Catherine West MP addresses members
On 19 November 2018 in the House of Commons our new President Catherine West MP gave her inaugural address to London4Europe members and supporters in an interesting and motivating event.
Good evening to you all. It is a real pleasure to stand before you all tonight as the new President of London4Europe, despite the fact that we are facing one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history. I am truly honoured to take up this position, not least because my own constituency of Hornsey & Wood Green secured the highest remain vote in the UK.
I campaigned to ‘Remain’ because I believe that the UK is stronger, more prosperous and more peaceful as a member of the European Union. That is a view I continue to hold and defend.
Like all of you, I was bitterly disappointed by the result of the referendum, and since then I have made it my mission to oppose this Government’s catastrophic approach to Brexit and do all I can to help secure the most progressive future possible with our European friends and neighbours.
That is why I voted against triggering Article 50.
That is why I sponsored an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which sought to secure membership of both the Customs Union and the Single Market.
That is why, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, I called for a Second Referendum on the deal with the option of ‘Remain’.
Admittedly, there were very few MPs calling for such action back then. However, over the past two years, organisations like the European Movement have been crucial in turning the tide on this issue.
The country is changing its mind. More than 100 seats that backed Brexit now want to remain in EU. Current polls are showing a 59-41 split in favour of Remain if a referendum was held today. What you all are doing is working, but we must go further. We must redouble our efforts to speak to Brexit voters, to address their concerns with a sense of empathy and understanding.
The benefits of EU membership
We all know that the economic benefits of being an EU member are blindingly obvious:
- 44% of UK exports go to the European market.
- Over 3 million jobs are directed connected to the EU market.
- We pay in £5.1 billion into the EU, but the benefit of being in the EU is worth £91 billion.
We also know that our membership goes far beyond the balance of trade:
- It’s about jobs.
- It’s about cultural exchange.
- It’s about tackling climate change and pollution.
- It’s about workers’ rights; and women’s rights; and LGBT rights.
- It is about human rights.
The origins of the EU as a peace project
I want to cast your minds back to the years following the end of the Second World War. Europe’s economies were recovering: schools, hospitals and homes were being repaired and rebuilt after 6 brutal years of war. Europe’s communities were healing: mourning the loss the dead, including the millions murdered at the hands of Nazism. Europe was beginning to look to the future, a future based not on chauvinistic nationalism but on shared values of co-operation and internationalism.
In the spring of 1951, France, Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris, thus founding the European Coal and Steel Community. Whilst there was clear economic logic for such integration, this project was born from the ideal of peace.
To quote Robert Schumann, the former French Foreign Minister and one of the ECSC architects:
The purpose of this new European Community is to make war between historic rivals France and Germany "not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible".
I think it is safe to say that the ECSC and its succeeding institutions namely the EEC and the EU have succeeded in that goal - keeping the peace between its members for over 70 years. And it seems fitting that in 2012, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU.
As we mark the centenary of the Armistice, it was so moving to see the German President lay a wreath at the Cenotaph - a reminder of the importance of internationalism as means to keep the peace.
Co-operation within the EU framework empowers nation states
Military conflict between France and Germany is now thankfully unthinkable - and from this base a strong model of collective government has emerged. One in which national Governments remain the principal actors, but become empowered to tackle issues that transcend their national borders through co-operation, whether that be climate change, tackling terrorism, promoting human rights or addressing the refugee crisis.
The Brexit endgame
We now have 130 days left until Brexit and last week Mrs May finally came back to Parliament with her deal. I was in the chamber for over three hours listening to her statement and the response was truly shocking. We all know that the issue of Europe has divided the Tory Party for decades, yet Theresa May has single-handedly succeeded in uniting her own party, Remainer and Leaver alike, in opposition to this deal.
As the Prime Minister herself confirmed in the chamber, there are now only three options before us:
- Her deal.
- And No-Brexit.
Labour has been very clear: Mrs May’s deal fails our six tests and we will vote against it when it comes before parliament. Every other opposition party, including the DUP, have now confirmed that they will vote the bill down, alongside scores of Tory Brexiteers and Remainers.
Equally, we know that there is not a majority in the House of Commons for a no-deal.
With each passing day, after each subsequent ministerial resignation, the case for a People’s Vote becomes clearer. We should not be forced to choose between a bad deal and no deal. That is why we are seeing more and more politicians, public figures and of course members of the public coming out into support of a People’s Vote.
