I went for a stroll in Central London yesterday. It turns out, quite a few other people had the same idea.
As we walked, every now and then we would hear the whirr of a helicopter’s blades high up above us. Police, we thought, or maybe – cue: dramatic music – someone was filming us.
It was the latter, and here is 9 minutes of their footage, sped up to around 90 seconds (as I imagine the idea of watching 9 minutes of a few people walking through London is a tough sell to make you actually watch it).
Oh, that’s not really “a few”, is it? I’m talking, of course, about the People’s Vote March which took place yesterday. At the time of writing, unconfirmed figures suggest that there were one million of us, and looking at that footage I’d say that’s probably not far off.
I think you would have to be spectacularly naive or blinkered to think that the UK Government’s attempt to negotiate a deal to leave the EU have been anything other than an embarrasing shit-show. For example, we’re on our third Brexit Secretary in as many years.
The first, David Davis, was appointed to the post in July 2016. Shortly after his appointment, he announced: “Be under no doubt we can do deals with our trading partners and we can do them quickly.” In December 2016, he said “What’s the requirement of my job? I don’t have to be clever, I don’t have to know that much, I do just have to be calm.”
“I don’t have to be clever, I don’t have to know that much.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Having capitulated and achieved absolutely nothing in the two years he filled the position, Davis resigned in July 2018.
His replacement was Dominic Raab, who, promisingly, seemed to have paid attention to Davis’s tenure and learned from him. Unfortunately, the thing he learned was that he didn’t have to be clever either, and that not knowing that much was considered to be a key skill in negotiating the most important deal in the UK’s history, as was evidenced when, during a speech at a technology conference in November 2018, he said: “We are, and I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.”
You’ve heard of Dover, right? Our closest port to Europe? One of the world’s busiest sea ports? With 2.5 million heavy goods vehicles passing through it every year, carrying £119 billion worth of goods in 2015. Yes that Dover. Dominic Raab, the man who was in charge of negotiating our deal with the EU, “hadn’t quite realised” the importance of the port.
Raab quit his post in November 2018, having lasted an impressive four months and one week in the job. There’s a bottle of milk that’s been in my fridge for longer.
Enter Stephen Barclay, Brexit Secretary No 3, at which point I’m beginning to wonder if they’re trying to have more Brexit Secretaries than Fulham Footall Club have had managers this season.
Now you won’t have heard much from Barclay, because he was not entrusted with the job of negotiations for Brexit. History had proven that that’s the last thing you’d want the Brexit Secretary to be doing. No, his role would be to ‘focus on domestic preparations’ instead. Which is probably why we’ve heard so little from him: he’s presumably stayed at home, preparing.
So, which lucky person was to take over the reigns of negotiations in his stead? Step forward PM Theresa May. I’ll not focus too much on her efforts, because they’ve been pretty well documented elsewhere, and because, credit where credit’s due, at least she managed to negotiate a deal. Having done so, the next step was for the House of Commons to have “a meaningful vote” on it. This was originally due to take place on 11th December 2018 but, when it became clear that it was not going to be passed, May postponed the vote until 15th January 2019, in the hope that she could win sufficient support to get it through in the interim period.
The deal was spectacularly defeated in the House of Commons, by 432 – 202, a margin of 230, the largest defeat for any government in modern Parliamentary history.
Just think how many more votes she would have lost by had she not used all of her persuasive powers to get 202 ministers to vote!
So off she went, back to the EU, to try and renegotiate a deal she had already negotiated, and to try and get some assurances from them about the Northern Ireland backstop.
Again, fair play, she managed that, and in the second meaningful vote on March 12th 2019, the deal was rejected again, this time by 391 – 242. So, if you wanted to be kind, there’s some improvement there.
May’s next plan, it was thought, was to wait a little longer, get a little closer to March 29th 2019 – the date when the UK would have to leave the EU, with or without a deal – in the hope that opponents to the bill would blink first, and back her.
But this was scuppered on Monday when the Speaker of the House of Commons made a statement to the House:
Which means that if May wants to try and get her deal through Parliament, then it cannot be the same deal, or a deal which is substantially the same, as the last one. In other words, she would first need to renegotiate the already renegotiated deal she had negotiated.
And here’s the thing which made so many people come out on Saturday’s march: May thinks that it’s perfectly acceptable to put the same deal – or substantially the same deal – to the house on the numerous occasions, that it’s fine for MPs to change their mind and support her, but she doesn’t think it’s acceptable to go back to the British public and see if they have changed their minds or not.
Once you’re in full possession of the facts, there’s nothing wrong with reassessing matters and coming to a different conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. A view which, it was revealed in a recent interview with Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP sort of agrees with, with one rather large codicil (the bit I’m referring to starts at around the 6:00 mark, but the whole clip is a fascinating example of a minister squirming as she is actually challenged on the detail of her answers):
So it’s ok to change your mind, as long as you change your mind to vote from Remain to Leave, and not the other way round. Right. Got it.
