Why I’m backing the march for a People’s Vote

On Saturday I will go to London with MEP colleagues of all parties and people of all walks of life to join the March for a People’s Vote on the terms reached for the UK’s intended exit for the European Union. 

I’m not a great fan of demonstrations and it takes a lot to drag me to one but this time I’m making an exception.

First and foremost it is increasingly clear that leaving the European Union is a leap into the dark where the damage is clear but the gains can’t be quantified, and mostly can’t even be named - not even by those who favour leaving. I don’t believe it is my role, as someone who’s politics have been informed by socialism, to back an outcome that will make the people I was elected to represent poorer.

But while the increasingly apparent economic reality that the poorest will be the hardest hit is certainly enough, it’s not the only reason for being in London. Everything that has happened since the referendum two years ago has shown the process to be fundamentally flawed and the Brexit that was promised undeliverable.

Promises made by the leave campaigners have been repeatedly exposed as untrue, impossible or simply at odds with how the world works in the 21st century.

The Conservative Government has made a complete mess of the negotiation process, starting from the insult to our collective intelligence of “having our cake and eating it” and culminating on their surrenders on point after point which will mean Britain having sovereignty in name only while our European neighbours make the rules in which we will have no say - whatever our future relationship with the EU that will now be the reality of even the hardest of Brexits.

However my reasons for supporting the People’s Vote extend to the fundamentals of our democratic process. The referendum of 2016 was fundamentally flawed:

We should probably set aside the fact that the Leave campaigns blatantly broke both the rules and the law; flouting the spending limits, abusing personal data, peddling false claims and seemingly colluding with a hostile power. What I can never, however, ignore is the exclusion of three million taxpaying citizens and a million British-born people living and working elsewhere in the EU. Britain has a bad history where taxation without representation is concerned - it lost George III his American colonies.  

Neither can I accept the removal from all of our people many of their legal rights we now have as citizens. It is and always was too big a step to take by a single vote and a narrow margin and to remove the dreams of young and old alike to seek a different life is a step to far in constraining individual liberty. 

I’m tired of hearing this narrow decision described as, for all time, the ‘will of the people’ - it was an expression of view and, rightly, the Government has had the opportunity to deliver what was promised. Now they have failed it is time for Parliament to do its job and act in the national interest. 

By the time this is being read Parliament will have decided whether it shall exercise its right to hold the Government to account, to act as the representatives of the country through its meaningful vote, or perhaps the narrow interests of the Conservative Party will prevail over those of the future of the country. But whatever decision Parliament takes it is my view that what was done by direct democracy can only be undone by direct democracy. 

For my part I was elected on a proportional mandate - six of the ten MEPs elected for South East England one way or another support Brexit at any cost, four of us favour remaining in the EU - the result in the region was the same as in the country as a whole. Those who believe the UK should at least think again deserve representation. When my Party lost elections my job was to hold those who won to account and to battle for those who elected me to minimise the damage to people and communities. It was not to give up and say ‘it’s OK, because people voted for it’. In democracies we get to speak truth to power and hold those who make promises to account, otherwise democracy withers. Those who voted in good faith and have been let down and betrayed by the Brexiteers and Theresa May’s inept and duplicitous Government deserve the chance to hold them to account. 

For all those reasons I’m going to walk around London on Saturday.