The United Kingdom government’s attempts to create consensus around a Brexit deal have collapsed. Now the people must be allowed to have their say again.
Despite British Prime Minister Theresa May’s insistence that her plan was the only possible outcome, Parliament rejected it by an unprecedented majority of 230 votes — the largest defeat in modern British political history.
Parliament was right to reject the deal. It doesn’t meet the promises made to the British electorate in 2016 — we were told we could “take back control” from Brussels while simultaneously enjoying the exact same benefits as a full European Union member. Instead, this deal would have left us poorer while ensuring we were bound by E.U. rules for years to come. Worse still, we would have given up our say in how these rules were to be made.
But the real reason this deal was deemed unpalatable by the overwhelming majority of our elected representatives was that it settles almost nothing. Far from providing the country with much-needed certainty, it would merely have postponed all of the difficult decisions until later, surrendering all of our leverage in the negotiations in the process. Under this deal, on March 29, Britain would have entered an era of “Brexternity.” The rest of my lifetime would have been spent with the same issues — broadly, trade negotiations and political relationships — endlessly consuming policymakers and the media alike.
Which brings us to young people, who will be responsible for clearing up the mess our elders make of Brexit. It didn’t matter, apparently, that some 3 in 4 young people voted to Remain. It didn’t matter that the number of Remain-backing 18- to 24-year-olds is now up to 8 in 10. The prime minister and her cabinet repeatedly ignored the growing objections from a younger generation who see Britain’s interests as better served standing alongside our European neighbors than apart from them. Now the government is facing the consequences.
Front and center of the calls for a People’s Vote on the future direction of this country are young people. In one of the very few upsides of Britain’s current political crisis, the younger generation is finally being taken seriously as our politicians bicker and fight like children., a group of which I am a co-founder, has tirelessly lobbied representatives over the course of the past 12 months to help push for a second referendum, and since we began, the political landscape has shifted irrevocably in our favor.
In modern democracies across the world, commentators are taking note of a widening generational chasm. With representative democracy in essence unrepresentative of the young — our politicians are older than us, and we almost always lack the numbers necessary to determine their electoral victory or defeat — we have been forced to find new and innovative ways of demanding our interests are on the agenda.
Brexit was the last straw for many of Britain’s young, and their passion and energy in opposition has been channeled into a movement offering a new path for our country. The People’s Vote campaign was laughed at when it launched in April. A referendum on our final terms of departure was considered a pipe dream for campaigners such as myself. But it has since entered the mainstream and will be the only way forward for a country desperate to avoid a calamitous Brexit or total stagnation.
So what happens next? Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, lost the vote of no confidence he tabled in the government last night. May took to the podium to say she will reach across the benches to find a solution — after more than two years of refusing to do so. It then transpired that this grand exercise in consensus-building would not include Corbyn, who refuses to engage until the option of a No Deal departure is taken off the table. The gridlock continues, costing the nation $645 million per week.
Corbyn’s plan involves the same sort of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too logic (“cakeism,” as it is known in Brussels) of which the government stands accused. A “jobs-first” Brexit is a pipe dream. Members of his front bench have expressed doubts about the prospect of renegotiation; the country wants certainty, not a further back and forth.
Fundamentally, both Corbyn and May refuse to face up to reality. Her plan is dead. His is deluded. What was promised in 2016 cannot be delivered. There is, understandably, no Brexit that leaves us with the same benefits that we enjoyed as members of the E.U. without incurring some costs. New facts have emerged about the reality of leaving the E.U., including the potential of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and a $50 billion divorce bill. It is reasonable to ask the people whether they want to continue on a course that is not as easy as it first seemed.
Factions in Parliament disagree intractably on the trade-offs Brexit should involve. Some want more sovereignty at the cost of significant economic damage. Others prefer to minimize damage but to lose the control promised to voters. Neither option is particularly palatable, and no outcome will be able to command a majority in Parliament.
For this reason, the country has just one option left: handing the decision back to the people to decide. Young people will be at the center this time round — and rightly so.
Lara Spirit is co-founder of, which is campaigning for a second Brexit referendum.