It’s anecdotal evidence at best, I admit, but I don’t know of anyone who voted to Remain in the 2016 referendum who now thinks that leaving the EU is a good idea. Not one person. And the reason for that is that nothing has been revealed in the three years since the referendum which indicates that leaving is the best thing for the country.
Oh yeh, sorry. Blue passports. I forgot the blue passports. I take back everything I’ve said.
So let’s look for some clear, non-anecdotal evidence of people who have changed their minds, someone who campaigned and voted Remain in 2016, but who now is actively striving for us to Leave.
Oh dear. That’s rather embarrasing, isn’t it?
So, again, it’s okay for the Prime Minister to change her mind on whether the UK should Leave or Remain in the EU, but the British public are not allowed to even be asked if they have too.
Of course, many will have seen the footage of the peaceful protest in London yesterday and will have said something along the lines of “We had a vote, Remain lost, get over it.”
Let’s see if we can find anyone who’s said that *flicks through notes*. Like this lady, for example:
Well, I think we can say with some degree of certainty that there is no longer any trust in her goverment’s ability to deliver on the “will of the British public”. So let’s look at the rest of that quote.
Here’s the definition of the word “referendum”: a vote in which all the people in a country or an area are asked to give their opinion about or decide an important political or social question.
“…asked to give their opinion about…”
But no, I’m not ignoring the “…decide…” part of that definition.
The thing about referendums, is that they are advisory. They’re non-binding. And how do we know that? Because in July 2018, the Electoral Commission found that the Brexit campaign group Vote Leave had broken electoral law, by exceeding the £7 million spending limit by £675,315, which they had funnelled through pro-Brexit youth group (I find it staggering that such a thing exists, but there you go) BeLeave.
(Vote Leave, in case you weren’t totally sure, were the offical group of the Leave campaign in the run-up to the EU Referendum in 2016. They were led by those thoroughly decent, reliable chaps Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.)
So, electoral rules were broken, therefore we should have the referendum again, right? Like we would if, say, the same electoral laws were broken in a General Election, right?
Wrong. A Supreme Court ruling in December 2016 found that the referendum was not legally binding, merely “advisory”, so it cannot be re-run by a court. Rather, any decision to have a fresh referendum would have to be made by the government and Parliament would have to pass a referendum act.
So there you have that point answered. Advisory, and not legally binding.
But why do people think the referendum was binding? Because David Cameron said so. You remember David Cameron, right? The chap who called the referendum to stave off a rise in popularity of UKIP, and to appease the hard right within the Conservative Party. The man who lit the fuse and walked away, rather than owning the mess, just like Davis, Raab, Johnson, Gove and Farage have all done as the realisation dawned on them that they cannot deliver what was “promised” in the referendum.
And in any event, Cameron could not unilaterally declare the outcome of a referendum to be legally binding.
And finally, to answer that oft-trotted out line about how Remainers ‘only want a second referendum because they lost the first one, and if they lose that, they’ll be pressing for a third, and maybe a fourth one, until they get an answer they like’. Putting aside the obvious parallels with that position and Theresa May’s attempts to get her deal through Parliament, the answer is: no, of course they won’t. They’ll accept the outcome of the vote.
Because this time, the British public will be more aware of how their opinion may be manipulated by social media, they will be less likely to fall for obvious lies just because they’re written on the side of a bus, all campaigning sides would doubtless be closely scrutinised to ensure that electoral laws are not broken this time, and, crucially, they will then be in full possession of the facts, which they weren’t when we they were originally posited the question in a ridiculous binary manner.
And I don’t see why MPs are so reluctant to go for a second vote. Parliament is in dead-lock over Brexit, and even if May is allowed to present her deal to the House for a third meaningful vote, the chances of it getting through would seem very slim indeed. So it’s a no-brainer: let the people have another say, and then MPs have been absolved of having to decide between them. And if those who continue to argue for Leave are so confident of the result being the same, what is there for them to be so afraid of?
Extraordinarily, I’ll leave the last word to David Davis MP. He may not be clever or know that much, but he did get one thing right:
And that’s why I went on the People’s Vote March yesterday.
Right, that’s enough ranting. Who fancies some tunes?
At around 12:30 yesterday, I arrived at Marble Arch tube station. As I walked towards the stairs, I overheard a conversation between a member of the public and an employee of Transport for London:
Member of the Public: Excuse me, can you tell me the way to the protest march?
Transport for London employee (looking slightly surprised he needed to be asked): Just follow everybody else, mate.
I emerged from Marble Arch tube station, blinking into the sunlight, and a lot of people. An awful lot of people. We began walking – marching isn’t really an accurate way to describe it, as progress was definitely not marching-pace swift – down Park Lane.
The first thing that struck me – apart from the number of people – was the wide age range of those in attendance. It put paid to any broad brush argument that everyone over the age of 60 voted to Leave, for there were many people there even older than I. And there were many young folks too, many of whom were too young to have voted in 2016, and who now wanted their voices to be heard.
