THREE years ago, our country voted narrowly to leave the European Union in a referendum that saw our city of Leeds split almost exactly down the middle.
In that referendum, 50.3 per cent of Leeds voted to stay while 49.7 per cent backed leaving. Since then, we have had endless debates about this or that form of Brexit.
But now it’s time to take stock of what we’ve learnt and ask if we really want to go ahead with this.
I’ve spoken to thousands of voters over these past few years on both sides of the debate. And I am pretty sure it was never the “will of the people” for factories to close, for jobs to be lost or for entire industries like car manufacturing, steel and agriculture across Yorkshire to be threatened by the risk of a humiliating no-deal Brexit.
Certainly, nobody I’ve met voted for politicians to spend all this time arguing and neglecting all the vital issues affecting people’s lives, from crime to education to protecting our environment.
And just about everyone can agree Brexit is not turning out to be as easy as those who campaigned for it once promised.
The people who made those promises – the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – never told us three years ago that we might end up crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. Of course, Farage and Johnson now tell us that we’ll be okay if that happens. But that’s because they’re always okay.
The North has taken lots of hits over the past few years and is rightly wary of politicians like that.
If the kind of Brexit favoured by Johnson and Farage goes ahead now, it will be our industries, both old and new, that get hit first and worst.
It will be our communities that suffer. It will be our schools and hospitals that get damaged. We know this because we’re already seeing what Brexit means in practice as thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in investment have been lost.
That’s why I wholeheartedly support the People’s Vote ‘Let Us Be Heard’ campaign, launching this Sunday (June 22), with a huge rally here in Leeds.
It’s great that we’re getting the chance to take the debate out of Westminster and into communities like ours that are already feeling the effects of Brexit.
The campaign will include 15 events across the whole of the country before heading to capital for a huge march through central London on October 12.
I’m sick of hearing from London-based journalists that somehow everyone north of Watford backs Nigel Farage, when we know that Yorkshire has as many diverse and changing views about Brexit as anywhere else.
But whether you voted Leave or Remain in 2016, this campaign is also about something else.
It’s about acknowledging that there is now no other democratic way of resolving this crisis now that the gap between what was promised and what it has turned out to be so huge.
Only by letting the people back into this process and making sure everyone’s voices are heard can we get an outcome that is legitimate.
Over the coming weeks, 160,000 Conservative Party members will be given the chance to vote for a new Prime Minister who will try to force a really tough version of Brexit through.
It cannot be right that such a tiny sliver of the country – just 0.25 per cent of the population and the equivalent to just a third of the population of Leeds – are given such a big influence on where we go with Brexit, while the rest of us get no say at all.
It’s time for our voice to be heard.
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.