March for Europe: Newcastle

On Saturday I spoke to a crowd of over 1,000 people who were protesting against the Tory hard Brexit which they  did not vote for. This is a summary of my speech:


Why are we here? Hasn’t this issue been settled by the referendum? Our answer is no!

There are two arguments why this isn’t a settled issue – one frequently given by people who voted to remain and another increasingly given by people who voted to leave.

Those who voted to remain often point out that this was an advisory referendum, won by a narrow majority, on the basis of a pack of lies and with the gerrymandered franchise.

Advisory means that it is not binding.

The narrow majority means that there is all the more reason to treat it as advisory – and let us not forget that it was Nigel Farage who said 52-48 settles nothing, when he thought it would be the other way round!

As to the pack of lies, there is a new expression in the English language for that – it’s called “written on the side of a bus”!

When it comes to the franchise, we cannot forget that most Brits living in other EU countries were unable to vote, nor were fellow EU citizens living here, nor were 16- and 17-year-olds, in contrast to the Scottish independence referendum.

But of growing importance is the argument put forward on behalf of people who voted to leave.

Many of them feel that they gave a mandate to the government to seek Brexit, but on condition that it is a Brexit that works for Britain without sinking the economy.

Only a few people voted for Brexit-at-any-cost. Many voted for Brexit-at-no-cost, because they were told there would be no cost – even that it would save money that we could use for the NHS.

As it becomes clear that Brexit is going to be a costly affair, they are entitled to demand a right to reconsider.

Because Leave voters did not vote for a customs barrier to our main export market.

Leave voters did not vote to take our universities out of European research programmes.

Leave voters did not vote to deny our hospitals access to Euratom’s radioactive isotopes for cancer treatment.

Leave voters did not vote to cut our farmers out of European markets.

Leave voters did not vote to end the ability of our police forces to cooperate across Europe through Europol to fight cross-border crime, international gangs and terrorists.

Leave voters did not vote to deny Britain’s financial sector access to the European market.

Leave voters did not vote for ending student exchanges through the ERASMUS scheme.

Leave voters did not vote to end the common rules that protect consumers across Europe.

Leave voters did not vote to pull our airlines out of the European aviation area.

Leave voters did not vote to remove us from useful agencies such as the European Chemicals Agency or the London-based European Medicines Agency, where we pool resources to test the safety of products more effectively and at lower cost.

Leave voters did not want to stop the assistance given to less prosperous areas.

And they certainly didn’t vote for a settlement that altogether damages our economy, costs billions and sacrifices jobs.

But this seems to be precisely where the government is taking us. They may say that they want the best possible deal, but they have already chosen to go for a so-called hard Brexit, outside the single market and the customs union, and not staying in any of what Theresa May calls “bits of the EU”, however beneficial.

Yet they still expect to gain free access to the single market, with no tariffs, no border formalities, no acceptance of common rules for the common market, no dispute settlement mechanism through our shared court. They think you can resign from a club and still use its facilities with no obligation to follow the rules.

Well, as John Kerr put it so well: over the next two years, we will test to destruction the theory that you can have your cake and eat it.

But when it becomes clear that we can’t, we must have the right to pull back from the abyss. There is no mandate for a disaster.

At that point Parliament must reject the Article 50 divorce deal and we must withdraw the notification of our intention to leave.

As David Davis said, “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”.

And if that requires a new referendum, then so be it!

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