Today is the day. Despite knowing that she is causing potentially irreversible harm to the country she leads, our Prime Minister has chosen to trigger Article 50, signalling our exit from the EU in two years.
Firstly it’s important to consider the legitimacy of this decision. We have a Prime Minister who was not leader (and nobody expected to be leader) when her party won a majority in 2015 - a victory that came with just 24% of the vote, thanks to our broken electoral system. When her party won its mandate it was on a pro-EU position, and indeed they specified in their manifesto that even if we left the EU they were committed to staying in the single market.
The referendum itself has been criticised at length. Yes, the campaign to remain was poorly run, and it was hindered by being supported by a number of unpopular politicians. However, the ‘leave’ campaign was demonstrably built on, to be generous, a mistaken take on how the EU actually works and, more accurately, lies.
The fact that politicians promising to give money to the NHS were ideologically opposed to the very existence of the NHS couldn’t have escaped the notice of anyone who thought about it for more than a second. The £350m figure itself was a provable lie, and talk about the EU being ‘undemocratic’ didn’t stand up to scrutiny, as well as being a ridiculous accusation by people who support the British electoral system, with FPTP, an unelected second chamber who are appointed for life, and a reigning monarch.
But as I say, all such criticisms have been made many times. We can complain about the abject failure of the government to demand a significant majority to make constitutional change (just like almost every other country does, and the EU!). We can complain about the campaigns on both sides. We can complain about the question being put in the first place. But the result happened, and 36% of the electorate voted to leave.
The worst betrayal was what happened next.
Nobody significant in the leave campaign suggested leaving the single market or any other EU institutions. This was not the question on the ballot. Even so, the hard right coup in the Conservative Party resulted in the referendum being taken to mean ‘hard Brexit’. Not only that, but there has been a subsequent campaign by the Leave side to paint this as the only option, with anyone questioning it painted as a ‘remoaner’ or being against the ‘will of the people’.
Let us be absolutely clear - the only ‘will of the people’, ignoring failures in the campaigns and uninformed electors, was the ‘will’ of 36% of the people. That ‘will’ was to leave the EU - nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is up for negotiation.
It makes me furious when those who talk about ‘respecting democracy’ support the use of the executive to implement their hard-right ideals without debate. Just look at the faux outrage from the Right and their masters in the tabloids when someone had the temerity to use the law to force the government to actually take leaving the EU to the Commons for a vote. Judges, upholding the law, were branded as ‘enemies of the people’. MPs representing constituencies where the majority voted to remain were told that representing their constituents (which is their job) would somehow be ‘undemocratic’. Almost every action taken by the Leave side since the referendum has been against democracy and the rule of law.
And now we are at the stage where we are actually triggering our intent to leave. It is a profoundly sad day. The worst part is that not only is it obvious to me, but it’s obvious to the majority of MPs and even the Prime Minister herself. They are knowingly taking a course of action that they know will make the people they represent poorer and less free, and they are doing it because they are scared of the right wing press, and in some cases for their jobs.
So who are the ‘enemies of the people’? I’ll tell you who they are - it’s those MPs who have taken a decision they know is wrong because they are cowards.
Some ask for patience. “Let’s see how it goes”, they say, “it might work out OK”. Yes, it might. It’s unlikely, but it might. If we are very, very lucky then we might just end-up with a deal that almost as good as what we have now, and we’ll have spent years and untold billions getting to that position. In the worst case, and the government worryingly seem to be easy with this, we will end-up with no deal, and trade with our closest neighbours and the largest trading block in the world will become more difficult and expensive. We will all be a lot poorer. Forgive me if I don’t think that this process or either outcome is somehow something we should support.
So there are the self-serving MPs. They deserve our anger and contempt. Then there were the people who knew exactly what leaving the EU would mean and campaigned for it. They are, by and large, the hard right. They are people who call worker and environmental protections ‘red tape’, think climate change is a ‘hoax’, and have a long record of campaigning against anything that gets in the way of big business and the rich. They are your Rupert Murdochs, your Nigel Farages, your Daniel Hannans - people who two minutes of research would show have no record of wanting to help ordinary people at all. They are the super-rich parasites who hate anything that stops them and their friends getting richer. Yet, as all through history, they somehow paint themselves as ‘anti establishment’ despite being the epitome of the establishment.
For the record I don’t think many involved with the Leave campaign were racist. Sure, they appealed to racists, but racism and intolerance have always been tools of the right to divide opposition. As a result they picked-up some racist campaigners and racists voted to leave because of promises over immigration control. But don’t be fooled - the puppet masters at the top don’t worry about race. For them it’s about power and money.
I’m not going to say it’s wrong to criticise people who voted to leave. Sure, they are not all racist - we probably all know perfectly reasonable people who voted that way and who are in no way racist. But we should still be angry at them, just as we should be angry at anyone who takes an active step to make us poorer and restrict opportunity for us and our children.
This referendum was not like a normal election. While I despair when people vote Tory then complain that the NHS is getting worse without realising they are the cause, that is at least (theoretically) something that can be undone in five years. But not with the referendum.
I want to be clear on this. If you voted to leave the EU then everything that happens in the next few years is your fault. The inability of my children to work, live and love in Europe without having to jump through hoops or pay is your fault. The loss of the chance for my children to escape the UK’s most expensive universities in the world and be educated for free in the EU is your fault. The restriction on their opportunities and lives, and the loss of freedoms we have all enjoyed for the last 40 years is your fault.
I am furious with you. I’m furious with either your intention to restrict the lives and opportunities of others or the wilful neglect of your uninformed vote. In 15 years time when university is for the rich and my kids can’t go (or must accept crippling debt) I will blame you. When foreign travel becomes a luxury on the rich can afford I will blame you. When we are living in a polluted tax haven and I am not allowed to sell-up and move to a more enlightened country I will blame you.
You have tied me and my family to a hard-Right rock of ignorance and intolerance and left it to sink. You have condemned generations to being part of your little-England fantasy against their wills. You have changed my children’s futures from those of outward looking collaboration to one of us-and-them narrow minded nationalism, where they have to accept wages and working conditions to compete with the Indians and Chinese who are now their ‘competitors’, rather than the wages and protections you yourself enjoyed as part of a European workforce.
You might not know what you have done. You might not accept it’s your fault. But it is.
However, redemption is always possible. The anger will always be there for what has happened, but let’s work together to get out of this situation. Let’s fight to stop Brexit. If that doesn’t work, let’s fight to make it as ‘soft’ as possible, then pledge to rejoin as soon as possible.
History will judge those who acted to make their country, themselves and their families poorer and remove their freedoms and opportunities. We now all have a chance to be on the right side of history by joining the fight to keep what we can, and if necessary get it back.
What are you going to say when your children ask you “What did you do when they were taking those freedoms from us?”. Whatever the future holds, I’ll be able to look mine in the eye. I hope you will too.