I recognise the result of the referendum. I recognise that 17.4 million voted Leave and 16.1 million voted Remain. But what I would gently say to the Brexiteers, who have so often accused us of being anti-democrats or bad losers: Democracy did not die on the twenty-third of June 2016.
Brexit can and must be stopped.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
After the speech, Catherine West MP took questions in a lively interchange with members and supporters until she was called away to vote. Here is our write-up of some of her replies (text not checked by Catherine West).
Clarifying the options
The great majority of MPs did not see no-deal as a realistic option.
Keir Starmer MP was working cross-party to find a way to give the House of Commons the early opportunity to rule out no-deal as an option.
If that was successful, then MPs could focus on a clear choice between accepting the Government’s deal and setting up a People’s Vote.
It would also be possible – and make some sense – for Parliament to set a People’s Vote as a condition of approving the deal. However, she did not think that was likely as Parliament was too polarised on the issue.
She did not think there would be a majority in the House for the Government’s deal. Even those Labour MPs in Leave-voting seats who had said they might back a deal where generally saying that this deal was too bad for their constituents.
It might be attractive for Theresa May to go over the heads of MPs and appeal to the electorate to approve her deal in a People’s Vote.
Catherine West thought that EFTA membership had been voted down in the past and was unlikely to be supported now.
The views of business
Business was clearly desperate to avoid the risk of no-deal. Business also wanted certainty. That led many business people to support the Government’s deal.
If Keir Starmer’s work could successfully eliminate no-deal as an option that should remove one part of business support for the deal.
Business ought to be able to handle a few more months of uncertainty to allow a People’s vote to take place since that provided the possibility of the most certain outcome of all – Remain.
Moreover, if the deal went through there would then be two or more years of uncertainty as the future relationship was negotiated with a looming cliff edge at the end of the transition period.
Practical legislative difficulties in the way of a People’s Vote
If the political will was there then all the legal and procedural difficulties in the UK and in the EU could be overcome. People were studying the mechanics in the Procedure Committee and elsewhere. (Note: a link to the 16 November 2018 House of Commons Procedure Committee Report on how to handle motions in the Meaningful Vote is here.)
Even if there was no opportunity for binding legislation, a non-binding resolution would show the will of the House and would be expected to have real political impact.
There were tactical as well as procedural considerations as to when was the right time to call formally for a People’s Vote motion to be debated and voted on.
Conduct of the People’s Vote
The People’s Vote would be problematic – there was a legacy of bitterness from 2016. She had spoken in the last few days at an anti-racism rally; there had been 100 demonstrators outside protesting against anti-racism; that confidence of the demonstrators was new since the referendum. Similarly in a debate she had just attended in the House of Commons one member had been tweeting about another that she had “betrayed” her constituents.
It was therefore important to set “ground rules” for conduct over the next few months, the language we used, the need for mutual respect, our acceptance of facts.
Whatever the difficulties, a People’s Vote was necessary to prevent recession, save jobs, ensure that we could look after each other and to maintain the UK’s geopolitical position.
Franchise in the People’s Vote
Catherine West felt that Brexit/ EU membership was of enormous importance to the young. She would therefore like to try to enable 16/17 year olds to have the right to participate in the People’s Vote.
Content of the Remain campaign
It was important to address the lack of opportunity, poverty and inequality that had underlain much of the Leave vote. People had voted Leave in part because they felt talked down to. Even now when Labour MPs visited Leave areas people said “We want our Brexit”.
While many economic assessments had been done at national, regional and sectoral level, no thought had yet been given on how to translate that evidence into ways that would persuade Leave voters.
The lobby group Another Europe is Possible was campaigning for a renewal of Europe based on solidarity, support for employees, a revival of the Social Europe agenda. Referring to those possibilities should also be part of the campaign.
It would be important to reassure leftwing Labour supporters of Brexit that issues like nationalisation and state aids were not blocked by the EU. There were rules and limits but many EU countries had nationalised industries and some other European countries gave far more by way of state aids than the UK gave. It was hard to believe that the rules would prevent a large increase in state aids under a Labour government.
Actions for London4Europe members and supporters
Each member and supporter should now write to their MP urging them to reject the deal and support a people’s vote. (Note: a model letter is here on the website)
Every existing member should aim to recruit at least one more paying member before the end of the year in order to boost our campaigning base and finances. (Note: information on membership and an application form is here on the European Movement national website)
Similarly, each supporter should aim to recruit a further supporter, by signing up on the London4Europe home page.