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Ignore the deal - focus on Brexit
03 Dec, 2018

Chair's message to members - 3 December 2018

Dear member or supporter

You don't need me to repeat the criticism of Theresa May's deal. But there is a danger in focussing on how bad the deal is. Even Jo Johnson's long article in the Financial Times devotes too much attention to this deal (Search "FT - Jo Johnson: the inside story of Brexit and where it all went wrong" to try to get round the paywall). The risk is that people believe the Brexiter claims that someone else would have negotiated a good Brexit. They would not. There is no good Brexit. The deal is as good as it gets if you wish to achieve some Leave objectives (control immigration was always Theresa May's aim in politics) without too much damage to the economy. 
 
 
Jeremy Corbyn's deal is the same as Theresa May's
 
Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn is said by Labour List to be working on a media communications plan for his alternative Brexit deal: “Jeremy’s Better Brexit”. He told the CBthat a “sensible, jobs-first” Brexit plan combined with a “radical programme of investment” would help gift communities with “good jobs and real control”.

Jeremy Corbyn promises a permanent customs Union - albeit a Brexiter fantasy customs union where Britain remains free to sign its own trade deals and has a say over what the EU does. Theresa May is only committed to a temporary customs union. But that is to be replaced by permanent arrangements that prevent a hard border in Ireland, which in practice must include some form of customs union. It's just her Brexiters will not let her say so.

Both party leaders wish to be close to the single market. But neither wishes to have freedom of movement. So we will not be that close. True, Theresa May is clearly pleased about ending freedom of movement while Jeremy Corbyn makes speeches about not blaming immigrants. But their policy is identical. One must judge people by their actions, not their words. Without freedom of movement it's a hard Brexit.

Both wish to maintain environmental and employment protections. Theresa May would maintain state aids rules and Corbyn wishes to get away from them. And that is about it for differences. Hence only 19% think that Corbyn would get a better deal.

One other similarity. Neither deal would pass Labour's six tests. In the case of Theresa May's deal, Labour see that as a great failure. In the case of Jeremy Corbyn's it seems not to matter. Will the Remainers who make up the great majority of Labour party MPs, members and voters really support Brexit just because Jeremy Corbyn has negotiated it? If Labour had to take responsibility for Brexit it would tear itself apart, just like the Conservatives.

But perhaps we should not make too much of the point that both Brexits are the same. We have on the one hand to make clear to Corbynist followers that there is no point in pursuing Jeremy's deal instead of Theresa's; on the other hand we have to allow him to say to the public that his future U-turn on 30 months of supporting Brexit is because Theresa May's deal is so irretrievably bad that a new referendum is the only option. As in 1975, Labour could allow its members to choose for which side to campaign.

 

Brexit the dream

Would Leavers have been happier if Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and David Davies had negotiated Brexit? Of course, some of them did. David Davies indeed learned so much about reality in his tenure as Brexit secretary that it must have been a great relief to him to return to the backbenches whence he could criticise those who still had to deal with how things actually are. But the rest? They have never had a plan grounded on anything. The ERG's criticism of the 585 page withdrawal agreement and 27 page political declaration is a seven page pamphlet, one page of which is the title; only one page is given over to dreaming about the future, Super Canada(or Canada+++) if you were curious. If we had called it Super EU or EU+++ we'd have won in 2016.
 
