The Independent’s Final Say petition has reached a million signatures, proving the strength of feeling for a referendum on the Brexit deal
A chaotic approach thus far has delivered infighting, resignations and party politics – but little progress on the key issues that people care about
The Independent’s Final Say petition has reached a million signatures. The evidence is now abundantly clear: so many people feel deep discomfort about the mess that politicians have made of Brexit, and so many people – on both sides of the debate – are deeply unhappy with the prospect of the final outcome being settled by politicians.
The people are demanding the final say. The politicians must listen.
Last weekend, almost 700,000 people marched in London to make the same point in the biggest demonstration since that against the Iraq war. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations in Brussels, the cabinet and the House of Commons, the final decision on how – or whether – to leave the European Union should be given back to the nation as a whole.
Much has changed since the last referendum, much has been learned, many myths have been exposed. Whether or not a deal of some description eventually stumbles out of the morass in Westminster, the final course of action must be democratically validated.
The Independent launched the Final Say campaign to win for the British people the right to make that all-important decision on the Brexit deal. Let us be clear, however, that the Final Say campaign is not simply an attempt to block Brexit. If the people judge the outcome of the negotiations, deal or no deal, to be bad for the country, they must have the option on the ballot paper to remain in Europe. But if the British people gave their informed consent to leaving the EU, in a referendum where there are hard facts and realities to be judged rather than misleading promises and hot air, The Independent would accept such a result. What we want is due process, rather than a runaway train.
So what should happen next? We need to maintain this momentum, and we need people to keep signing the petition. Write to your MP, and ask them to come out in support of the Final Say campaign. Point out that it is in their interest that they seek the people’s final approval.
The mood in Westminster is still to wait and see. Can Theresa May negotiate a deal? If so, what does it offer for the wellbeing and future prospects of the British people? Or will we be heading for the chaos of a no-deal Brexit, hiring generators on barges to keep the lights on, relying on stockpiled medicines, and causing chaos for lorries queueing at our ports? When we know, we can decide what our position will be, say MPs.
But we say: now is the time to get the process right. Now is the time to come out for the principle that the people should have the final say. If the deal that emerges is good for the country, so much the better – for our democracy but also for Ms May – that it should get the backing of the people.
That mood in Westminster could yet change. Apart from anything else, more MPs may be persuaded that backing the call made in such a huge petition and march is smart politics – not least because polling has shown opinions in constituencies are shifting. The role of the opposition is clearly crucial. If the Labour Party were to recognise that the chance of a general election is small, its MPs should realise that a new referendum is their best chance to align themselves with what the people want.
Now is the time for supportive MPs to prepare the practical steps that will be needed to make it possible. There are various options by which the “meaningful vote” motion in parliament can be amended to provide for a “meaningful vote” in the country. The Constitution Unit at UCL has already done good work on the timetable for a new referendum. It may require Brexit to be postponed – though let’s remember that such a pause is nothing compared to the extensions to the Brexit timeline currently being discussed by Ms May, and that Europe would almost certainly be supportive.
One million people have spoken. Our challenge to the politicians is this: are you listening?
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.
Sign our petition here