Friday 22 February 2019

Masses now ready to hit the streets and demand 'People's Vote' - but it's too little, too late

Protest: An anti-Brexit demonstration in Brussels on Wednesday. Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Protest: An anti-Brexit demonstration in Brussels on Wednesday. Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

A Toyota car made in England has bumpers which come from France and Germany, mufflers and exhaust pipes from the Netherlands, seatbelts from Hungary, and wheels from Spain. It is then sold across the 28 EU states.

On day two of his fruitless days of Brexit talks in Brussels, the Taoiseach noted that politicians can burn the midnight oil and cook up deals in the early hours of the morning, but business must plan ahead quarter by quarter and senior managers will soon have to plan for a grim scenario of a no-deal Brexit kicking in at 11pm on March 29 next.

Well, it is clear nobody advocating Brexit foresaw the scenarios like that at Toyota. So many opportunities to have a decent public information campaign and debate about the manifold implications of UK parting company with the European Union after 40-plus years were missed.

When you look back at recent UK political history, you see there was a general election in May 2015, and another in June 2017. The Brexit shock vote came between those two votes, in June 2016.

None of those opportunities was taken to broach the idea of Brexit. Indeed, many members of the London government engaged in campaigning for the UK leaving the EU by using incorrect arguments or simply lies.

The confusion around the UK's position in the Brexit talks, first triggered on March 29, 2017, continues to this day. This confusion has cost every member state precious time, most notably Ireland.

At one stage during a break from his deadlocked Brexit summit, Leo Varadkar noted that despite the lack of decisions, there were "lots of ideas floating around". Was the prospect of extending the timeframe for these Brexit talks beyond the legally mandated two years, which fixes a finish date of March 29, 2019, among these ideas?

Mr Varadkar was hyper-cautious in answering that one. He pointed out that an extension to the so-called Article 50 process requires unanimous approval of the other 27 member states. It also requires the UK to begin by formally asking.

Quite rightly, the Taoiseach was not going to make any suggestions on this. Clearly, he could see lurid headlines in the British press and angry ultra-Brexiteers declaiming about "interference" in Britain's internal politics.

At all events, it is already clear that the scope for an extension of the talk time is limited at best to a matter of weeks. A bit like the Toyota car story, there is another practical concern which has to be put into the mix.

European Parliament elections are already fixed for late May 2019. If the UK was still in the European Union, it would also have to hold such elections. As things stand, one of the implications of Brexit is that the UK will lose all its MEPs, including the three who sit for Northern Ireland.

All of this looms into view again as the 'People's Vote' organisation prepare to march in London today as part of its demand for a second Brexit referendum. Dozens of MPs from London and the south-east of England issued an unprecedented appeal for tens of thousands of people to join the march through the centre of London and on to the Westminster parliament.

It's a cross-party movement combining Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, calling on voters to "stand up to the hard Brexiteers", "march with us" and "bin Brexit".

On the Tory side, British attorney general Dominic Grieve, an MP for part of Buckinghamshire, issued a particularly passionate appeal. "If you think the future of our country matters and that we should prevent a very bad outcome...please participate in the People's Vote march."

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, condemned "lies and broken promises" made to voters about quitting the EU.

"The British people must now have the right to vote on the reality of Brexit for the first time," he added.

Most interestingly, the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, warned Britain is hurtling towards a Brexit "cliff-edge at breakneck speed", and stressed: "It's time for us to take back control."

The reality is that Britain's Brexit bill is already running at billions of pounds, and forecast to spiral further. But it all appears to be coming far too late. A massive about-face on Brexit looks like a long-shot.

Irish Independent

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