For the first time in nearly 40 years, the British parliament will meet on a Saturday tomorrow. At stake is what sort of country it will become over the next generation. Will it remain in, or closely aligned to the European Union, or will it become a satellite of the United States? Will it become a deregulated, free-market “Singapore-on-Thames”, or will it start to finally redress the acute inequalities in British society which have led to the worst political crisis in modern Britains history? Indeed, will the United Kingdom as an entity still exist in 20 years time?
Brexit march: How many people are marching in the Peoples Vote March today?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done a deal to leave the EU. He is desperately trying to garner votes to get that deal through parliament tomorrow. If he succeeds, Britain will leave the EU on October 31, and embark on a series of trade talks that will redefine Britains role in the world.
Brexit: Decision day – sort of
Boris Johnson represents that part of the British establishment which has always seen the EU as a break on Britains imperial pretensions and its ability to use trade deals to deregulate and privatise the public sector. This part of Britains ruling elite feel themselves closer to the US than the EU, which is why Johnson has put such huge weight on a trade deal with the Trump administration – a deal which would allow him to cement lower standards and push the UK away from Europe in perpetuity.
Will he succeed? The numbers are tight, and frankly, no one knows what will happen. Johnsons deal is not so different from the one Theresa May negotiated, a deal which was overwhelmingly defeated by the House of Commons on three occasions. But Johnson has three advantages over May.
First, he has downgraded promises to retain consumer, environmental and workplace standards, and designed a much looser relationship with the EU. This is music to the ears of his Europhobic hard-right backbenchers, who see Brexit as a form of shock doctrine which can be used to shift power irrevocably away from ordinary people and towards the capital. Indeed, Johnsons deal talks explicitly about the importance of freedom of capital, while ending freedom of movement for people.
Johnsons second advantage is simply that he is personally trusted by the hard-right which is now in charge of the Conservative Party, in a way May never was. She was seen as a reluctant Brexiteer, without a deep ideological commitment to the programme of liberalisation.
His third advantage is tactical. It is becoming clear that any sort of Brexit is now in peril. If Johnson loses the vote tomorrow, parliament has legislated to prevent him from simply exiting the EU without a deal. How watertight that legislation is, remains to be seen, but it is clearly a major cause of anxiety for a government that has no majority and has lost nearly every vote it has put to parliament. A defeat for Johnson would likely be followed by an election or a referendum, and the outcome of either is still very unclear. For committed Brexiteers, even if they do not particularly like every aspect of Johnsons deal, voting for it is the safest way to leave the EU.
There is one final interesting change to Johnsons deal which makes the outcome even more uncertain. Johnsons deal has sacrificed his allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a hard-right political party from the north of Ireland which has propped up the Conservatives since the last election. The DUP are staunch “unionists” – they believe the north of Ireland should be British forever, and so any “border”, however soft, between mainland Britain and the north of Ireland, is a major problem for them.
However, if Britain is to leave the EU and diverge from the single market, there needs to be a border somewhere. If not between Ireland and the UK, then it would be drawn across the island of Ireland. But the EU has insisted that there be no border between the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Such a border represents a defeat for those in the north who want to be part of a united Ireland. A hard border could reignite violence in the north, and make life extremely difficult for those who live close to the border and depend upon free movement of people and goods.
Johnson has accepted the EUs position. Although there are many legal niceties around it, in practice the north of Ireland will remain part of the EUs regulatory regime. The Northern Ireland Assembly does have the power to change this in the future, but given the divisions in that assembly (so deep that it cannot even agree on a way to meet at the current time), it will almost certainly never happen. A united Ireland becomes a step closer. Johnson has undermined one British imperial project (Ireland) for another (Brexit) and will lose votes from the right of his own party as a result. Whats more, the fact that the north of Ireland has special status will enrage the independence movement in Scotland, another part of the UK to vote firmly in favour of remaining in the EU, but whose wishes have been overridden.
Tomorrows extraordinary parliamentary vote will be accompanied by a massive protest in London calling for a second referendum to let the people decide the outcome of this political crisis. Inside the House of Commons, party leaders on both sides will be working overtime to ensure their MPs back the leadership line – to approve or to oppose Johnsons deal. The consequences are massive – not simply about membership of the EU, but what the British economy and British society will look like in the coming decades – and indeed whether the UK will even continue to exist.
The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeeras editorial stance.
Brexit uncertainty has hovered above the UK since the referendum result in June 2016. But attempts to delay the UK’s departure from the EU appear likely to succeed today as the Letwin amendment seems likely to pass. Previous deals have been defeated in Parliament three times, but now thousands of protesters took part in a Final Say People’s Vote March in a bid to demand the government to allow citizens a vote on the current Brexit deal with several MPs raising whether a referendum ought to be held on the deal before it is ratified. But how many people attended the Final Say march today?
Video: Watch UK Parliament debate Brexit in historic session
People from around the country began to gather at Park Lane in London from the late morning in order to begin the march towards Parliament Square at midday.
The campaign, organised by grassroots group the People’s Vote, is demanding a fresh Brexit vote ahead of the Article 50 deadline on October 31.
Organisers claim today’s march could be their biggest yet after several previous marches in the capital, including one that attracted thousands in October 2018.
The event description reads: “We cannot let this broken Brexit be forced on the British people.
“It’s now clear that this is a crisis that cannot be settled by our Prime Minister or his Government.
The protesters will commence from Park Lane at midday and make their way to Parliament Square for 2pm.
Once marchers have reached Parliament Square, cross-party politicians and celebrities will address the crowds.
People’s Vote said it has organised the march to deliver its message to the Government and MPs.
It said: “The march from Park Lane to Parliament will deliver a message loud and clear to the Government and MPs that they should trust the people, not Boris Johnson, to solve the Brexit crisis.
“It follows a series of packed “Let Us Be Heard” rallies in towns and cities across the UK this summer where people from all walks of life have demanded the right to a final say on Brexit.
“This Brexit crisis has now come down to a simple question about whether we live in a democracy: can we allow Boris Johnson to force No Deal – or another vicious form of Brexit – on our country, without all of us having our voice heard?
“The only way to break the deadlock in Parliament, legitimise the outcome and allow us all to talk about something else, is to give the people the final say.”
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Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan wrote in The Independent on Friday: “I’ll be joining hundreds of thousands of people in London to make sure our message is heard loud and clear over the jeers and sneers in the House of Commons.”
One twitter user wrote: “Up at 4.15 to get to London from Edinburgh #PeoplesVote #PeoplesVoteMarch”.
Another tweeted a picture of the packed Green Park tube station full of protesters making their way to the march.
One protester even shared an image of Patrick Stewart who paid for Brexit protesters to travel to London for the protest.
According to a recent poll, more people’s preferred outcome is now for the UK to leave the European Union at 50 percent against 42 percent to remain.
Those who answered with “don’t know” were excluded, however, more than half say their preferred outcome is for the UK to leave the EU (54 percent) compared to less than half who say their preferred outcome is for the UK to remain in the EU (46 percent)