I’ve always subscribed to former United States first lady Michelle Obama’s golden rule that when your opponent goes low, you go high. I don’t think for one moment that we should sink to the levels of the Brexiters — the dodgy money, the electoral lawbreaking and the lying — but I do wonder if those Britons who remain deeply concerned about the consequences of Brexit are really landing all the blows that they can.
They need to, because the best interests of the country are at stake. If this generation fails to put up a proper fight, the generation that follows will neither forgive nor forget, as theirs will be a diminished and, quite probably, dismantled United Kingdom. Leaving the European Union is only the first phase of the Brexiter agenda to shake Britons free of the laws, rules and rights that many see as a constraint on the implementation of their frighteningly right-wing vision of Darwinian capitalism.
What is the right strategy for those of us who oppose this? I remain unconvinced that it lies in a new political party. The EU referendum in 2016 amounted to a fight between a group of well-meaning career politicians and their professional advisers, and a collection of obsessive haters of the EU prepared to do whatever it took to win. It took us a while to get our act together in the Remain corner, and too often we allowed ourselves the indulgence of arguing among ourselves, becoming preoccupied with what Vince Cable memorably described as the “narcissism of small differences”.
This will only become worse if the rumours that some of the Remain campaign groups are contemplating metamorphosing into political parties turn out to be true. I’m bored of the jostling for position by big egos, the confused messaging, and the outdated talk of both Remainers and Leavers.
Although there are some very brave politicians in Westminster — some who have risked their personal safety to stand up to claims they are traitors, simply for arguing for what they think is in Britain’s best interests — the political classes have, by and large, let Britain down. Two ruthless party machines have done a very good job of stopping anyone from either side of our so-called debating chamber from asking awkward questions, or standing in the way of impending chaos.
So I don’t see a new political party helping. Neither do we need a general election, where the Tories and the Labour party can only offer a choice of Brexit, Brexit and still more Brexit. I am not, I might add, about to enter the political fray myself as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, as was absurdly rumoured in the media last week (ignoring the fact that I am not even member of parliament).
What we do need is for Prime Minister Theresa May to accept that the opinion polls are showing a seismic shift in the way voters think about Brexit. A clear majority are not happy with the way it is panning out — according to one poll, 78 per cent of the public think the government is doing a bad job of negotiating Brexit — and see that what was promised is not what is ever going to be delivered. More significantly, too, a clear majority now wants the chance to have a say on the way out of this mess in a referendum.
A clean vote on the real options is the only right and democratic way forward. Three options should be put to the public: The deal May negotiates, the special deal Britain already has with the EU (so cannily negotiated by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher), or no deal. And given that Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg has conceded it could take 50 years to see any economic benefit, 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote, as Brexit’s negative consequences will be felt for most of their adult lives.
The facts are now colliding with the sound bites and the personalities, and it is making for a bonfire of vanities. Both of Britain’s main parties face the real possibility of a fracture if the people are not given the chance to have their say. Britain has had enough of decisions that are fundamental to its future — so many of them never even mentioned during the referendum campaign — being made without any reference to what the public thinks.The British are a people who are generally happy, under normal circumstances, to trust politicians to tell them the truth and to leave them to run the country as they get on with their lives. But they reserve the right, always, to make it clear that they are the servants of the people, not their masters, and, when necessary, people can and will take charge. We now wish to exercise that right with a referendum on the options facing Britain once the prime minister has negotiated her deal.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Gina Miller was the lead claimant in the successful legal fight to allow parliament to vote on whether the UK could start the process of leaving the EU.