Editor’s Note: Hugo Dixon is chair of InFacts and one of the founders of the People’s Vote. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
When the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, says something will not happen “in any circumstances,” get ready for precisely that. May has made so many U-turns that it makes one’s head spin just to watch her. Think of her promises not to call a snap general election.
Downing Street’s latest pronouncement is there won’t be a second vote – or a people’s vote – at the end of the Brexit talks. In fact, it is increasingly likely that there will be one – whether the Prime Minister wants one or not.
Last night’s capitulation to pressure from Brexit extremists in her governing Conservative Party shows she has lost control of Parliament. She has even been reduced to trying to bring forward the summer recess to avoid further humiliation.
Momentum is building for a people’s vote. Justine Greening, the former education secretary, yesterday backed the idea, becoming the most senior Tory to do so. Former England football captain Gary Lineker came out in favor. Doctors, nurses, midwives and students have previously called for the public to have the final say on Brexit. And the opposition Labour Party is warming to the idea, though it would prefer yet another election.
The democratic case for a people’s vote is simple. The referendum two years ago was a choice between the reality of “in” and the cake-and-eat-it fantasy of “out.” At the end of the talks, we will know much more about what Brexit means – and it will be miserable. The people should then have the right to choose between two realities and say whether they still want Brexit.
It’s like buying a house. It looks great so you make an offer. Then the survey shows the roof is falling in, there’s dry rot and a developer is building a six-storey office that will block the light. You don’t have to go ahead if you don’t want to.
Lots of new facts have emerged in the past two years. Donald Trump is in the White House, tearing up the world order, threatening our allies and sucking up to our enemy, Russian President Vladimir Putin. We’ve gone from the fastest growing large industrialized economies to one of the slowest.
And now the Electoral Commission has referred Vote Leave, the Brexit campaign fronted by Boris Johnson, to the police for breaking the law during the referendum campaign.
Such arguments wouldn’t cut much ice with hard-nosed politicians if it weren’t for two other factors.
First, there is so much turmoil in government that there is probably no parliamentary majority for either the Prime Minister’s castration Brexit (which would leave us following the EU’s rules without a vote on them) or the extremists’ crash-out Brexit (which would savage the economy and undermine the peace process in Ireland).
In the circumstances, asking the people what they want may be the only way to resolve the deadlock.
Second, the People’s Vote campaign is gathering momentum. Over 100,000 people marched behind our banner last month. Over 200,000 have signed our petition.
Public opinion is shifting both against Brexit and in favor of a people’s vote – not least because they think the talks are going so badly and the Tory party is tearing itself to bits.
As things go from bad to worse, more ordinary people will flock to our cause. More politicians will jump on the bandwagon. More activists will volunteer to give their time. More money will flow into our coffers. And all this will allow us to build yet more momentum behind the campaign.