Message from the Chair
London4Europe Chair Richard Newcombe was elected in February 2018. Here he writes a personal message about the themes that should guide London4Europe campaigning.
The time to campaign is now
The clock is turning fast. If we are to stop Brexit we need Parliament by the latest on the occasion of the “Meaningful Vote” on the terms of Brexit in about November 2018 to set up a referendum on the terms with the option to Remain for early 2019. There are only a few months of campaigning left.
If Brexit does happen it is hard to see it being reversed for decades. People will wish to give it a go; the sense of national humiliation of a speedy reversal would be too great.
So, for campaigning for Britain’s membership of the EU, it’s now or never.
My predecessor as Chair, Nick Hopkinson, set out his campaigning themes for 2018 in a blog on this page. I wish to build on those ideas, reflecting progress since then.
Our vision is clear
It is not just that the UK stays in the EU: the great European peace and democracy project which has helped to ensure that there has not been a war between member states and supported countries emerging from dictatorship to freedom; the project to give us all the freedom to live, work, marry, study anywhere in this large and diverse continent without having to ask an immigration officer for permission; that has done so much for prosperity by the Single Market and the Customs Union.
But also that we heal the wounds in the country that existed before the referendum and that the vote has exacerbated.
Where we are
We need to start with a clear-headed analysis of where we are. The leaders of both main parties have fully committed themselves to Brexit with no further popular review of the decision.
MPs from the two main parties will only vote for the referendum on the terms if: either the party leaders change tack and support it; or individual MPs rebel against their party line or in other ways place Remain above party loyalty.
So the focus of our campaigning should be to ensure first that people understand where the parties are now; there is no point in nurturing false hopes or beliefs that the effective policies of the main parties are somehow for Remain really. Some individuals and organisations in both main parties are actively for Remain, for sure – and all strength and support for them! But to move the main parties – and the bulk of their MPs - to active support for Remain/ referendum on the terms requires a change in their policies.
For example, many Labour party members are pressing for a motion at the party's Autumn conference for Labour to support a People's Vote.
Campaigning themes: a focus on MPs
Second, I suggest that wavering MPs will find it easier to commit themselves to a referendum on the terms than to Remain. A referendum on the terms can be presented to all constituents – Leavers and Remainers – as just good government. No-one takes a project from idea to implementation without a review of the project plan. A referendum allows the electorate to take back control. And MPs might want an insurance policy in case Brexit goes as wrong as I think it would. So I suggest a greater focus on persuading MPs to support a referendum rather than to come out for Remain.
The recent launch of the campaign for a People’s Vote once the terms of Brexit are known is the major development in the Remain movement since the summer of 2016. It brings together many of the bodies campaigning in this area. It promotes the only honourable and democratic method of stopping Brexit. It gives our campaigning a real focus.
Finally, to persuade MPs will require us to persuade them that the electorate wishes to Remain and to have a referendum on the terms. We must be honest. The public opinion polls on the core question of EU membership tell us that the country is still divided half and half. The Remain half is now just a little bit bigger – but within the normal margin of error of polls. Support for a referendum on the terms is growing, but is not yet consistently above half. We must therefore run two arguments.
For MPs, we should ask them to look ahead. Once the terms are known, once it is clear that we cannot have our cake and eat it, once we know the damage we will do by cutting ourselves off from the core means of co-operation with our closest neighbours, the public mood will turn. MPs need to be ready for that. MPs need to lay the groundwork for supporting a referendum that gives the people the final say before the decision is made practically irreversible. They must also ensure that the terms are clear – and not let the Government (or the Opposition) get away with fudge.
Campaigning themes: the public
For Remainers who have lost heart or feel that that we must accept the 2016 referendum as final there are two messages:
- Brexit can be stopped, the legal process is not irreversible. And
- it is honourable to ask the electorate to look again when there is an actual deal. That would not be a re-run of 2016, but asking the same people the next question in the series: Is Brexit under the exit terms agreed with the EU (or leaving with no deal) actually better than what we enjoy now as an EU member?
For the Leave-voting public, we should point out honestly the advantages of EU membership, including freedom of movement, and the problems with Brexit. We should not exaggerate or mislead – for example Brexit will lead to slower economic growth not a contraction from where we are now; there’s no divorce payment. Nor should we pretend that the EU is perfect. But we should address the Euro-myths, from bendy bananas to lack of democracy. We should explain the problems with Brexit, from the Irish Border to the loss of the European Medicines Agency. We should set out how the promises of the Leave campaign have not been borne out: Brexit is not easy, the EU does not need us more than we need them. We should keep asking: how does this Brexit of yours actually work then? is this what you voted for? is it going to be worth it? do you want the final say?
But fundamentally, we have to address their problems, not ours.
For those Leave voters who might be persuaded to vote Remain, the EU is relatively unimportant, and as such is not the root cause of their grievances.
In practice, domestic policy issues – public services, NHS, access to decent education and training, working conditions, social care, economic and social fairness, pensions, growth, the responsiveness of government, mutual respect and solidarity between citizens, non-EU immigration – are more important.
As a non-party organisation, our rôle is to show neutrally that all the political parties are, in their different ways, addressing these issues. Leaving the EU will make the process of addressing problems harder. The country’s political leadership has listened and is addressing voters’ concerns.
That campaigning will change MPs’ views and public opinion. What you do will effect change. Arrange to meet your MP, write to them, encourage other constituents to meet her/ him. Every leaflet delivered, every hour spent on a street stall, every conversation with a disheartened Remainer or a Leave-voter, every blog helps to change opinion. Brexit can be stopped. You can stop it. Join us in campaigning.
Blogs on this page represent the views of the author and not necessarily those of London4Europe.