The Government’s pandemic mask is beginning to slip. As the worst of the pandemic appears to be receding, the Government can no longer hide behind it as the sole reason for shortages and disruption to business and daily life, writes Nick Hopkinson.
Confirming a projection a year ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) concluded in its recent Budget brief the negative impact of Brexit would be twice that of the pandemic.
Now, with life seemingly returning to normal, pro-European campaigners are increasingly turning their attention towards extramural events. The pandemic has been a frustrating time for many of us. The European Movement (EM) is planning a National Day of Action on 20 November.
Whilst getting out and about again is essential, alone it is not sufficient. We need well thought out and implemented strategies, teamwork, good governance, discipline and building a movement for members and branches. We also need to rise above party tribal loyalties – we shall never win if we do not embrace the six million Conservative pro-Europeans. We need to build the EM into a force which will win for us all.
While a few brave politicians are speaking out about the disaster of Brexit, most still aren’t. We need to persuade more to be openly critical about Brexit. Making Brexit work better is not good enough. The receding of the pandemic gives us more scope to impress upon politicians that We are Done with Brexit!
We need to learn the lessons of the People’s Vote debacle at Millbank, where egos and poor governance let us all down. We need to focus more on strengthening the one pro-European organisation which has any chance of making a real impact: the European Movement (EM). The EM is the best vehicle through which pro-Europeans can rejoin the EU. But the EM is still far from being our hoped-for mass movement which can turn the tide. Our cause needs coherent national structure, not an uncoordinated patchwork of groups with different brands communicating different messages. Yet we need also to embrace other groups and individuals, and respect their independence. And let’s not forget that EM branches do have considerable independence in deciding what activities they wish to undertake and prioritise.
Although inspiring, watching hundreds of local groups pass by during the handful of big London marches suggested there is little binding many groups together, other than support for a People’s Vote, and a wish to remain. In the weakened and diverse pro-European landscape today, the impact of the EM is diminished by the absence of a more-widely recognised unified brand and message. If Pro-Europeanism remains a loose assortment of groups, there is little chance our cause might become a powerful national force capable of empowering spineless opposition parties and reversing this government’s Brexit.
There are arguably some 250 ‘hyper-activists’ nationwide. But they are not the whole movement – there are some other 13,000 EM members who are largely content to support the pro-European cause, but only participate in activities from time to time, if at all. We also need to look beyond our membership to the 16 million who would likely vote to rejoin given the right political circumstances.
For our cause to succeed, we need to engage them more closely. Pro-Europeanism needs to become a way of life, not just protests and picnics. Look at the Greening groups sprouting up everywhere. They organise regular green drinks, talks, cafes, protests, you name it. The EM needs to dedicate more resources to doing the same. As part of an accessible and compelling membership offer, every day needs to be Europe day.
Such pro-European organisational shortcomings have contributed to the absence of a sustained clear lead for remaining in and now rejoining the EU since the 2016 referendum. Even though in the past two months, support for Remain has widened considerably, support for Leave and Remain has jockeyed back and forth within relatively narrow bands. The latest Delta poll on 15 October shows support for Remain at 45% compared to 36% for leave.
In spite of the recent resurgent opposition to Brexit, it is not regarded the most important issue facing the country. You Gov has tracked the top three issues facing the country: EU departure was the clear top issue in June 2019 at 70%, but this has fallen to 27% this month, well behind health (47%), the economy (46%), and the environment (35%).
We shall never give up advocating our passionate desire to regain our place at the heart of Europe. EU membership is the best way forward for our country and ourselves. With polls suggesting we should not prematurely campaign to rejoin, the challenge is to formulate interim campaigns without losing sight of our shared end goal.
Brexit won in 2016, in particular because Farage successfully linked immigration - then the public’s number one concern - with EU membership. Today we need to do the same: show how our health, economic and environmental problems are exacerbated by Brexit. The links from our current difficulties (supply and staffing shortages, harm to hard hit sectors such as hospitality and music etc.) to Brexit are now gaining greater public traction. Brexit has not proved to be the solution, but has made our lives worse. Only through campaigning for gradual steps towards closer relations with the EU and building a stronger, more coherent EM can we succeed.
Author: Nick Hopkinson
Vice Chair, London4Europe
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.