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The time to campaign for Remain is now
18 Feb, 2019

No more hesitation or distraction

London4Europe Committee Member Michael Romberg says we should stop just arguing for a process. Let’s promote the outcome. The UK’s membership of the EU is what we want and we should say so. A referendum is the only politically legitimate means to the end and so we should call for it; but it is just a means. The end is what we care about and should campaign for. Many local groups and individual campaigners have been doing just that: the national campaign should follow their lead.


***  amended on 4 March 2019 to correct statement on ratification ****


The existing national strategy of not directly campaigning for Remain has run out of road.  Leave voters' support has drifted away as they rumble that the referendum choice being sought is not to be Brexit or Brexit? MPs are flaking away from supporting a People's Vote as they do not wish to be seen to be subverting the will of the people - still at half and half.


We are heading to the deal or no-deal

Maybe the referendum will in the end be seen by MPs as the least bad way forward after all other options have been discarded. I do not see that working on present tactics.

The referendum is not a destination but a process for changing course. Not enough of the population wish to change course for MPs to agree to enable that.

The Government's deal also would avert No-deal. It is in reality close to what Jeremy Corbyn wants, even if tribal politics obliges both sides to exaggerate the differences. A number of Labour backbenchers would back Theresa May whatever their Leader does – and he would condone that. 

We only have a couple of weeks left. We have nothing to lose. In law we are heading to No-deal. In terms of practical politics my forecast is that in spite of lost Parliamentary votes we are heading to a rehash of Theresa May's deal. 


So let's campaign with the electorate for Remain

I do mean for Remain, I don't mean against Brexit. That too - Project Fear Mark 2 - has run its course. The case for Remain is quite different: it is positive, hopeful, confident, tolerant, co-operative and fair. It is also new, because it is made so rarely. We allow ourselves to be distracted by worries of No-deal and we have an excessive focus on the economy. The EU is not a common market; economic prosperity was only ever a means to an end. The EU is a political project, born in the quest for peace.

I also don't mean running a front-runner campaign for the next general election. Sure, people voted in part on domestic issues. But the Remain campaign cannot solve them - only the political parties can. If the campaign ties itself to one party's analysis of the causes of Brexit (austerity, inequality, left-behind communities) it misses those Leave voters who had different domestic causes, puts off those voters who support a different party and patronises all Leave voters by saying they could not read the question on the ballot paper. 


We have to answer Leave voters' concerns on Europe

The two biggest: sovereignty and immigration, wrapped up in a concern for national identity. And that's great. Because the positive case for EU membership is not the economy. It is sovereignty, freedom of movement and national identity:

  • pooling our sovereignty gets us more of what we want such as worker and environmental protection because we need not worry about being undercut. The EU is democratic, it is not a "they" but a bigger "we";
  • freedom of movement brings the peoples of Europe ever closer together, prevents war, calms civil unrest as in Northern Ireland. FoM enables millions of Britons to have the whole Continent to live, work, study and fall in love without having to ask an immigration officer for permission.
  • we all have multiple identities (Londoner/ British/ European - that's just the "national" ones). We do not need to hide - we are confident enough to engage in partnership with others. We recognise that all EU countries share our values.

This is our ground. Stronger IN abandoned our territory to the Leave campaign. The national Remain movement has made the same mistake. Economics and the problems of Brexit are not the winning lines.  

I understand of course how much of an uphill task it will be to convince people of these arguments which - unlike on the Continent - are not part of our national discourse. They do not yet land with Leavers. But if we can find the way to make the positive case for EU membership based on what are actually our key arguments - sovereignty, freedom of movement and national identity - then we will win. At any rate we will have deserved to win.


Don’t let the date of the next march mislead you

Not in law, but in political reality all it takes for Brexit is one unconditional Parliamentary vote for Theresa May’s deal to go through.

Unusually for a treaty the Withdrawal Agreement needs primary legislation to be ratified (normally treaties may be ratified by the Government unless the House of Commons passes a motion against; but treaties have no direct effect in domestic law - that needs an act of parliament). Conclusion of this treaty of course also needs the agreement of the European Parliament and the European Council. 

So even if a motion in favour of the deal is passed, we could continue to argue for a referendum by means of an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill. However, it will be more of an uphill struggle than it already is if the motion for the deal has been passed without a referendum provision.

So yes, let’s all march on 23 March for if Theresa May does totally run down the clock and does not bring the deal back for the Parliamentary vote until after the 21-22 European Council. But we have to keep up the pressure until then in case momentum builds up for passing the deal beforehand – for example to avoid No-deal. We must ensure that if the deal is passed then it is only passed with a referendum condition attached. That requires us to argue for Remain, not against no-deal as we have allowed ourselves to be distracted into doing.

The best way to create support for a referendum is to create support for Remain.





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