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"Remain and Reform" would be a deception
14 Dec, 2018

No promise that we cannot deliver

London4Europe Committee member and former senior civil servant Michael Romberg worries that we will be like the Leave campaign.

As we all know, the Leave campaign made lots of conflicting promises about how life with Brexit would be. The lead campaigners then fled the scene and denied their promises even before the cock had crowed once. But of course the problem was structural. Even if the promises had been well-founded and sincerely made, the Leave campaign could not have taken responsibility for implementing them. Only a Government could implement Brexit.

We must not behave in the same way – however tempting it is tactically. A companion article looks at how the Remain campaign should approach the question of domestic policies to address the underlying causes of Brexit. This article is about resisting the temptation to promise EU reforms that any Remain campaign cannot deliver.


Remain and Reform

Jeremy Corbyn campaigned before the referendum on a Remain and Reform platform (though the Guardian’s political editor was not convinced).

Another Europe is Possible is a left-wing campaign group that believes “the EU requires radical and far-reaching reform, breaking with austerity economics and pioneering a radically new development strategy. That’s why we are actively working together with international partners, such as European Alternatives, to campaign for political change across the continent.”

Adam Price, Plaid Cymru party leader, says that Remain and Reform should be the centre of the Remain campaign: The UK should push for a modern “Marshall Plan” to reinvigorate our poorer communities and drive the creation of quality jobs.

Tony Blair proposed changes to UK immigration law, immigration-related practices (eg enforcement of the minimum wage) and changes to EU law.

Fine. Ideas. Some good, some not so good. What we must not do is fall into the trap of saying this will happen. Even saying the UK will argue for this to happen goes too far. It depends on the choice of the UK government.


A special deal from the EU

A variant of Remain and Reform is a special deal for Britain if we stay. Nick Clegg used to argue for that, here a belief that the EU should or would allow Britain some sort of derogation from freedom of movement.

Tony Blair also calls on the EU to offers some sort of deal.

Well fine. If the EU has actually bindingly offered a deal – as they had to David Cameron – then let’s trumpet that. If not, let’s not raise false hopes.


What can we say

That does not mean we should be silent on EU reform, just that it should not be our primary message. Saying we want to remain in a reformed EU potentially sounds like we want to sell a defective second hand car. The EU is not perfect, but neither is the United Kingdom. The UK is simply stronger, stabler and more prosperous in the EU, rather than outside it.

What the Remain campaign might properly say is:

  • The EU will reform. Of course it will. All organisations change.
  • If we are EU members we can influence the course of reform and advance our national interest within it. We also have the power to veto certain reforms. If we are not EU members our power to influence the EU reform agenda falls to near zero.
  • All the UK political parties have proposals for EU reform. In a UK general election you the elector can choose the UK government and therefore you can choose the direction of EU reform for which the UK government will argue.



It’s not just about winning the referendum. It’s about healing the country. How we conduct ourselves in the campaign will determine how successful we are in our objective. We must therefore resist the temptation to make promises that we cannot deliver on.

That means that we must avoid saying anything that suggests we can deliver any particular reform of the EU or even any particular UK Government approach to EU reform. The safest would be not to advance any EU reform idea lest people see that as a basis for voting Remain.


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