Campaign for Remain, obvs
London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes.
Six months sounds like a long time. It isn’t.
We can split the campaign objectives into phases that should run concurrently at first, though the first two will end sooner:
- Determining the structure of the process
- The choice of Brexit options
A healing process
Our concern should not be to win but to have a fair and healing process after which – whatever the result – the country can come together again.
We should argue for processes that will enable everyone to feel they have had a fair chance to make their case; and to believe that all voters have made an informed decision. So we have proposals for a two-stage referendum, citizens’ assemblies, improved methods for the flow of good information and to hinder false information. We are consulting on a referendum campaign pledge for good behaviour.
It does also mean that we should not change the franchise or counting rules from those used in 2016. Whatever the arguments on their merits for and against, changing the rules part way through the game is not going to leave people convinced that it had been a fair fight.
Choice of Leave Options
Perhaps it would be better if only “registered Leave voters” chose between the Brexits on offer, rather like an American primary. But that is not an option here.
The more cynical will wish to game the referendum by promoting the Brexit option that is easiest to beat. That however is harder to do than it sounds. Think of the Conservatives who signed up with Labour in 2015 in order to make Jeremy Corbyn leader; that probably did not seem such a good idea in 2017.
Nor are Remainers united on which Brexit to prefer: an ultra-hard Brexit to cure Leavers of their delusions? Norway Plus to keep us as close to the EU as we can? Though some would say that a Remainer who chooses between Brexit options is no longer a Remainer.
Equally problematic is what the Remain campaign would say against the various Brexit options. We have to be careful that our criticisms do not undermine our own case for Remain. For many voters the problem with Norway options is that they allow freedom of movement. We cannot criticise that.
We can let the advocates of different Brexits criticise the other options. We should try to make sure that each Brexit option is fairly expressed. And concentrate on promoting our case.
Start now: the case for Remain
All EU countries take the credit for EU decisions and rules that they like and pass the blame to the EU for decisions and rules they do not like; the UK is not exceptional.
Where the UK is exceptional is that there is not the balancing narrative of the rôle of the EU as a guarantor of peace, freedom, democracy and European values which other countries have as part of the story. Nor is there the story of how pooling sovereignty ensures we get more of what we want, how membership of the EU is a foundation of our standing in the world. The arguments are there of course, but contained in academic literature and not brought to the public in an accessible story.
The Remain campaign pretty well switched off after 1975. Instead even supporters of the EU more or less argued that membership was a regrettable necessity for trade and economic benefits.
Sure, the higher positive case for the EU plays badly with the electorate (all of us only hear what we wish to hear). But we do now have six months to make it. It has a certain novelty value which might lead to a bit of interest. So let’s start making that case now. Half a year’s continued messaging should do something to counteract the decades of anti-EU stories in the Brexit press.
We should make our case on Leavers’ territory. So we must address sovereignty, national identity, sense of community.
Especially we must support freedom of movement. Too much of the Remain campaign has promoted the trade benefits of the single market without promoting freedom of movement. True, half of Remainers also support restrictions on freedom of movement. But we will never win a campaign if the most we can manage on a key element of our case is a shame-faced assertion that it is “a price worth paying”. Nor will arguing that there are existing restrictions that we could impose work: that will just validate Leavers’ concerns without assuaging them. We must come out as strong supporters setting out the benefits for us both as people who do or might make use of it ourselves and as residents who benefit from other EU citizens coming here.
We also have to avoid the seductions of “Remain and Reform” or of promising UK reforms. The Remain campaign can deliver neither. That said, we can point out that we can work for EU reform if we are in it; and that domestic reforms will work better if we Remain – no more talking about Brexit for one thing.
Nor should we go on about the harms of Brexit, or what we did not like about 2016. Let’s not be distracted from the positive story about our case.
Six months is very little time. But it is long enough to justify running a positive hopeful campaign about EU membership.
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