Despite the People’s Vote March and the Letwin Amendment, the Brexit sword is poised above our neck, Nyla Nox writes.

First published in October 2019.

Anne Boleyn had a deadline. She was scheduled to be beheaded on 18 May 1536 at 9.00am. But when it came to 8.00am, her death had to be postponed because the special executioner ordered for her (an expert in beheading royals) had run into trouble trying to cross the channel at Calais.

Print by Jan Luyken and Jan Claesz ten Hoorn. | Rijksmuseum.

Her beheading was twice postponed again. Every time, the clock ran almost down to her personal deadline and then there was another delay.

But it did happen, eventually. Although almost certainly innocent of the crimes she was accused of, the British government of the time accomplished its goal and the specialist executioner beheaded the unfortunate Queen after a brief extension.

I can’t help remembering this terrible tale from British history every time there is another Brexit deadline. And yesterday there was another one, and another brief but uncertain delay.

The People’s Vote March was a difficult march, for many of us. After all it seemed very possible that Brexit would be voted through while we were marching.

There was a pervading sense of sadness. Many people I talked to (these marches are great occasions for meeting people as different from me as can be and still fighting for the same goal) said they were sad. Exhausted. Afraid. Many said that Brexit was now real.

And just in case you think it was just me projecting my own feelings, Bob Geldof was on TV, saying exactly the same thing.

The march was indeed very very big. 2.2 million said a German TV station. Sky News said 2 million. The BBC said several thousand. Police I spoke to, informally, said it was definitely the biggest march yet.

People tried to comfort each other, saying ‘we’ll rejoin’ but others said, quite correctly, that it would take a long long time. And the UK would, at least as of now, not even fulfil the admission criteria in terms of democracy.

I managed to get into Parliament square (more difficult than ever before), and I got to see the screen. We waited, we watched, we shared fear and sadness and a little bit of desperate hope.

We were shown the inside of the House of Commons, and the dramatic moment when the tellers came back to tell us our fate.

And then the Letwin Amendment got through. There was a big scream, from all of us. We were relieved. It seemed like a big turning point. Almost like a win. (And what kind of parliament is this where just making sure normal procedures are followed has to be celebrated as a big win?)

MPs came out from Parliament and talked to us. They thanked us, they said we could be heard ‘inside’.

We were encouraged to celebrate.

But I could see on their faces what Dominic Grieve and Hillary Benn also then said: this is by no means over. It’s still an uphill fight. We may still be subjected to this terrible Withdrawal Agreement and of course, if so, it is final. Irreversible. Out means out. You can’t just put your head back on once the executioner has cut it off.

The MPs looked as if they’d had a near death experience.

Still, it is possible to have a near death experience and go on to live to a great old age.

It is possible that Brexit can still be averted. I felt reassured by all those hard working MPs on our side who said they would try whatever they could. On the other hand, when our PM sent his unsigned, graceless letter to the EU in order not to break the law (as he had so defiantly said he would not while we were still out there) I couldn’t help reflecting on how difficult it had been to just get him to do what would normally be considered a standard action. Parliament decides, the executive follows. Will it now take this amount of effort to make sure the PM doesn’t violate the law, trick our MPs into outcomes they don’t want, and push us over an irreversible deadline?

Unlike Anne Boleyn, not all those who are sentenced to death are executed.

But, as I said in my previous article, we have now arrived at a point where we need to stop wishful thinking. The EU will not save us. It will save its own member states. Not the UK if it leaves. The English channel will become a deep abyss.

There is no higher authority that will suddenly issue a pardon.

We have to break out of the deadlines that our government (and our parliament) created for us. We have to remember that we are the people, the democratic sovereign.

At the moment, we have to rely on our MPs, the great ones and the stupid ones alike. And we have to try to support them as much as we can so that we, the people, get a say in our own fate at some point.

If we do, if there is a second referendum, or People’s Vote, I am actually pretty sure that Remain will win. So is the government and the current Prime Minister. That’s why they will do anything they can to prevent it. And a little trouble at Calais won’t stop them. We need to stop them.

It was great to be with over 2 million people who travelled from all over the country and from many EU countries to tell those in power that we want to stay in the EU. We don’t want them to force us out against our will. We are now a majority.

But the deadline is still hanging over us. The sword is poised above our neck. We are not yet free.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 20 October 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: The People’s Vote March, 19 Oct 2019. | Photographs and video by Nyla Nox.)