“We are here to stop Brexit” – stirring words from National Chair, Stephen Dorrell
Objective: Stop Brexit
The Chair was clear about the objective. He was not interested in campaigning for a soft or fudged Brexit. The task was to avert what John Major called “an historic mistake”.
A Clear View of Process
He reminded us that we have evolved political methods of decision-taking that allow for discussion, clarification and challenge before a final decision is made. For a bill to pass through Parliament, each House needs to take it through three main substantive phases. Should Brexit be decided on just one vote?
Since the referendum, there had been three key elements of process laid down. Gina Miller’s court case had ensured that it was Parliament who decided whether to launch the Article 50 process. MPs’ calls meant that there would be a meaningful vote at the end of the negotiations. And now Dominic Grieve MP was insisting that that vote should take the form of a vote on a bill. These are real achievements by people who want proper consideration of Brexit.
The EM’s rôle is to build on those foundations by making sure that when Parliament votes at the end of the negotiations the decision is passed back to the people. It was unlikely, verging on inconceivable, that the 2016 Brexit decision could be reversed without re-engaging with the electorate. “We should let the people have the final say.”
The Chair and the Chief Executive, Michael Young, also spoke of the progress we had made to bring together Remain bodies to offer a single Remain proposition. We had affiliation agreements with Britain 4 Europe, Scientists for the EU and Healthier IN. We worked closely with the 48%. We were keen to work together with any group that wished to stop Brexit. We welcomed people from any political party and from none.
The coming together of Remain bodies mirrored the All-Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations led by MPs Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry.
At the same time the EM had grown its branch network from 18 to 60 active branches, with plans for 40 more by the end of 2018 Q1. Local co-operation with branches of affiliated organisations was important and growing.
The EM and affiliated bodies were targeting over 100 constituencies held by Conservative and Labour MPs where the MP needed encouragement or support. The aim was to ensure that they knew Remainers were still here, still active – so that when the meaningful vote came they would be emboldened to vote for a referendum so that we could vote to Remain.
These 100+ MPs would act as the base to enable the many Remain-leaning MPs to feel that they could vote to refer the question to the electorate for the final say.
The Campaign Proposition
The EM’s private polling had established that many uncommitted voters believed that the Article 50 notification was irrevocable. That was why we had encouraged Lord Kerr to make his recent statements about its revocability. We need to campaign to make this view widely known.
We should not re-run Project Fear, nor should we focus on the harms of Brexit.
Rather it was important to run a campaign about the positive benefits of the EU and of our EU membership. We should reflect our multiple identities: British and European. We should point out how the common European values we share with people on the Continent are threatened by Russia, by China, by President Trump.
We had to campaign against 40 years of misrepresentation of what the EU is. It had always been more than a free trade area. Economics is important – societies that fail to deliver living standards do not survive. But economics was not the point so much as a means to an end. The EU was a reflection of common ideals and a commitment to peace.
The polling work we were doing was demonstrating what messages landed with people. For example, voters rejected a second referendum, but were keen that the people should have the final say.
Young European Movement
The AGM also heard from Catriona Corke of YEM. She reported on successful activities at University Freshers Fairs, conferences and marches in Rome and Malta, a vivid social media presence, a comic book event which lightheartedly called up support for the EU by inviting people to design their own comic characters.
YEM campaigns both for the ideals of the EU as a peace movement and also for its practical benefits such as jobs and freedom of movement.
YEM is for those under 35. You can find out more about joining or – for those for whom Youth is primarily a state of mind - supporting them here
This report of the European Movement AGM held on 25 November 2017 was written by Michael Romberg, a member of the Committee of London 4 Europe. The text of this report has not been cleared with speakers at the AGM.