Liberal Democrat leader VINCE CABLE says let’s march to end this chaotic journey
Tens of thousands of people will march on parliament this Saturday calling for a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal. I will be among them, as will Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, the former Conservative minister Anna Soubry, and Labour’s David Lammy. This is a truly cross-party event and the latest sign that the tide has turned on Brexit.
The key message that we have all so far failed to deliver is that Brexit is not inevitable. It is not. Far from it.
The rest of the European Union recognises that it has to negotiate Brexit, but we would also be welcomed if we decided to stay. What is important is how we stop Brexit.
Having started this chaotic journey with a hubristic referendum that was designed (and failed) to end the decades long Conservative civil war over Europe, we must end it democratically.
Don’t let the Brexiter ideologues get away with the claim that a People’s Vote would be a second referendum. They hope that phrase will trick people into thinking we’re plotting a neverendum until we get the answer we want.
That is not the case. This would be a very different vote – and we would have to accept that we are leaving if we lost. The 2016 referendum decided a course of action. The so-called People’s Vote looks at what we’re actually being offered after examining that course.
Here we must decide if this deal is better than what we already have, and we must consider the emerging data trends and forecasts showing that Brexit is already damaging the economy and will continue to do so.
Just this week, for example, the British Chambers of Commerce revealed revised figures that indicated economic growth would be just 1.3% this year – the lowest since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.
The way of looking at the need for a confirmatory referendum – which is not considered unusual in other parts of the world – is that it is a bit like buying a house: we have decided to move, but when the surveys are done we discover the new home is full of subsidence. We then decide whether or not to stay and refurbish where we have been happy, or move somewhere with a leaky roof and rotten foundations. The caveat to that analogy is that when we get the People’s Vote we must make the optimistic argument for staying in the EU. The status quo is always the harder sell, the less exciting option.
But it is our duty to show that remaining in the EU is not just the lazy option, but will provide our children with economic wealth, a cleaner environment, the opportunity for travel and trade, and will make them more secure in an increasingly hostile world. The EU was built on the ideal of creating a prosperous, safe bloc and it has succeeded. We must show that it is built to last.
Last week’s by-election in Lewisham East was the latest sign of the Liberal Democrat fightback. We leapfrogged into second to overtake the Conservatives. The 19-point swing from Labour was our best against them in a by-election since 2004, and the biggest against Labour when they have been in opposition for 35 years.
We had the advantages of an excellent candidate in Lucy Salek, who has spent most of her life in and around the constituency, and the sense that the area had become something of a one-party state, with Labour taking Lewisham East for granted.
That same night we also won three councillors in London Bridge & Bermondsey, building on our highly encouraging local election results last month.
But our Lewisham East vote was also a boost for New European readers. About 70% of the area voted Remain in the EU referendum and it was clear that the Labour leadership’s deliberately ambiguous position on Brexit had irritated and frustrated constituents.
As a result, Labour saw its share of the vote fall by nearly 18%. This is a warning to Jeremy Corbyn: his leadership is waving through the Conservatives’ Brexit and that must not continue.
That means joining the other parties to stay in the single market and the customs union.
Ultimately, though, that is technical stuff. The principle fight should be for the people to have the final say on the terms of any Brexit deal.
Surveys show that this is what Labour members want – about eight in 10, according to research by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University in London.
Together, we can force the Conservatives to do the right thing. Lewisham East was a warning: stop messing around and do the job of the opposition and oppose Brexit.