Preparing the ground for the Meaningful Parliamentary Vote
London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg lists the main campaigning aims and themes we should put forward in order to ensure that we can capitalise on the meaningful vote by obtaining a referendum on the terms – the previous blog looked at what might happen in that vote.
The results we want are (1) that voters decide to Remain; and (2) that MPs vote to provide a referendum on the deal with the option to Remain. A referendum is the only vehicle for stopping Brexit that has any chance of popular legitimacy.
Any campaigning that we do that has different objectives (obtaining a better Brexit, a different means of stopping Brexit) is misdirected effort.
So we need to address a number of groups with different messages, but they boil down to two:
(1) we must urge our fellow Remainers to stick to good arguments that show that we respect Leave voters, their concerns and their decisions.
(2) we must urge our Leave-inclined fellow citizens to see that it is in their (not just our) best interests to Remain. We must do that honestly: not by slick presentation but by addressing their concerns.
Remainers who have given up hope/ Leavers who think that 2016 settled the question for all time
- The Article 50 notice can be withdrawn. In law nothing has changed, so no loss of the rebate or opt-outs. The EU has repeatedly made clear that they would be glad if we Remained.
- 2016 was a vote on an idea. No-one takes an idea through to implementation without a review of the plan. A vote by the same people as voted in 2016 is fair.
- A referendum on the terms would not be a re-run of 2016. It would ask the next question in the process “Now we have a plan, shall we implement the Brexit plan, or Remain?”.
Remainers who think that Parliament should just stop Brexit
- Parliament referred the question to the people when it set up the referendum. It cannot take back control just because the electorate “got the answer wrong”.
- How would Leave voters react if Parliament just stopped Brexit? Would they think they had been treated fairly after a referendum that they had been assured would be treated as determining the future?
Remainers who think that a General Election should resolve Brexit
- That worked really well in 2017, didn’t it. The Liberal Democrats won 12 seats, the Greens 1. (The Labour leadership is pro-Brexit.)
- An election answers the question “Who should form the next government?”. Voters have to look at all policies. That cannot trump a referendum that addressed just one question.
Leavers who are disappointed by Brexit
- Leave did not have a plan in 2016. All sorts of possible (and impossible) Brexits were described. Each voter had to decide for themselves what Brexit meant. We were promised have-our-cake-and-eat-it Brexit. Now there is a plan. It is hard to believe that a markedly better plan could be negotiated in real life. If the reality does not match the promise then we can change tack.
- The EU is a peace and democracy project. It always was. War has not gone away from Europe (Yugoslavia, Ukraine). Peace is central to happiness. We should not put it at risk (NATO is different – it defends us against external attack.)
- The EU is democratic. Laws are made by the Parliament directly elected under proportional representation and by the Council of Ministers (Ministers from each member state).
- EU membership offers us individual freedoms to work, live, marry, study across the whole EU. Even if you do not envisage making use these freedoms you might in the future, or your friends and children might. “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” was about the benefits of freedom of movement for ordinary English workers.
- Pooling sovereignty is good for us because some laws are best made at the Continental level. Pollution knows no national boundary. We wish to have more environmental, animal welfare and worker protection but also do not wish our businesses to be undercut by competitors with lower standards. EU laws enable us to achieve both objectives. The EU is big enough to stand up to large multinationals. Common rules on products – bendy bananas – save money.
- In a connected world, sovereignty is a bit of an illusion. We will in practice have to follow a lot of EU laws because they are our neighbours and trading partners and much larger than we are.
- EU citizens have a common cultural heritage which means they fit into the community. Immigrants tend to assimilate, to become British; certainly their children do. The EU citizens will not be any different in the long term. Immigrants contribute to public services – every serious study shows that EU citizens pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits. Many local services are funded primarily on a per capita basis. So if a Polish child goes to a local school, the school gets another cheque. It is a mistake to blame EU citizens for austerity or falling wages.
- There is a lot wrong with the UK. You are right. We can change it. Leaving the EU makes it harder to change (less money, cutting us off, distraction as government spends ten years trying to make Brexit work). It is rare that something big we might wish to change is actually prevented by the EU.
- We heard you – loud and clear. All the political parties have ideas for how to change the UK, to enable people to take back control (eg Liberal Democrats proportional representation; Labour nationalisation; Conservatives lower taxes). These are the ways to address real problems.
THEMES TO AVOID
Finally, some lines we should not use:
- the 2016 referendum should be set aside because… [just convinces Leave voters that we are metropolitan elitists who do not take them seriously]
- Brexit will be a disaster [it won’t. Brexit Britain will be OK. The economic forecasts are for slower growth than if we remained (not for reductions in existing GDP), but the effects would be imperceptible in any one year.]
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