by Nick Hopkinson, Chair, Liberal Democrat European Group*
Twitter: @libdemeurope and @nickhopkinsonEU
I have four key messages: 1. Brexit is not a done deal; 2. Brexit can be stopped; 3. The #peoplesvote is theway to #exitfrombrexit; 4. Each and every one of us needs to get behind the Peoples Vote and capitalise on it as the only national party which is wholeheartedly supporting it.
So where are we? People are changing their minds about Brexit. Recent polls show good leads in favour of a Peoples Vote on any Brexit deal and a slowly growing, but still slim, majority for staying in the European Union (EU).
Brexit is reversible. Most expert lawyers agree Article 50 can be revoked. Leading EU politicians have consistently said the UK is welcome to stay if we chose to do so (before the negotiation period expires on 29 March 2019).
Democracy did not start and stop on 23 June 2016. If a party loses an election, it doesn't stop campaigning to win the next one. As David Davis said, "If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy."
The 2016 referendum was a vote on an idea. Leave offered no agreed plan. Every Leave voter had to decide for him/herself what Leave meant. A Peoples' Vote on the terms of any Brexit deal will be the first time voters have a choice between two concrete options: what we enjoy now as an EU member and an inevitably poorer deal outside it.
A Peoples Vote would be quite different from 2016. It would ask about the plan for Brexit, not the idea. No one takes a project from idea to implementation without renewing the project plan.
Voters only gave the government a mandate to negotiate Brexit. The people have yet to consent to the final Brexit deal. It is like buying a house - if we don't like the survey, we have the right to withdraw our offer. Even Rees-Mogg has argued: "we could have two referendums…it might make more sense to have the 2ndreferendum after the negotiation is completed."
There are of course major areas of concern such as the economic, political and social damage of Brexit, the Brexiteers being unable to deliver their promised fantasies, and serious evidence the 2016 referendum was not free and fair and tainted by foreign interference. So as what Brexit actually means becomes clearer and new facts come to light, there is still all to play for.
Brexit is unravelling. The Chequers Facilitated Customs Arrangement proposals pleased few in the Tory Party. Arguably May planned to flush out Davis and Johnson and one might even conclude the EU colluded by not turning Chequers down immediately. Not coincidentally the Government is at last floating some of the negative consequences of Brexit, particularly a No Deal Brexit, again possibly to face down her hard right. I nevertheless look forward to learning how the Government plans to stockpile lettuce.
We are unfortunately stuck between an an anti-business Tory hard Brexit and a Bolshevik Brexit. The crisis will only deepen in the Autumn. May has run out of road. Any more concessions to the EU on a customs union + she risks a leadership challenge - even though it appears unlikely she would be toppled. If she offers no further concessions to the EU, she risks no deal. It is widely believed Parliament would not accept no, indeed any, deal, even if a meaningful vote isn't watertight as we would like.
Therefore a leading scenario must be that like Wilson and Cameron before her, a British Prime Minister again contracts out internal party problems to the people to resolve. Labour has always been one inch ahead of Tory Brexit, so pressing Labour to support a Peoples Vote could help bring it on.
Whatever transpires, we must fire on all cylinders to change public opinion to #exitfrombrexit. We can and must stop this madness. Every little helps as they say so please write to your MP, be active on social media, leaflet, join Lib Dem action days and marches, write letters to the media, talk to friends, family, colleagues and strangers and join the Lib Dem European Group.
Let's remember, we are the true patriots arguing for peace and prosperity in Britain and our neighbourhood. Brexiteers want to take the country back, we as Liberal Democrats want to take our country forward.
* This essay is based on a talk given to Horsham and Crawley Lib Dems on 28 July 2018. It launches a series of 16 brief blogs to be posted every 2-3 days on the LDEG website and Twitter account in the run up to the March for a People's Vote in London on 20 October.
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