Caroline Criado Perez: Why I finally back a people’s vote
- Credit: Bettmann Archive
When even someone who hates referendums agrees that holding another is the only way forward for the UK.
I hate referendums. Really, truly, viscerally loathe them. They're divisive, they don't allow for nuanced debate, they lead to lowest common denominator electioneering. And, unlike in an election, there is simply no mechanism by which people who have made promises can be held to account. You can paint patently false claims on the side of buses and, apparently, just get away with it. Advisory referendums are even worse: a campaign organisation (say, Vote Leave) can be found to have broken electoral law and yet, again unlike in an election, the result can't be challenged in the courts. We're just stuck with it.
I firmly believe in parliamentary democracy. I believe we delegate complex decision-making about what's right for the country to the politicians we elect. I don't want to have to familiarise myself with every last tedious piece of minor EU legislation about how bananas should or should not bend. Frankly, I don't see why I should: it's not my job, unlike, say, the MPs we literally pay to do this. And so I find myself in an odd position this week because, despite all this, I've decided to add my voice to the call for a People's Vote: a vote on the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations. And the reason I've made this decision is that MPs have almost uniformly abnegated their responsibility to do what they know is right for the country.
Every single credible economist agrees that Brexit is bad for Britain. The government's own analysis makes this clear. The vast majority of MPs were against Brexit for this reason. And yet at every opportunity they've had to stand up and stop this act of national self-harm, most of them have simply looked the other way and voted with clay feet. Then of course there's the minor issue that there simply aren't the votes in parliament for any kind of Brexit, hard or soft. One option is another general election, but the reality is this is unlikely to solve the electoral impasse. The only answer to the deadlock seems to be to go back to the
people and present them with the actual options, as in fact should have been done in the original referendum.
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I won't lie: I would vote against Brexit, just as I did in the first referendum, because Brexit will be a disaster for women. When there is an economic downturn (which in fact is already happening as wages go down in real terms and inflation goes up), women are
always the worst hit, because women make up the majority of the low-paid and because the poorest women tend to be the ones in charge of increasingly squeezed household budgets. And since 2010 84% of spending cuts have fallen on women – and given the government continues to refuse to gender analyse its budgets there is no reason to think Brexit-related cuts will be any different.
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Too many of the rights women rely on (maternity rights, part-time workers' rights, pension rights) are either a result of or have been strengthened by EU legislation. And Britain has in fact been a stumbling block in the EU when it comes to strengthening these rights even further. It is laughable to suggest that those leading the Brexit charge would not take the first opportunity they could to scrap what they see as business-unfriendly red tape: they are literally on record calling for this to happen.
But most importantly, and contrary to what Leave extremists claim, the Will of the People™ has not been expressed. The original 2016 referendum gave us the option of 'more of the same' (which at the time was an atmosphere of relentless austerity) and 'Schrödinger's Brexit' onto which you can project all your hopes and dreams. It was not a real choice. It was a choice between reality and a choose your own fantasy book. It was the Tories asleep at the wheel as they sold the country down the river for the sake of their party (that worked well, didn't it). In their pre-referendum campaigning, Vote Leave shamelessly exploited the lack of clarity on what Brexit actually was, promising everyone a unicorn with a bow on it. But people – and especially women, who now favour Remain by a 12-point margin – are finally waking up to the reality that they've been sold a pup. It's time to give the country a proper say on the most important decision of most of our lifetimes. It's time for a People's Vote.
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