Saturday: on the march

On the march at Hyde Park with Pippa Heylings, South East Cambridgeshire’s next MP.

An 07:50 start from home to get to Trumpington Park & Ride in time to join one of the coaches travelling to London for the march. Unusually, Parliament was sitting on a Saturday, and we would be there to let them know that over a million people were prepared to travel to the UK’s capital city on a weekend to call for the people to have the final say on Brexit.

Dropped off outside Madame Tussaud’s, we walked along Baker Street and met in our various agreed locations – in our case, near the Duke of Wellington memorial statue at Hyde Park Corner. It was great to catch up with friends from Cambridgeshire and further afield as we wended our way along Piccadilly to Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall. At one point we were walking behind two ladies carrying an Orkney flag who had come all the way down from the islands to join the march.

Shortly after we arrived in Trafalgar Square the heavens opened, leaving us all thoroughly soaked. But though we were dampened, our enthusiasm wasn’t.

We’d just reached the top of Whitehall when a huge cheer went up. I managed to get enough signal on my phone for a Twitter update, but people were already passing the news on – the ‘Letwin amendment’ had passed by 322 votes to 306. This meant parliament would not approve the prime minister’s deal until the withdrawal bill implementing Brexit had been passed – avoiding a situation in which the deal could pass on Saturday, but then the legislation implementing it could fall, allowing a no-deal exit on 31 October after all.

We watched some of the speakers on the giant TV screens along Whitehall, and eventually managed to reach Parliament Square itself to hear the MP speakers, before dragging our weary limbs to The Strand for a hot drink and chocolate cake and on to the waiting coaches home.

So what now for Brexit? The Prime Minister decided not to die in the ditch he said he would rather choose, but instead wrote the letter Parliament forced him to write requesting an extension of time.

The EU27 might grant this, or might refuse it.

The government might try to get Boris Johnson’s deal through parliament early this coming week, in which case if it were passed the extension would not be needed. Speaker Bercow would have to decide whether to allow yet another vote on the same subject.

We might have a vote of no confidence and a general election. 

The country is as divided as ever. Members of Parliament can agree what they don’t want, but not what they do want. The nation is paralysed. Employers and employees pack up and leave the country, medicines get shorter in supply, the economy falters. Playing on the growing national mixture of frustration and boredom, the Leave side is singing its siren song that a vote for Johnson’s deal (which has seen no assessment of its economic impact on our country) will ‘get Brexit done’.

But of course it wouldn’t – even after an exit on 31 October there would still be the long, painful years and years of negotiations about agreements and arrangements. There would be the growing pressure for independence in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Wales. ‘Brexit’ wouldn’t be the end of the story, just the beginning of a long, slow slog by a country weakened and isolated.

Isn’t it time to admit that this has been a massive wrong turn, retrace our steps, and become the country we were so enormously proud to be,  when we hosted the Olympics just seven years ago?

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