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Brexit - our biggest retreat from Europe since Dunkirk?
14 Jan, 2020

In light of the General Election result, some of us have argued we should campaign now to rejoin the European Union (EU). Others believe we should abandon campaigning altogether as Brexit will happen. History can perhaps offer us some lessons, parallels and even inspiration. Nick Hopkinson evaluates the options.

Nothing is inevitable unless, as Karl Popper noted, everyone believes something is. We have argued “there is still time to Stop Brexit”. Well even after 31 January, there is still time to stop Brexit. The reality though is that rejoining the EU is now a longer term goal. In the meantime, the European Movement and its branches will fight for the closest possible relationship with the EU.

We have lost a major battle but our cause is not lost. Political parties, for example, rarely give up after losing an election. An election vote only sets the direction of travel until the next vote in 4-5 years’ time. Parties regroup, often find new leaders, review what went wrong (and right), and hold the government to account. They do not abandon their core beliefs but they may revise certain policies and tactics. One memorable story about being on the political sidelines was Sinn Fein President’s response to a cry “Bring back the IRA!” at an August 1995 Belfast City Hall rally. Gerry Adams cryptically replied “They haven’t gone away you know”.

Each political victory contains the seeds of its own demise. A political project based on lies and fantasies is not sustainable, and will eventually unravel. Brexit, and its supporters, will become more widely discredited as warnings about the economy, national unity and British influence become an increasingly unpalatable reality.

At the end of this month, Brexiters will be celebrating their seeming victory of “Getting Brexit Done”. In reality, they haven’t. They have only just commenced the downhill spiral of bruising trade and other international negotiations to replace many of the 759 international treaties necessitated by leaving the EU.

Churchill’s June 1940 "we shall fight them on the beaches" speech was in part an attempt to caution a jubilant public to the successful evacuation of some 300,000 allied troops: “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."

Brexit is effectively our biggest retreat from Europe since Dunkirk, not least because it constitutes a major surrender of effective British sovereignty. Between 1944 and 2015, British foreign policy recognised our participation in international organisations was essential to augmenting our security, prosperity and influence. We pool, not lose, and enhance our sovereignty through membership in international organisations such as the EU. Brexiters conveniently forget we also pool sovereignty through our membership in 3,000 other international organisations, notably NATO, and thousands more international associations and standards setting bodies.

Within the EU, we benefited from binding other countries to the same rules which our elected representatives shaped with them. Outside the EU, we shall have no say and still have to accept EU legislation without any influence on it. We shall be less able to ‘control’ our own destiny as we put ourselves at the mercy of the decisions that the EU and other organisations will make without us. Leaving the EU means we become a rule taker, rather than a rule maker.

History does not repeat itself but it does rhyme. The same political party which took us into the then European Community is now taking us out. As inconceivable as it may sound, it cannot be ruled out that the very same party which takes us out of the EU, may yet one day take us back in. There is still much we can all do to bring that day closer. As George Stephenson writes in his latest London4Europe blog, The Power of the Powerless, there are many ways to promote our pro-Europeanism and British values. We shall not give up. We shall not go away.

Nick Hopkinson is Vice-Chair of London4Europe and is a member of the European Movement National Executive. The above represents his own personal views and not necessarily those of London4Europe or the European Movement.

In other news

In reference to the e-blast sent last week advertising funding for the Marcus J Ball case (Complaint Against Judges), Richard Upson has emailed in to ask us to publicise an important provision at item 20 of the European Parliament’s draft Resolution on the Withdrawal Agreement –

“[The European Parliament] recalls that many UK citizens, both those resident in the UK and those resident in the EU-27, have expressed strong opposition to losing the rights they currently enjoy pursuant to Article 20 of the TFEU; proposes that the EU-27 examine how to mitigate this within the limits of EU primary law while fully respecting the principles of reciprocity, equity, symmetry and non-discrimination;.”

The text goes beyond the problems of mobile citizens and highlights the rights of static citizens – many of us have written to the European Parliament, and it’s good to see they are trying to salvage some of our rights as EU citizens.

The full document is numbered B9-0031/2020 (EP numbering).

The Resolution is due to be considered tomorrow (15 January) in Strasbourg.