BETTY BOOTHROYD: What nation ducks democratic choices out of fear of fascists?

PUBLISHED: 13:53 09 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:24 10 April 2019

Baroness Betty Boothroyd addresses a People's Vote rally. Photograph: People's Vote Campaign.

Baroness Betty Boothroyd addresses a People's Vote rally. Photograph: People's Vote Campaign.

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Former speaker of the House of Commons BARONESS BETTY BOOTHROYD says the UK lacks courageous leadership, and believes it’s now time for the people to wrestle the Brexit decision back out of the hands of politicians.

I thought my rallying days were behind me, but the fight over Brexit matters more than any I have known in my long life in politics.

As we get older, there is a temptation to follow the familiar. It is as if the years of experience weigh so heavy that we walk only the well-trodden pathway.

Now I find myself campaigning for a People’s Vote, having taken part in a rally in Westminster this week.

And I am reminded that the opportunity for change endures – that it is not the years in our life, but the life in our years that drives such change. And in doing so, that we become not followers of a cause, but leaders.

Baroness Betty Boothroyd speaks at the People's Vote Rally. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire.Baroness Betty Boothroyd speaks at the People's Vote Rally. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire.

The campaign for a People’s Vote has many leaders of all ages, but particularly among the young, many of whom I met at the Westminster rally.

For two years Theresa May has been struggling to keep her party intact. For two years, the leader of the opposition has been struggling to keep his opinions intact. Our nation has been left adrift, rudderless, amid an oncoming storm. And now the storm really is here.

Not in my worst nightmares did I think this would end up days away from a no-deal exit leading to food and medicine shortages, chaos in the ports, fears about the Union, and a catastrophic fall in our standing in the world.

I don’t blame the people who voted Leave. I blame the charlatans who peddled the falsehoods that this would be easy and cost-free. And what does it say about our politics that those who led the lying are among the favourites to become the next prime minister?

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would have required a train rather than a bus to proclaim: “Say yes to a hard or a soft Brexit, a Canadian or maybe a Norway-plus deal, or a deal to separate us from Northern Ireland, but we will work it all out when we’re out.” I would not trust them to run my bath let alone run our country.

Nobody voted for this mess. Nobody. And it has been wonderful to meet people who are big enough to say they voted Leave but now want a final say, and this time would vote to stay. We must fight for that say, for the opportunity for change endures.

The opportunity is to provide clarity, with a singular definition of Leave to go to the public alongside the option of Remain, and a legally-binding outcome.

Opponents say we can’t have a second referendum because it would mean having European elections. They say we can’t have European elections because the hard right might do well. Is this what our politics has become? That we duck democratic choices out of fear of fascists? That is not leadership. It is cowardice. And this is not a nation of cowards.

I am in my 90th year. But this is about the young. The rights we are taking from them. The opportunities we are denying them. The narrow and shrinking future we risk building for them.

While there is breath in my body I will fight for that future. For them. They must have a say. And when we have a say we must speak for them.

Theresa May may have tried to make this work, and Jeremy Corbyn may have tried to help. But I say to both of them – Brexit isn’t working.

It is time to stop trying to find a solution and to implement the solution. It is called a People’s Vote.

• Betty Boothroyd was the Labour MP for West Bromwich and West Bromwich West from 1973 to 2000. From 1992 to 2000, she was speaker of the House of Commons. She sits, by tradition, as a Crossbench peer in the House of Lords

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