When does discussion on a given political topic end? At what point should campaigning, protesting, marching and voting stop? Should the remainers just shut up now? Should we simply accept hard Brexit and move on? One green voter’s response to a loud brexiteer.
“Do you think we should just keep voting and voting until you get the result you want?” he asked as we paraded past, chanting “Yes to Europe, no to Trump!”, waving our EU flags and carrying signs with messages such as “Take back your future!” and “24 reasons to remain EU”. There could be no confusion as to why we were marching through Newbury on a Saturday lunchtime.
Nobody seemed to want to take him on in a street debate, and the best I could manage over the noise of the hustle and bustle of the busy marketplace was “you might want to look up the meaning of the word ‘democracy'”. But it is – I suppose – a valid question, and so I wanted to take some time to write a more complete response.
The short answer, obviously, is “yes”! As remainers most of us would love to see another vote on the referendum that comes out in our favour, that goes without saying. But the reality is that the vote was 52% leave to 48% remain and the government promised to honour the result of the referendum. That’s the UK we are now living in: Post-referendum, pre-brexit Britain. We’re still in the EU but May’s finger is hovering over the big red ejector-seat button.
But just because the vote was to leave doesn’t mean we have to like it. Had the vote gone the other way would UKIP have shut down their operations and disappeared like a puff of smoke? Would Nigel Farage have resigned his position as MEP? Would his “you’re not laughing now” speech have been “you were all right all along”? No, of course not. And why? Because that’s not how democracy works.
Ultimately when we feel our position is not being represented we fight for it.
In 1975 the UK took to the polls to vote in its first ever referendum: Membership of the EU. In 1975 the vote was 67% to remain in the EU versus 33% to leave. In 2016 the result was 52% leave to 48% remain. It took 41 years, but the leave camp got the vote they had wanted since 1975. Should the 2016 vote have been taken? After all the vote had surely already been decided in 1975!
By his logic we should never have had the 2016 referendum because, well, the will of the people was clear in 1975. And by a much larger margin, I might add.
I’m sure the gentleman who took exception to our pro-EU march would be the first to argue that the 2016 vote was justified, that the will of the people had changed, and that the result should replace the previous vote of 1975.
After the 1975 result was announced did the eurosceptic Labour MPs, SNP, Plaid Cymru and National Front parties simply “suck it up” and accept that the UK was now part of the EU forevermore? No! They kept fighting and, eventually, got the result they wanted.
To expect us, the remainers, to not do the same would be madness. It’s not undemocratic to rally against something we passionately believe is wrong and harmful. It’s not “against the will of the people” to put forward an alternative viewpoint. That’s the beauty of democracy, it allows us to keep discussing ideas even if they’re not popular.
But above all else, our reason for marching through Newbury as part of the West Berkshire Stronger Together Rally for EU wasn’t to overthrow the result. We weren’t calling for a second referendum. We weren’t demanding that Article 50 never be triggered. Our message was simple: 48% of us voted to remain (52% in West Berkshire) and yet we are ignored by the Conservative government. The terms of a Brexit Britain weren’t spelled out on the ballot paper, yet we are told “Brexit means Brexit”, and then we are told “Brexit means the hardest Brexit possible”.
That is why we campaign. That is why we protest. And while we continue to not be represented by our local MP or by our government, we will continue to fight for the common good.