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Campaigning to heal the country
18 Aug, 2019

Treat Leave-supporters with respect; they are Remain-supportes we have not yet won to our cause

London4Europe Committee member and former Home Office senior civil servant Michael Romberg believes that the divisions – and the causes of divisions - in the country will persist long after the referendum, whatever the outcome. Our campaign can aim to alleviate them. We can also – behind the scenes, and in our individual capacity as members of political parties – urge the parties to adopt policies that would heal the country. These should be on the theme of a better version of “Take back control!”.

The first blog in the series sets out the problem - winning is not enough; companion articles show the need for a Prime Minister to unite the country; and specific policy proposals for the political parties to consider.


We need to make sure that the campaign engages with Leavers (there will be a temptation to think it is about maximising the turnout of the core vote) and that we treat them with respect. Everyone needs the chance to be heard.


Substantive campaign

We must campaign on the issues that matter to Leavers otherwise they will not engage.

They are less worried about the economy than we are – so we should not make that the centrepiece of our campaign.

Instead, we should focus on the issues that motivate Leavers: sovereignty, community, identity, freedom of movement. That’s great. Those are our reasons for wishing to be in the EU and we have set out our case here.

So we must make our case, positively, whole-heartedly and optimistically.

We should not see the EU as a regrettable necessity or be defensive:

  • Freedom of movement is not a price to be paid for single market access – it is one of the policies we like best about the EU.
  • We should not say “We have a veto over Turkey accession”. We should say that it would be great if Turkey joined – historically a major European power with good links into the Middle East, a friendly and enterprising population. But it should be Turkey joining the EU – not vice versa. Since the current Turkish government has turned Turkey away from EU norms of behaviour, they will not meet the Copenhagen Criteria any time soon. Perhaps the Istanbul mayoral election marks a turning point where Turkey returns to a path towards democratic norms and EU membership. If so, good.
  • We should not say that Leavers’ claims about an EU army are exaggerated. Instead we should say that there would be real benefits for defence if the EU was the sovereign state (does anyone think the USA would be the leading military power if each of the 50 states had its own army?). But that would require a massive change for which there is no public support. In the meantime, the actual plans for EU co-operation on defence provide a big opportunity to improve value for money.



The way we behave will affect whether Leavers think afterwards that the process has been fair. We have suggested a Referendum Campaign Pledge of good behaviour.

We need to make sure that citizens feel that they – ordinary people - have been listened to. Citizens Assemblies have a rôle to play in debating and clarifying the issues. In addition to a national-level assembly there could be some held at borough or county level so that people feel more engaged.

There needs to be good factual information about the EU, how trade works and other issues. It needs to be disseminated by sources that are trusted by both sides. Our children need to be taught about the EU in schools.

A contest is inherently divisive: us against them. We have to try to remember that after the match we will wish to shake hands and sit down together again. It is not about victory over the other side. It is about us all finding a better path together.


Plan for the Continuing Campaign afterwards

Let’s be clear. We will not be able to hang up our boots after a referendum victory. That was a mistake we made in 1975. So we vacated the field and left it to journalists such as Boris Johnson to make up falsehoods about the EU and many tabloids to poison people’s minds against foreigners.

The Remain movement will have to stay in being indefinitely. It will not be at the same intensity as in the campaign and will need different methods. But we will have to be on the field. So organisations cannot retreat to being genteel homes for elderly EU-enthusiasts. Rather they need to be in permanent campaign mode, reaching the general public.

Knowing that we will still be there afterwards should help to condition what we say during the campaign.




The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author, not necessarily of London4Europe.