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A deal. Who cares?
19 Nov, 2018

Chair's message to members - 19 November 2018

Dear Member or Supporter

So there was a Cabinet agreement that lasted several hours before the first resignations. Most of Theresa May's Cabinet would go along with the technical level - not political level - deal struck with the EU. There is just the vaguest, aspirational seven page draft of the only document that really matters - the outline political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship in the long term between the UK and the EU. 

Whether that is the position by the time this message lands in your in-box I am not going to try to forecast. I can't even forecast whether it's going to rain this afternoon. But no matter.

I don't much care what's in the deal. Even if the Prime Minister has changed her tune to "A bad deal is better than no-deal", as far as I am concerned all Brexits are bad. We do need to urge MPs to reject the deal - so do please go see your MP or write even if you have written recently; we have put up a new model letter on the website to get you started.

What does worry me is the public reaction. I don't think anyone is going to think it's a good deal. The deal is pretty similar to the one that Jeremy Corbyn has been advancing in his continuing freelancing role as a rebel against Labour Party policy; but I doubt he will make that point just now. Nor are many people going to be really reassured that no-deal has been avoided, or if they are the feeling will not last beyond the initial sense of relief. People are not going to look forward to a bright future where the country heals. There are not going to be a lot of positive feelings. And here I am not even thinking of the negative reaction of the Brexit dreamers or the die-hard Remainers like us. 

The People are bored of Brexit and wish that it would just go away

No, what I am worried about is the views of people who don't care about politics, the people who actually decide elections and referenda.

These are not people like us - we are in the just 8% of the population who have had some sort of contact with their MP about Brexit since the referendum. 92% of the population have not even clicked a link to send an automated e-mail on the biggest issue facing the country for decades.

They will be glad of the drama of resignations - the news is personal and interesting again; the theatre of negotiations. But on the substance of the deal, what I do think - fear - is that people will be glad that maybe now it is all over. That we will not have to think about Brexit ever again. That we can put this whole boring, incomprehensible, divisive subject back in the box.

As Rafael Behr in the Guardian (September 2018) perceptively put it: "Downing Street has one powerful argument: back this offer and Brexit is done; you don’t need to read the small print (which is boring), you just need to know that this is our chance to move on. This is closure."

In July 2018, Delatapoll found that 59% were really bored by Brexit, with only 14% disagreeing. The same survey  found that 60% agreed with the statement: "Right now, I no longer care how or when we leave the European Union, I just want it all over and done with."; only 34% disagreed.

The People's Vote is better at making Brexit just go away 

That - apathy, boredom, a wish that it would all go away - is what we have to guard against when we try to generate enthusiasm for the referendum on the terms with the option to Remain (People's Vote). How?

  • The deal should lead to renewed interest. We can point out how damaging it is. That the deal is as good as Brexit is ever going to get in real life. Theresa May has made a sincere attempt to deliver some of the dreams of Brexiters without doing too much damage to the economy. The EU is a regulatory magnet. Smaller countries in its orbit have to follow its rules. That is just how life works.
  • Brexit will not heal the country. It will not turn out as promised - the distance between the deal and the promises of 2016 is just the first instalment. Brexiters will spend years blaming people for their failure to do any analysis of realities. Resentments will grow. The underlying discontents that fuelled much of the Leave vote will not be addressed.
  • Positive arguments about the EU - how pooling sovereignty gets us more of what we want; how in this WWI centenary year we should value peace and the institutions that support it - although routine on the Continent are still novel to many people in the UK and might therefore get a hearing after all.
  • We can point out that if Brexit happens the debate will not go away. Government will be tied up for years implementing it. Negotiations with the EU are set to continue formally for years after Brexit day; they would be a permanent feature of sovereign Britain's life. The transition period alone (21 months plus an inevitable extension) is a stand-still on rules, but will consume the whole of Government and Parliament in negotiating with the EU. 
  • By contrast, a referendum would be short. A couple of months to get ready, an eight week campaign, then it's over. 
  • A referendum could be healing. The Remain movement has learned that we cannot go back to 22 June 2016. UK economy and society did not work for everyone. Remain has to be about a better future for all not just for those for whom it worked well. All the political parties have ideas. End Brexit and there would be time and capacity to put them into practice. We could focus on issues that matter to voters: NHS, taxes, crime, education. Europe was never a big issue for voters. It is not the EU that has made it a big issue, but Brexit. Paradoxically,  it is if we bin Brexit that Europe goes away as an issue.
  • A referendum could unite the country. There is no point in aiming just to scrape over 50%. In 1975 the result was 67%R:33%L. To achieve that in 2019 would require six million Leave voters to switch. But in 2016 half had made up their mind in the course of the year, so are surely open to persuasion. If we make it our aspiration and base our planning on that aim then we can achieve it.

We can ignore the hard Leavers. The person we need to convert is the middle ground voter who just wishes that it would all go away. Our task is to show them that saying yes to the deal means that Brexit stays an issue for many years; a referendum on the terms with the option to Remain means that it could disappear in the summer sunshine.

 

 

RICHARD NEWCOMBE
Chair
London4Europe

 

This e-mail sets out the personal views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of London4Europe.

Twitter: @London4Europe