Every Brexit no matter who negotiated it would suffer from the same problems:
  • It's not 1945. We are not one of the big three determining the future of the world at Potsdam. The British Empire which put us there is long gone. If we wish to amplify our power we need to join a larger grouping. The obvious one would be a bunch of culturally and economically similar states nearby ...
  • Sovereignty is not something that is beautiful in itself. It is a tool to be used. On our own we are too small and too weak to deal with many of the challenges that we face. If we wish to take back control over our problems we need to join with others. As our President Catherine West put it the EU empowers nation states to act on environmental issues, terrorism, facing up to multinationals and so much more.
  • It's not 1940 either. Germany and Italy are not our enemies but our partners, safe, free democracies. Nor is it 1945-89 when half of Europe was under Soviet rule and the Warsaw Pact's tanks faced West. These countries have, thanks in part to the EU, rejoined the European mainstream. The EU has helped bring about an unprecedented 70 years of peace between member states.
  • The troubles in Ireland were the bloodiest post war conflict in Europe short of actual civil wars with rival armies. They were a failure of British statecraft on a massive scale. Common EU membership was - as with other such conflicts across Europe - a factor in building the peace. Any Brexit puts that peace at risk.
  • We are a mid ranking power off the coast of Europe. Our nearest neighbour is the EU, a regulatory magnet and soft power leader much larger than we are.  It is inevitable that we will end up going along with a lot of what they decide, just as a planet orbits around the sun. The EU is a club that looks after its members. The member states need each other more than they need us; they share a belief in the European project. The club is not going to change its nature to suit a departing member.
  • Nothing that the Leavers say they wish to achieve on trade needs the UK to leave the EU. Germany exports more than we do without non-EU trade agreements. Even Theresa May (well worth hearing in a two minute interview), as usual unable to bring herself to say that Brexit is better than Remain, is quite clear that our prosperity depends not on leaving the EU but on what we do for ourselves, our industrial strategy, our support for key industries.
  • Distance will continue to be one of the determining factors of trade flows. Markets far away will not replace markets nearby.
  • The grievances that "left-behind" Leave voters in poor areas have are hardly caused by the EU. UK policies are needed to address these issues. (Though we have to be honest: we have nothing to offer those for whom the presence of a Polish supermarket on the High Street is such an affront as to be a reason to leave the EU.)
  • There are things other than ending freedom of movement for which we do have to leave the EU. Brexiters of both parties tend to downplay what those are because they are wildly unpopular. There are no majorities either for massively deregulating worker, product, food and environmental protections and running down public services to lower taxation or alternatively for expropriations and a huge increase in State control (nationalisation and state aids are permitted in the EU). That we would be allowed to do them does not mean that any government could be elected on such a platform.
So we need to be clear: any Brexit would be a bad Brexit. It's not just Theresa May's deal (or Jeremy's no-better Brexit).
 
 
Dissing the dream is not really the point
 
The polling reported at the EM AGM said that the shift in opinion towards Remain was underpinned by negativity about Brexit (or perhaps just this Brexit). There is no sign yet that people are becoming positive about the EU (though there are positive messages about EU citizens in the UK (it was not made clear whether they came from Leave or Remain voters)). A bit more rubbishing Brexit will help now in shifting opinion enough to make it visible to the most short-sighted MP. 
 
But we have to stop that pretty soon. It is counter-productive in the medium and long term. We have soon to go over to the positive messages about the UK in the EU and the UK's ability to address real grievances through domestic politics.
 
 
Kipling provided a motto for the Conservatives
 
The Conservatives used to pride themselves on being practical men and women. Unlike socialists, Conservatives were not given to fanciful visions or airy ideas that risked loss of connexion with earthy realities. Conservatives wanted to know how it was actually going to work in practice.  It would be good if the Conservative party reconnected with that tradition. Who better to help them than Rudyard Kipling:
 
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When 
And How and Where and Who.
   

If Brexiters - of whatever party - would ask those questions of their ideas, their dreams, they would reconnect with practical reality. That means Remaining in the EU.

 

Three new European Movement branches

Welcome to three newly affiliated EM branches: Bromley for Europe, Lewisham West and Penge and European Movement South Southwark. Our coverage of local branches keeps growing. They are all made up of determined local campaigners who conduct on-street campaigning as well as other activities. Do please get involved in your local branch - or another branch - who can help you to step up your campaigning at this critical time. A list with contact details is here.

 

Protests outside Parliament
 
In the run-up to the Meaningful vote on 11 December we should aim to support the regular Lobbies outside Parliament & Downing Street:
  
  • the No 10 Vigil on Whitehall opposite the gates to Downing Street. They meet every Monday and Wednesday when Parliament is sitting 18.30-20.30 with additional events.
 

 

RICHARD NEWCOMBE
Chair
London4Europe

 

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

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