Brexit is certainly a big deal. It’s also shaping up to be a miserable one. So the people have a right to decide whether they still want Brexit once they know what it means.
Quitting the European Union (EU) will affect us for generations to come. It will impact jobs, the National Health Service, the environment, Britain’s ability to stand up to bullies across the world, its pride and even the unity of the United Kingdom.
A good deal would be good for our public services, prosperity, power and peace. But as new facts emerge, it is clear Brexit will fail on all counts.
Brexiters promised that Britain would stride the world like latter-day Walter Raleighs, opening foreign markets to their trade. This is baloney. The UK is scrambling to copy deals that the EU already has with more than 60 other countries. Not only is Britain going to lose access to the EU market, which accounts for half of Britain’s trade, but when the US and China see its desperation, they’ll bully the UK — forcing it to open its markets to their chlorine-washed chicken, subsidised steel and the like.
The Leave campaign’s slogan was “take back control”. This is a bad joke. As British Prime Minister Theresa May makes one climbdown after another in the Brexit talks, it’s clear Britain is losing control. This is because it needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain — exactly the opposite of what British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove and Co had promised two years ago.
Britain is currently one of Europe’s big powers making its rules. But because May is desperate not to lose all the EU’s advantages, Britain will end up as a rule-taker. This tail-between-its-legs Brexit will be bad for British pride and bad for its power. The UK will have less clout on the global stage, too. At a time when Russia is flexing its muscles, is it really sensible to burn one’s bridges with Europe?
Brexit could even imperil the peace process in Northern Ireland. The fact that both the UK and the Republic of Ireland are in the EU has eased communal tensions between Protestants and Catholics. Unless Britain can stop border controls returning, they could flare again post-Brexit.
As if this was not bad enough, it has now emerged that the official Leave campaign may have cheated by breaking spending limits during the referendum. Meanwhile, Facebook’s statement that data on 1.1 million Britons may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica has set off alarm bells that this information may have been used to manipulate voters.
Brexiters will, no doubt, seek to trash the idea of a people’s vote by calling it a second referendum. It’s not. In 2016, voters had a choice between the reality of staying in the EU and the fantasy promised by the Leave campaign. Once we know what the deal is, we will be able to compare the two realities. That’s not undemocratic. It’s common sense.
Brexiters will, no doubt, say we are bad losers and should shut up. But in a free society, everybody has the right to speak their minds. It’s undemocratic to try to silence us. Others may say that people are so sick and tired of the whole business that they don’t want another vote. Many people do want to get it over and done with. Our task will be to persuade them that this is such a big deal that they need to focus on it one more time.
The good news is that many voters realise the importance of this moment. They are suspicious of politicians deciding things that will affect them and their families for generations without having a say. And this is even before our campaign for a people’s vote has taken off.
Yet, others may say that the referendum was so divisive that the last thing Britain needs is another vote. There’s no doubt Brexit has split families and communities, but if Britain quits the EU with a bad deal that its people don’t want, that will be even more divisive.
After a people’s vote, in which the public get to compare two realities, the country may be able to heal itself — whatever the result. That would give closure to this whole sorry story.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Hugo Dixon is chairman and editor-in-chief of InFacts, a founding member of the People’s Vote campaign.