Steven Agnew is the Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland.
It’s a year to the day since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. It’s been remarkable but often disconcerting.
The Green Party campaigned to Remain within the EU with great effort and energy. A year later, we haven’t shifted from our position that the interests of Northern Ireland are best served within the European Union. In fact, events of the past year only emphasise the point.
The fact that one year on we still do not know what Brexit means does not inspire confidence in those negotiating an exit. We still do not know what ‘no hard border’ means in practice. We do not know what opportunities could be lost for our young people. We do not know what social and environmental protections could be lost.
Yet we are being bound to a vote that was taken in ignorance – by all of us. Only when we see the small print will we know what Brexit means. We cannot know until the ink has dried on the final settlement deal in two years’ time.
That is why the Green Party is calling for a referendum of the terms of the final Brexit deal. This referendum would allow us to make an informed decision with the option to remain on the cards. The issue of the border between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland would be set out, we would know what the UK would pay as a final settlement agreement and we would understand what rights EU nationals will have within the UK and indeed UK citizens living across the 27 European states.
It should be up to the people not have the final say, not a weakened Tory government, if it manages to retain power for the next two years.
Public opinion looks to be shifting towards support for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. A recent Survation survey shows that those who oppose a Brexit poll are now in the minority. This comes as a welcome acknowledgment that democracy did not end a year ago.
Theresa May’s leadership certainly doesn’t inspire confidence as the UK enters into discussions with EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier. Indeed, Theresa May’s dismal recent election performance means that she may not stay the course as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader during these negotiations.
However, if Theresa May succumbs to pressure from within her own ranks, I don’t trust any Tory Prime Minister to put people first during the exit period. I do however trust the democratic process and the ability of the people to make an informed decision when the full facts are available to us in black and white.
That’s why, one year on from the decision to exit the European Union, a referendum on the final Brexit deal is a must.