterly livid. But many of you seem to be so attached to the notion of being a winner that you are ignoring the stench.
You might have voted for more autonomy, less red tape, more money for the UK and more rules that we can make ourselves. You might have wanted blue passports and tax breaks. You might have wanted more trade deals with other countries, and fewer obligations to nations that are not as well off as us. You might have had concerns about the European project turning into a federal superpower, or having to change our currency to the Euro. You might have bought into those old jokes about funny shaped fruit and veg. You might not like the metric system. You might hate the neoliberal premise of the EU. You might think that it’s an undemocratic system with too much power over the UK, even though we vote for MEPs. You might have had strong feelings about the single market and the customs union. You might have been looking at other countries like Norway, and thinking they look like they are doing OK. You might have had concerns about the impact of immigration on employment. You might have been left behind by governments in the past; you might have wanted to stick two fingers up to them, and seek real, meaningful change.
But we have a better understanding of what Brexit means now. Are you likely to get what you wanted? Will a Chequers Brexit or a no-deal Brexit deliver what you wanted? Option A gives us all the rules and the red tape, but no seat at the table, in which case, it’s kind of pointless (and actually undemocratic). Option B will lead to food and medicine shortages, and will turn Kent into a car park. Both options threaten to undo the peace process in Northern Ireland, and break up the United Kingdom. Option B means trading with nations that don’t have the same safety regulations as us. Option A means keeping financial ties with the EU. Less immigration means less tax, and some industries will face crippling staffing shortages — such as the ones that keep us fed, and look after us when we’re unwell. Option B will mean massive job losses when corporations leave for other countries with better trade connections. Even the die-hard Leavers like Rees-Mogg admit that we might not see any benefits for 50 years.
Dear Leavers, why aren’t you screaming?
Now we know that Brexit will hit us all hard, that times will be tough, isn’t it a good thing that you can weigh in one more time?
The People’s Vote is not asking anyone to admit that they were wrong. It is offering a chance for people to say if they have changed their mind, or to indicate what sort of Brexit they prefer. We can only make decisions based on the information we have at the time; now that the information has changed, it is prudent to double check if the different circumstances elicit a different response. Now that we know the price, it’s sensible to check that people still want to pay it.
It’s also a chance for everyone to save face. No-one needs this People’s Vote more than our MPs. The people we have democratically elected to make big decisions for us are struggling, my friends. They can’t agree on what to do, and they are so terrified of the reactions of the people that they are paralysed. They can see us heading towards an iceberg, and it’s literally their job to steer us away from it, but they think that the collision course is the one they have to take because that was the one that they were given by the navigator. If they steer to the right or the left, they might lose their job, and there are more icebergs there too. If they keep going, they are going to do harm. The People’s Vote gives them the opportunity to know whether the plotted course is still the one they must take (solidarity in the life boats, y’all) or whether it’s OK to take a different route.
But we can’t just choose between a rock and a hard place. We need a third option on there too. There’s one that springs to mind; it has a lot of supporters, and, uh, came second in a very tightly-fought race a couple of years ago. We need to provide a chance to say, “Abort mission, and turn the ship around. We tried. It was too hard. It couldn’t be done without grave risk.” It is literally the job of government to safeguard the nation from harm, after all.
The best thing about an additional vote? It’s anonymous! The ultimate face-saver. You could swear blind that you haven’t changed your mind, and only the ballot paper will know your secret.
You might not have changed your mind, and that’s fine. This vote is for you, too. That’s kind of the point. But ‘Leave’ isn’t just a hypothetical dream now. You’ll need to pick something more concrete this time.
If we’re going to smash into that iceberg, we’d better be damn sure that it’s what people actually want. Because if not, we’re all losers here.
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