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A better Brexit?
06 Feb, 2018

Let’s focus on Remain

London4Europe Committee member and former senior civil servant Michael Romberg sets out why he is backing Remain – and not actively supporting any of the campaigns to ameliorate Brexit.

I wish to Remain

For me, the EU is not just about the single market, lower telephone bills, higher environmental standards, getting Apple to pay tax or whatever other law one likes.

  • First, the origins of the EU are as a European peace project. The aim was that EU members should never fight a war against each other again. In the life of the EU that peace has been the case. Of course, there have been many reasons why there has not been a war between member states. Nonetheless the EU has helped because the inevitable frictions between countries have been dissipated in interminable committee meetings rather than on the battlefield.
  • Second, the EU supports NATO as part of collective defence against enemies outside NATO. NATO is a military alliance. But wars are won by countries not by armies. Although EU and European NATO memberships do not overlap wholly, the EU provides an effective political counterpart to help make NATO effective (and vice versa). The economic prosperity that the EU enables means that countries have the resources to spend on defence and diplomatic clout in international fora.
  • Third, the EU supports freedom, democracy and the rule of law in member states. The biggest achievement has been in supporting former Warsaw Pact and Iberian post-dictatorship countries in their transition to democracy. But it keeps all of us on our toes.
  • Fourth, the EU stands for individual freedom. We are able to live, work, study, retire anywhere in this huge and diverse continent. We may marry a partner from another EU country and know that we may live together in any country. We may buy and sell across borders. We may do all of that by right, not having to ask an immigration officer for permission. We know that wherever we live or visit there are minimum standards of judicial independence, democratic behaviour, rights to vote, even access to healthcare.

Much but not all of the last of these is available through full membership of the single market – the Norwegian EEA model - but without any real ability to shape its future.

But the other three come only from EU membership. They are the ones that really matter. They are why I wish to Remain.          

Organisational Clarity

Whenever there is a March for Europe or an event at which both Remain bodies and Better Brexit bodies are taking part, we lose strategic focus. The two groups of bodies have fundamentally different and irreconcilable objectives.

I am not saying that we should not march. I have been on the London marches. But until there is an over-arching campaign both for Remain and a single method of Remaining (the referendum on the terms) generalised pro-EU campaigning will not get us anywhere.

You might say that is a sensible negotiating strategy, hedging your bets. There is something in that. My assessment is that Brexit is more likely than not – and damage limitation is useful. But it should not be the focus of our efforts if we actually wish to Remain.

The two arguments undercut each other. Suppose I say to my wife: “I do not wish us to buy a car, but if we do then it should be a sports car.” Well, my objections to buying a car do not amount to much since I am willing to contemplate a sports car. My preference for a sports car does not matter since I do not want a car anyway. So my wife buys a saloon.

Any truck with a Better Brexit compromises values. It means accepting Leave’s terms of the debate that the EU is a free trade area with some irritating add-ons. The only disagreement that Better Brexit campaigners have with Leave is how much other stuff to accept in order to obtain free trade with the EU.

So bodies should decide what they are for: Remain or Better Brexit, and campaign on one of those. And as there is no point in a soft Brexit, the only real choice is Remain.

I am therefore right glad of the national European Movement’s Chair’s unequivocal opening declaration at the 2017 national AGM of our purpose: “We are here to stop Brexit”.