Today, I marched with a million other people through London to protest Brexit. Feels a bit like déjà vu, eh? Yes, some three and half years after the initial vote, and six months after I first took to the streets with a similarly large group, I was back at Marble Arch, ready to shout “Bollocks to Brexit” with everyone else until I was hoarse. As I wrote about earlier this week, in lieu of a People’s Vote, I welcome the continuous extensions. Of course I’m tired of Brexit, we all are, but I truly believe it will be so awful that I don’t care how long it takes. I was in a meeting at work when I found out that Juncker (misleadingly, and inaccurately) said that there would not be “any kind of prolongation.” I almost cried. I felt so, so sad at the thought that all this fighting would have been for nothing, and that we would leave with a destructive deal in only a few weeks. I realised then how much this means to me, and that, however naïvely, I continue to believe that there is another, better ending to this saga.
It did feel weird to be taking part in one of the largest demonstrations in British history mere days after Extinction Rebellion’s peaceful protests were banned. While I’ve made my complicated feelings about Extinction Rebellion clear, I do think that the blanket ban was unmitigated, perhaps even illegal, bullshit. The police presence in central London has been insane this week and I couldn’t help but side-eye the officers lining the march, knowing the force’s limit for protests had apparently been reached.
It feels truly bizarre to still be listening to people suggest that the original vote is the end of the conversation. To me, where we are now feels fundamentally different from 2016. Of course, the original result is part of the Brexit conversation. But so much has happened since then, not least that it has been made clear that enacting Brexit in reality is all but impossible. It’s like if you had leg pain, and a doctor asked you if you wanted them to get rid of that pain. You weren’t sure; you ummed and aahed, but eventually you said, “okay. Let’s do something about my sore leg.” The doctor then said “great. I’ll cut it off.”
A big part of you then said “WHAT?” But it didn’t matter that the method wasn’t discussed beforehand, it didn’t matter that this procedure would leave you severely disabled, it didn’t matter that much of you was now – given that you understood what the process would actually entail – very reticent to go ahead, you had said yes that one time. It is patently ludicrous to pretend that what Brexit means now isn’t entirely different from when that vote was taken, primarily because Brexit actually means something now, rather than being an ephemeral ideology which allows people to ascribe any meaning that they want to it. I can’t take it.
It is made more painful because those enacting this crisis in Westminster are not even doing so because they agree with the basic ideology. Or rather, they probably agree with the xenophobia and the racism too, but they are also motivated by the huge profits waiting for them on the other side of these negotiations. As Naomi Klein details in her book the Shock Doctrine, these sorts of crises are exactly when rightwing neoliberals leap in and privatise large swathes of the economy, stripping the public sector. Not only would this be a nightmare socially, but environmentally too, as this is a time when we need to giving private companies less influence, not more.
I watched the Letwin amendment get passed live at Parliament Square, huddled in my raincoat alongside other protestors. The crowd roared. In true Johnson fashion, Boris has already suggested that he will (illegally?) not be following this mandate, but nevertheless, I’m hopeful. Maybe I’m just naïve, but I truly don’t think it’s over yet.
You’ve got MPs turning down every deal – even the rightwing DUP were apparently not going to vote in favour of Johnson’s deal today, a true indictment of his influence in Parliament – and you’ve got millions marching in the streets. I’m not saying that this is enough to be sure that the country doesn’t want to Brexit anymore. I am saying that it’s enough to be sure that you can’t be sure either way. All we are marching for is chance to have another say. Given everything that’s happened, I don’t think that should be so controversial.
And the fact that another vote of any kind remains a complete nonstarter is indicative of one of two things: that the Tories are unconcerned with honouring what the people want or that they are not confident that the British public will support them and their deals. If the Conservatives were truly confident that this is what the people want, it wouldn’t be threatening to have another vote. But given that Brexit is about making a small group of people very rich and pandering to the imperialist fantasies of small contingent of the Tory party, getting the masses’ opinions is not part of the plan. Whether or not Brexit has a mandate across the nation is no longer relevant. It probably never was.
You know what I think. Let’s not do it. The original vote is tainted with the Leave campaign’s election fraud. The negotiations have only served to make clear how fractured we are. All the research suggests that it will make everything worse. That one question on a ballot paper three years ago set off a bomb that we were unprepared for and still don’t understand. Everything has changed since then. We deserve another chance to vote on Brexit given all that we know now – our future depends on it. That’s why I marched today. I hope it won’t end up being for nothing.