It is now well over two years since the UK voted in a referendum to ensure that politics would now only occupy itself with trying to answer one specific question: what does leaving the European Union (EU) entail? Since then, there has been a new Prime Minister, a general election we were promised wouldn’t happen, various Cabinet reshuffles and endless rounds of passing the ball into each other’s court. As 29 March 2019, Brexit day to some, Independence Day to others, draws ever nearer, only one thing is certain: that the question of how exactly Brexit will happen is still just as unclear as it was in June 2016.
Much of the issue lies with the government being so carried away with delivering ‘the will of the people’ that it is tying itself into knots with contradictory promises, rather than seeking to understand what ‘the will of the people’ actually is. For a process supposedly all about democracy and ‘taking back control’, at no point has anyone sought to clarify whether the people of the UK still wanted to stay in the single market and customs union, whether they wanted to simply have a free trade deal and end freedom of movement, or something else altogether. The fact of the matter is nobody knows. The government was so surprised by the outcome of the last referendum, which it clearly did not plan for, that it is very sceptical of going back to the people again.
That is a serious problem. The current approach of brinkmanship the UK is taking to the negotiations may well pay off in the end, but considering it is universally accepted that a no deal situation would be absolutely terrible, and according to one government White Paper it may even result in riots, it is an incredibly risky one. The Chequers plan has been heavily criticised and at times written off by both MPs and EU leaders. Promises squeezed out of the government to give the final deal some pretence of democratic approval through a ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament seem very weak when you consider that the options would be to either approve or reject Theresa May’s deal, which could result in even more uncertainty and a chance of the ‘no deal’ outlined earlier.
Given that it is too late in the process for people to be given a true say in shaping the Brexit negotiations and what sort of Brexit – soft, blue or Stilton – we want, the bare minimum that can be done to render Brexit at least partially democratic would be to have a People’s Vote on the final deal. As David Davis once said: ‘We should not ask people to vote on a blank sheet of paper and then trust us to fill in the details afterwards.’ Everyone has an incentive to make sure that their opinion is heard concerning the final deal so we can be absolutely sure it truly is the will of the people – students even more so, considering it affects us the most and many of us didn’t even get a say the first time around. For that to happen, people need to take a proactive role in bringing the People’s Vote to the attention of politicians, no matter how bored we may be of the whole affair. If a few Edinburgh students were able to go all the way to London to take part in last weekend’s march, then clearly people do still care.
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