All this week, the streets and stretches of grass outside Westminster have been filled with protesters, politicians and pundits, all claiming they know what’s best for Brexit. Earlier than expected on Tuesday night, catching cameramen stood out in the cold off-guard, MPs voted to shoot down prime minister Theresa May’s deal by 432 to 202.
This was a historic moment in British history – and yet it has changed nothing. Most commentators admit that May’s deal is going nowhere, refusing to be consigned to the dustbin of history as a deal which delivers Brexit in name only while simultaneously failing to win over the support of enough MPs to get it through. What looked like a dramatic 24 hours in parliament has simply been MPs playing games, attempting to gain retweets with their points of order and – crucially – getting no closer to delivering what 17.4 million people voted for in 2016.
Don’t be fooled – what happened in parliament this week was not a debate between Leavers and Remainers. This was not a battle between anti-Brexiteers and staunch democrats, unmovable in their support for the will of the people. No, instead what us lowly voters saw, as we watched from outside the cosy rooms of Westminster, was two groups warring over how best to scupper our vote.
Those in support of May’s deal know the backstop arrangements limit Britain’s agency in negotiations with the EU, meaning in all key areas – sovereignty, trade, laws and borders – it’s merely the whisper of a Brexit. They want the deal to go through so that they can pretend they’ve done their job, but keep the status quo.
Those against the deal are not rejecting it because they wish to defend democracy and argue for a better deal, rather they want to stop Brexit completely. In the words of Labour MP David Lammy, Brexit is a “dangerous fantasy”. With the honourable mention of a handful of MPs – like the so-called Tory rebel Jacob Rees-Mogg, or the Labour Party Brexiteer Kate Hoey – the vast majority of MPs can’t overcome the fact that they are Remainers at heart.
Some people find it hard to believe that I cast my vote for Brexit in the June referendum 2½ years ago – because I’m a young(ish) woman, living in the Remain heartlands of London with Irish parents. All the algorithms and the stereotypes put me firmly in the group of people who paint their faces with the EU flag and bawl every time a normal working person comes within five feet of them. But it no longer matters what way people voted anymore, the myth of the Leave vs Remain division can no longer be tolerated. Most of the country believes in democracy, and understands that taking part in a referendum in good faith means honouring the result, even if your team lost.
There is only one option left for those of us who consider democracy worth fighting for – to push for a no-deal Brexit
But surely I don’t need to lecture Irish readers on the issue of being made to vote again – the EU has done that to you twice already. But there are better comparisons with Ireland and the UK when it comes to referendums. Last year, Irish voters saw through a historic vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. What if Irish Yes voters were told they were misinformed, sold a “fantasy”, told they were “harming themselves” by voting for better abortion rights? This is the kind of denigration Brexit voters have patiently sat through for the last 2½ years.
There is only one option left for those of us who consider democracy something worth fighting for – to push for a no-deal Brexit. This is not what we voted for initially, and it will come with its own challenges. It’s scandalous that the British government has failed to prepare for a no-deal scenario, and is now using this deliberate mistake as a means to stop us from cutting the cord with the EU and being done with it all. Nevertheless, for every scaremongering story about backed-up lorries, violence across borders and economic catastrophe, voters know that we’ve been here before. During the referendum, we heard all about the dangers that Brexit might bring. Two years on and still no third World War – we now know how to sort fact from fiction.
At this point, anyone with half a brain has to admit that both the EU and the British government are hell-bent on getting British voters to do what Irish voters were forced to do in 2002 and 2009, and give them the result they want. This is about something bigger than Brexit – we’re currently watching the dirty, elitist rot at the heart of Westminster being exposed. So no, this won’t be the week to see the end of Brexit either way. It’s only the beginning of a much bigger battle for a new kind of politics.
Ella Whelan is a writer and columnist with Spiked