The decision to leave the European Union is the biggest the UK has made since the Second World War. The vote in June 2016 followed a ferocious and toxic campaign which led to a win for Brexiteers by the slimmest of margins. We already know that a lot of what was promised was at best inaccurate and at worst deeply disingenuous.
There is a famous moral thought experiment called the Trolley Problem. The basic scenario is that a runaway trolley is careening down the tracks, heading towards five people. On the other track stands one person. You are stood next to a lever that would switch the trolley off the track leading to five people, but onto the one with one person on it. Do you pull the lever? Is it better to save five lives at the cost of one? What is the moral thing to do in that terrible situation?
While the damage that will inevitably be caused by Brexit is perhaps not quite as dramatic as that described by the Trolley Problem, the debate around what form Brexit should take does bear some resemblance: should we follow the path that will lead to huge and lasting damage to the future of this country, or instead try and soften the blow by pursuing a different path, even though the damage will still be serious? Or is there perhaps a third option, to halt the trolley altogether?
As the Brexit negotiations progress, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: the Brexit that was promised to people during the referendum is not the one that is being delivered. In fact, in many cases it is the direct opposite of what was promised.
We were told there’d be extra money for the NHS. In reality, the health service won’t see an extra penny and is instead suffering a serious staffing crisis as EU staff leave in ever-higher numbers.
We were told we’d get a trade deal delivering ‘the exact same benefits’ as we have now, as members of the single market and the customs union.
Now, the Prime Minister admits that won’t be the case, and David Davis is happily conceding that businesses exporting to the EU will face a Brexit bureaucracy bombshell.
We were told there’d be no changes to the Northern Ireland border.
Now we know a return to a hard border is a real possibility.
There’s a simple conclusion from all this: we need a ‘People’s Vote’ so that the public can decide whether the Brexit deal on offer is in the best interests of the country. This would not be a case of re-running the arguments made in 2016. This would be about looking at the actual reality of the deal on offer, rather than the fantasy promises we heard during the referendum, and voting on it.
Whatever you think of Brexit, whether you voted Remain or Leave, whether you think we’ll get a good deal or a bad deal, we all agree that it’s a big deal.
And that means it’s much too important to be left to 650 MPs in Westminster to decide on their own. The 65 million people of this country deserve to have their voices heard as well.
That’s why I support a ‘People’s Vote’ on the terms of Brexit, and that’s what I’ll be campaigning for over the coming months.
Gareth Thomas is Labour MP for Harrow West