Browsing through my local charity shop on Saturday, I came across a child’s jigsaw puzzle titled ‘Unicorns are Totally Real’. Once the 300 pieces are put together, voilà, you have a picture of some very handsome unicorns. Then, like the title suggests, you have the ‘evidence’ that unicorns are ‘real’, concludes L4E Chair Richard Newcombe.
A similar task awaits the Government now we have left the European Union and all the promises (the unicorns) made in the Brexit debate have to be fulfilled. Unfortunately, the so called ‘opportunities’ that Brexit will provide are never explained in concrete terms, but are always aspirational, without any coherent route to achieving the capture of one of these ‘unicorns’.
The debate in the Establishment of a trade relationship between the EU and the UK that will take place this year will be reported in the British media and news networks. We know and expect that much of the news coverage will continue to promote Brexit as a success for the UK Negotiating Team at each stage of the negotiations (when clearly it is not) and, whenever thwarted (as it will be), it will be accusing the EU Team of obstinacy and being uncooperative.
Why have so many working-class people - who clearly will be the most affected by our departure from the EU - been persuaded that this ‘leap in the dark’ will be reaping benefits (the unicorns) that have yet to be defined?
Why was it that, at each of the People’s Vote Marches - each attended by over a million people – that, when you looked around you, it was predominantly middle-class professionals - the least likely to be affected by our departure from the EU - that were marching?
I suggest that it was a failure of the Remain groups that we never were able to really tackle what made people back Brexit, a Brexit that has even now not been clearly defined.
It is quite unique that we are moving towards an outcome that has never been made clear. Because of this vagueness, each Brexit supporter will have their own concept of what they hope will be achieved. A clever ploy by the Leave campaign, but, unfortunately, this will lead to many disillusioned individuals.
Yet, we know that, if a second referendum had been held, with opinion polls always showing a majority support for Remain, we would have won. We know that, in the General Election, a majority of voters chose parties that supported a second referendum.
So, we have reached a position of planning for Brexit without the position of the voting majority being recognised.
We are now being asked to compromise our position and to bring unity to the country. But how can we, when know that we are being dragged into a situation that the majority do not support?
We know that the ‘left behind’ feeling of many from towns where the recession has added to the decline in the manufacturing industries that once gave prosperity to these communities. Since these are the constituencies that have changed their political support on the promise that they will get a better slice of the investment cake in the future. We know that that they predominantly voted Leave, somehow attributing their demise to the European Union. Will they see any future investment and improvement in their situation as a condemnation of the EU rather than years of failure by Westminster?
It is clear that future pro-European activities will need to explain the promises that will be broken over the next years, even though we will be labelled ‘Remoaners’. These activities will centre around immigration, fishing policy, agricultural subsidies, workers’ rights, and the constitutional problems that are on the horizon in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Perhaps we have spent too much time talking to the ‘converted’ (like I am doing now) and that we should be trying to influence people in those ‘left behind areas’?
The young are clearly supporters of the EU. It is important that we promote the cover of the European Union in the curriculum in schools and try to promote discussion in HE and FE colleges.
In last week’s EM conference call, chaired by Hugo Mann, other suggestions were made about how we, as an organisation, can move forward. Briefly, these involve campaigns for the UK still to be heard in the heart of Europe, to support EU Citizens in their rights to remain in their current positions and, more innovatively, to produce our own media where mainstreams do not promote us and, inevitably, to hold this Government to account at both local and national levels. We are seeking collaborations with other pro-European groups with each entity doing what it is best at. You will hear more of these initiatives in the coming few weeks as they come together.
Clearly, we are now embarking upon a long journey. The nature and timing of our actions in the future will be critical to achieving the desired effect of remaining as close as possible to Europe.
Chair of L4E
Former Europe Minister Denis MacShane comments: "In the meantime it is important to remind people that leaving the EU Treaty under terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Direction is not Brexit but the beginning of a long complex and very unclear process.
"I continue to visit EU capitals and Brussels, as well as meet with political folk of all colour in London so have some feel for the politics of what is going on and what may happen - though most of it is locked in Johnson’s head with D Cummings holding the key.
"I am very happy to come and talk to London 4 Europe local branches about the idea in my new book, Brexiternity, the Uncertain Fate of Britain. I am doing a talk next month to NE Surrey branch in Leatherhead."
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.