As we walked, every now and then I reached a point where a sound system had been erected, booming out tunes designed to get everyone bouyant, bobbing and up-for-it.
Here’s the first one I heard:
I had no placard, no banner, no flag, no stickers, no slogan scrawled across my tee-shirt, but there were many who did, and they were waved and displayed in time with the music as we shuffled slowly forwards.
I did take a few pictures of some which made me smile throughout the day. They ranged from the niche 80s sitcom referencing:
to the less niche 90s sitcom referencing:
to the slightly surreal:
to the rather rude:
to the rather rude and extremely niche Fyre Festival documentary referencing:
As we proceeded down Park Lane, the crowd ebbed and flowed, and I was walking alongside the same people for a good while, other people for less long. At one point I found myself alongside a group of shirtless young men carrying banners which read “Fags Against Brexit”. I have to say they were an absolutely cracking bunch of lads, who were there to express their displeasure at the potential curtailing of duty-free at our seaports and airports should we leave the EU. (I think I’ve got that right.)
On I went, leaving my new found pals to bring up the rear (I know, I know, a cheap gag…), the route punctuated now by people on the sidelines, some with megaphones, some with just really loud voices, encouraging the crowd to join in with the usual chants one hears at this sort of thing:
Man with Megaphone: What do we want?
Crowd: A People’s Vote!
Man with Megaphone: When do we want it?
I’ve always had a problem with this chant. Whilst I of course accept that everyone there did indeed want a People’s Vote – it would be really unwise of me to try and argue otherwise – it’s the response to the “When do we want it?” question with which I take issue. However, I decide against proffering my alternative response – “Once I’ve got home to where I’m on the electoral register, or alternatively approximately sixteen calendar days after I’ve registered for a postal vote” – as it really isn’t quite so catchy.
The biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the people standing in the entrance to The Dorchester on Park Lane, brandishing a “Tories Against Brexit” placard; sadly I was on the other side of the road and couldn’t get a clear view through all of the other placards and flags to take a picture, so you’ll just have to believe me on that point.
The route then took us past Hyde Park Corner and Green Park and then on to Piccadilly. And it was here that, around 16:30, I decided that it was probably time for me to…erm…Leave. I’d been walking, albeit not very fast, for four hours, which is definitely the most exercise I’ve had since I came out of hospital; my legs were causing me a lot of problems, and I knew that I’d missed the speeches at Parliament Square. In any event, I’d said I would be at my friends Gary and Meg’s place for around 5-ish and I already knew I was going to be a little late. I slipped away from the crowd, and checked my phone to see where the nearest tube station was: Piccadilly Circus – which, for those of you familiar with London’s geography, shows you that I hadn’t actually managed to walk all that far – it’s about 1.3 miles away from where I’d joined the march.
But there was a problem, for I had left the march by moving away and to the right – not something I do often – but Piccadilly Circus tube was in the other direction, which meant that to get to it, I would have to traverse the crowd. I started to pick my way through, and around half-way across was suddenly aware that I was not alone in my endeavours. I looked behind me and saw a Spanish couple blatantly tail-gating me, following in my rather wide berth.
“Are you following me?” I laughed
“Yes, keep going you’re doing very well!” they chirruped.
As we emerged from the other side, they thanked me for (unintentionally) helping them.
“No problem,” I replied, “it’s nice to help my European friends.”
Never let it be said that I don’t know how to deliver a cheesy line.
I got to Piccadily Circus tube, to find another massive crowd, which I’d been expecting. But this crowd was definitely not moving, as nobody was being allowed to proceed through the barriers and down to the platforms.
An announcement over the PA system: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Green Park station has now re-opened, but only for those wishing to exit or interchange.” Quite a few of the crowd left, which I found a bit puzzling, because the announcement made it very clear that whilst Green Park station was open, you couldn’t enter it, only exit.
And then another announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this station is now closed. There will be no more trains stopping at this station for the foreseeable time.”
Fair enough, I thought, as I trudged back up the stairs and into the streets. They have to make sure the service is safe to use, and if the presence of many, many more members of the public than usual meant that they may not be safe, then I understood their reasoning.
Bloody EU health and safety directives, stopping me from being crushed in the rush for a seat on the train! Grrrrr!!!
The irony of my not being able to Leave an Anti-Leave demonstration was not lost on me, however.
The tune which made me, and so many others around me, smile the most yesterday afternoon, I heard somewhere around Hyde Park Corner, close to the Bomber Command Memorial. It was a really rather appropriate record, the sort of thing which someone who…oh, I don’t know…writes a blog which often mixes stories, anecdotes, political comment and music might use.
For the sake of balance, I should end by pointing out that whilst (probably) a million people turned out to demonstrate and call for a People’s Vote in Central london, Nigel Farage was addressing a pro-Brexit rally.
To 200 attendees.
In a pub car park in Nottingham.
Will of the people, my arse.