Around 2,400 people filled Central Hall Westminster tonight to drive home the case – made by 700,000 marching on the streets three weeks ago – for the people to have a Final Say on any Brexit deal.
The crowd came from all over the UK but with a particularly strong contingent from here in Kent. The atmosphere was enthusiastic and passionate with clapping and cheering well before the speakers appeared. There was a real sense that the campaign is gaining more and more momentum.
Speeches kicked off with a young apprentice engineer from Northern Ireland. She was very clear that her future depends on an open and international economy – with our membership of the EU a key part of that. And that her community depends on the Good Friday peace agreement for Ireland, strengthened by the framework of EU membership.
Outstanding contributions by Anna Turley (Lab), Justin Greening (Con), Caroline Lucas (Green), Ian Blackford (SNP), Leyla Moran (Lib Dem) and Liz Saville-Roberts (Plaid Cymru) hammered home three key points:
- the deal proposed by the government is nothing like the vision promised for leaving the EU during the referendum
- it will make Britain, especially the least well off areas, poorer and destroy jobs
- to argue that there is no alternative to May’s ‘miserable deal’ or the chaos of no deal is an insult to the intelligence of voters.
All agreed to the need for fundamental change to create a fairer Britain. The 2016 referendum had exposed the divisions created by inequality. It was stressed that these divisions were created by political choices at Westminster, and not membership of the EU. Leaving will make reducing inequality harder, not easier.
Gary Lineker explained how he had initially accepted the referendum result. But, when it became clear that none of the promises made by the Leave leaders could be delivered, he thought another look at the situation was needed. Lineker made a point of saying there were many times in life when you look back with hindsight and wish you had made a different choice. Given the magnitude of this decision, wouldn’t it be right to take stock and confirm whether this was something that the country really wished to pursue after all? Lineker interviewed Jo Johnson who outlined how the same logic had driven him to resign from the government. The government’s plan simply fails to return anything like control to Parliament, and achieves little freedom for UK businesses to access new markets. There were few gains to be had but many disadvantages. Britain would be better off and have much more influence over its own future by staying in the European Union.
Dominic Grieve gave a powerful speech showing how the UK has been a leader in building international institutions and making them work. Over the last 150 years Britain has written more international treaties with more countries and with more supranational dispute settling systems (like the European Court of Justice) than any other. And it has given Britain influence far beyond its economic and military strength. No MP who cares about Britain’s future could throw away this heritage for no good reason.
Finally, David Lammy made the case for an open society with the ability to work internationally and to secure the citizens’ rights which EU membership has given us. This is not all about economics. There are also big issues which the government is unlikely to negotiate a good deal on, with human rights and equality guarantees all likely to be weakened if the government gets its way.
All the politicians agreed: MPs need to be challenged to justify why they would vote through a Withdrawal Agreement which makes their constituents poorer and less safe. And if they can’t, it is their duty in a representative democracy is to find a better way forward. This started with a vote by the people and they must now have a say in what the government has negotiated. A People’s Vote is essential to do just that.
The rally was livestreamed, and can still be watched here or via the People’s Vote Facebook page. The rally starts around 22 minutes into the video.