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Agree process, disagree policies
31 Jan, 2019

How politicians can work across party boundaries

London4Europe Committee Member and former senior civil servant Michael Romberg looks at how politicians of all parties can work together in the Remain campaign. The ideas in this article benefited from earlier discussions with political and communications advisor Sandra Khadhouri. Companion articles are "Remain and Reform" would be a deception and Conservative Remainers are under-represented.

The Remain campaign will be cross party. We need three strands (and only three – absent should be any of the rubbishing of the 2016 referendum that has featured so prominently in the Remain discourse):

  • the least is that Brexit – any Brexit - does not work;
  • important is a positive vision of the EU;
  • key is that the real problems that led people to vote Leave are almost all not down to EU membership and all can best be addressed by domestic policies.

There is broad consensus across Remain politicians of all parties on the first two. It’s not total agreement. If we get into an argument based on listing EU laws that we like then Conservative and Labour will produce different lists. That is a reminder that it is the wrong argument. The right argument is the systemic case that some laws – eg air pollution - are better made at the EU level, whether you like the actual laws that result or not.

However, there will not be much agreement across the parties on the domestic policies that led to the Leave vote, nor on how to remedy them. Labour say that austerity is to blame; the Liberal Democrats say that a bit of austerity was necessary but it has been overdone; the Conservatives say that it was all necessary and anyway the deficit was the problem.

So how can politicians work together?

Agree values and process

In some ways the three years of Brexit chaos mean that everything has changed. Party lines and loyalties have been shaken. There are levels of mistrust between citizens and politicians, between town and country, between individual citizens, even within families that will take years to heal. There will be consequences, even if we cannot foretell what they are.

In another sense nothing has changed. There will be a general election, the different parties will offer their programmes, electors will choose, there will be a new government. After Brexit (whether we leave or stay), we go back to normal political methods.

Common working: Brexiters and Remainers

So the first level of common working would be for both Brexiters and Remainers in the referendum campaign. That might cover:

  • A promise to honour the result.
  • A promise to tell the truth, to present statistics and arguments fairly.
  • Agreement not to make commitments they cannot deliver on, eg to make improbable claims for what the results of the final negotiation on the future relationship will be, nor to present a reform agenda for if we stay in the EU as though its delivery would be a sure thing.
  • Commitment to behave well towards the other side.
  • Undertaking to behave well towards citizens, not to enflame hatreds or to encourage violence.
  • A promise to call for a general election soon afterwards, which in practice would determine the negotiating stance for Brexit Britain, eg Norway or Canada, if we Leave the EU as well as settling the direction of domestic policies in either case.

Common working: Remainers of all parties

Another level of common working would be for Remainers from the various parties. That would cover all the above plus:

  • Recognition that the 2016 vote reflected a number of grievances.
  • Recognition that all the political parties have sincere attempts to address genuine grievances in their manifestos and policy papers. The parties disagree on which proposals are best, indeed on which problems are greatest or worth addressing at all. Nonetheless, they all promise to say that the other parties are sincere in their intentions.
  • All the problems would be addressed more easily if we stayed in the EU: Government not distracted by Brexit; more money; scope for joint action with EU.
  • Not to claim that Remain would deliver a specific domestic policy. eg We should not say "If you vote Remain then the railways will be nationalised" but rather "If you vote Remain, then there are various solutions to the problem of late trains, including nationalisation (Labour), improving management of franchises (Conservative)”.

 Conclusion

Politicians of different parties will not agree on the domestic agenda that should follow the Brexit decision. Nor should they. Our aim is to open debate, not close it off. We should create a code of conduct that reflects that. We are consulting on a draft Referendum Campaign Pledge - please let us have your views.

 

 

 

Views expressed in articles in this page reflect the views of the author not necessarily of London4Europe