It’s two days after the biggest ever protest march in the history of our country. All regions, all age groups and communities were represented. The passionate speeches at the left bloc on the impromptu stage along the route from MPs like Chi Onwurah and Clive Lewis showed there are people from all political traditions that want to fight Brexit and reform Europe from the inside.
While protesters streamed past Downing Street towards Parliament Square, Theresa May was fighting to save her political life. This is the week the dam has broken for public and politicians alike. Last week, the EU came up with a solution to our cliff edge crisis because the UK’s leader was incapable of finding one.
If May’s deal is passed this coming week, we would leave the EU on 22 May. Otherwise EU leaders want a credible plan for reaching resolution on the Brexit mess to avoid our new cliff edge of 12 April to secure a nine-month extension. May’s ability and credibility to forge consensus in any forum, domestic or international, has collapsed; she is now in office but not in power, and even that, probably not for long.
With chaos imminent, we need three things to happen to get our country back on track in the coming weeks, and they all involve honest debate.
Firstly, we need the long extension offered by Europe in return for a credible plan to resolve the nation’s Brexit crisis. The clearest path is for parliament to secure an extension by committing to put either May’s deal or any future deal to a confirmatory public vote, in the spirit of the much discussed Kyle Wilson amendment. The Good Friday Agreement was confirmed by the people, and any constitutional change of this magnitude deserves the same treatment.
If we extend, we will participate in the European elections, and no politician should be allowed to argue that we must hurry through Brexit before 12 April in order simply to avoid the democratic opportunity to vote in those elections. The constitutional crisis our country is in, and the political meltdown we are likely to witness this week means we have a duty to sort out Brexit in a reasonable timeframe, and going to the polls is no reason for the tail to wag the dog.
Politicians need to be honest about the Brexit options ahead of us, and as campaign groups we must hold them to account
Secondly, we need to talk about the will of the people. I’m with David Davis: “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”. Three years on from the 2016 vote, the will of the people has shifted. Polls have been consistent, our research has shown time and time again that staying in the EU is what the majority now wants. An unprecedented one million people on the streets and almost five million online calling for Article 50 to be revoked in the same week, cannot be ignored.
On the leave side, a public vote needs a credible leave option on the ballot paper, instead of the 2016 Brexit myth that allowed anyone to see their own personal version of Brexit reflected in the smoke and mirrors of the leave campaign. We need a vote, and we need it to be the final say, and for both sides of the debate to agree to that this vote would bring the country to resolution for a generation.
Third, politicians need to be honest about the Brexit options ahead of us, and as campaign groups we must hold them to account. May must take responsibility for normalising no deal with the public through the lie that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
The consequences would be nothing short of catastrophic, and she knows it. No deal would simply grind our country to a halt. We need upfront honesty about other Brexit options too. That includes Norway-plus style Brexit, which would leave us with less power than now, denuding us of any say at all over the laws that would govern our businesses and our trade too. We can’t improve Europe without a seat at the table.
Politicians rushing to get Brexit over the line before more people can protest just won’t work. We need the long extension, we need honesty about our options, and we need a very different kind of public vote that really will give people the opportunity to clear up this Brexit mess once and for all. Our leaders cannot get us out of this alone. It’s time to take it to the people.
Eloise Todd is CEO of Best for Britain, an anti-Brexit campaign fighting for a Final Say