Today is one of the greatest days in the history of British democracy. When Theresa May seals the Article 50 letter and sends it to Brussels, she’ll do so under the democratic order of 17.4million Britons, the largest number of people to have voted for anything in the history of this country. When we cast our votes in the EU referendum last June, it was the first time in decades that our vote felt like it truly meant something. We felt the weight of a real democratic choice as we stood in the voting booth. It’s become a cliché – but it’s true. And today is the day that that democratic clout will finally be made real.
It’s more striking for the fact that Brexit is being carried through against the apparently better instincts of our political class. The prime minister, the chancellor, the leadership of all parliamentary parties, the vast majority of the Commons and the Lords, backed Remain, steeled by the doom-mongering claims of academia and big business. And the horror that we, the ‘low-information’ electorate, dared to defy them sparked the unshackled demosphobia we’ve had to endure over the past nine months. That the Commons and the Lords eventually rolled over in the face of the Article 50 bill reveals that for the first time in a long time our leaders fear us; they feel our breath on their backs. In a democracy, that’s how it should be.
We can’t let the significance of today escape us. The history of EU referenda is an ignoble one. The French, the Dutch, the Irish, the Greeks… whenever European peoples rejected EU treaties or said OXI to EU-backed austerity, they were made to vote again, were stitched up by their own leaders, or were ignored entirely. The most dogged anti-democrats still hold out hope that this history will repeat itself with Brexit. But the war of attrition has failed. The polls show time and again that Brexit voters are uncowed, and that most Remain voters, good democrats that they are, insist the will of the people be done.