Anti-Brexit protestors, People’s Vote March.

Revoke Article 50

Britain Takes Back Control

And yet there is hope. Today, on 1 April (Yes, April Fool’s Day,) the UK parliament debates the Revoke Article 50 petition.  For those who say petitions are useless,  this shows that when government is not listening, at least citizens can be heard and influence the political process.

The debate coincides with the next round of indicative votes on which kind of Brexit can command a majority in parliament.

Whilst the option of revoking Article 50 is unlikely to come out on top, at least at this stage, the petition helps to remind lawmakers that 10% of the population supports a “stop and think” option, which ultimately might offer them a way out of the political impasse.

In the meantime, for those who are still holding out for a “jobs first Brexit”, I would advise not to hold their breath.

I received what was described as a fuck-off email from the British government, like 6 million others who signed the Revoke Article 50 petition — the best-supported proposal in the history of the House of Commons petitions website.

The email appeared in my mailbox the morning after parliament had failed to find a majority for any way forward on Brexit, just days following an estimated million people from across the UK had marched on parliament to call for a people’s vote.

After an initial feeling of fury, and sending an ultimately pointless email response, I felt a strange sense of satisfaction.

In that one moment, the British government had pissed off 6 million people. We were all now experiencing the same thing: Anger, disbelief, and a determination to hold our executive to account.

It wasn’t just the fact that the email was so dismissive. It was a political statement that contained a number of disputed claims, clearly written by a pro-Brexit minister. It was also the same response to an earlier petition I had signed months before.

So much had changed in the intervening period, yet no-one thought to update the reply. The communication was a sign of stagnant government, and its stubborn refusal to acknowledge changing events. Or both.

The messaging was, of course, entirely in keeping with this government’s empty rhetoric and relentless use of slogans to avoid meaningful debate, such as Theresa May’s catatonic phrase “Brexit means Brexit” and in the ridiculously named Department for Exiting the EU. Rather like Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, we now have a Ministry of Silly Names.

But it started during the Referendum campaign when Vote Leave hit upon the Pavlovian dog-whistle strategy “take back control” and Nigel Farage repeated ad nauseam, “I want my country back.”

Such populist mantras on their own are almost impossible to argue against. Fortunately, with the passage of time and the unravelling of the Brexit utopia, we see the context and real meaning of those words.

But let’s not assume that to be the case. The tabloid media are still printing headlines pitting the people against the parliament, calling anyone who votes against Brexit “traitors” and “saboteurs”.

They are spurred on in no small part by a prime minister who publicly blames parliamentarians for her own failings and politicians who evoke the threat of angry mobs taking to the streets if “the will of the people” is not upheld.

The same premier doesn’t want to test that will of the people through a people’s vote, however. No surprise then, that as the much heralded Brexit day came and went on 29 March, crowds of angry Brexit supporters descended on 10 Downing Street.

They were whipped up by vigilante nationalist and convicted fraudster Tommy Robinson (an assumed “man of the people” name) broadcasting big screen, anti-Muslim hate speech just yards from the Cenotaph, the UK’s hallowed war memorial.

Robinson was joined by Ian Paisley, the discredited DUP member of parliament for Northern Ireland, eponymous son of renowned Unionist and eventual dealmaker in the Good Friday Agreement. And of course, Nigel Farage, basking in the adulation of his out-of-control supporters, in “enemy territory” as he described Westminster, the heart of UK government.

On the same day, Vote Leave, led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, quietly dropped its appeal against the Electoral Commission’s ruling that they had broken electoral law, by funding misleading online advertising of the thinly-veiled sister campaign BeLeave.

Precisely one year on from the original revelations by whistleblower Shahmir Sanni in the Observer that had cost him his job, his wellbeing, and his family’s security, and were ignored by the BBC and the rest of the UK’s mainstream media, the government email lauding “the biggest democratic vote in British history” no longer rings true.

As they say, the truth will out, but not always when or how we wish, or with the repercussions we would want.

Challenged (finally) on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show over the weekend, Vote Leave chair Gisela Stuart defended the legality of the campaign: “Our biggest problem was that we destroyed all our data,” she explained, without any apparent sense of self-awareness or understanding of the law.

Ms Stuart is no longer an MP, but remarkably she was appointed head of Wilton Park, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s prestigious global forum for democratic discussion between politics, business, academia, diplomacy, civil society and media.

It seems accountability is still to enter the world of Brexit politicians.

And yet there is hope.

Today, on 1 April (yes April Fool’s Day), the UK parliament debates the Revoke Article 50 petition. For those who say that signing petitions is a useless exercise, I would argue this shows that when government is not listening at least the voices of citizens can be heard and gather momentum to influence the political process.

The debate coincides with the next round of indicative votes on which kind of Brexit can command a majority in parliament.

Whilst the option of revoking Article 50 is unlikely to come out on top, at least at this stage, the petition helps to remind lawmakers that 10% of the population supports a “stop and think” option, which ultimately might offer them a way out of the political impasse.

In the meantime, for those who are still holding out for a “jobs first Brexit”, I would advise not to hold their breath.

Photograph courtesy of Michael Maggs. Published under a Creative Commons license.

Share on social media:Facebooktwitterlinkedin