21 Jan, 2019
Chair's message to members - 21 January 2019
Dear Member or Supporter
Now there have been two defeats. Theresa May's unloved deal was spectacularly voted down. Jeremy Corbyn's no-confidence motion also failed. Those two decisions mean that - just 31 months after the referendum - we can actually start to debate Brexit options.
Theresa May can no longer pretend that her deal is not just the only and clear answer to the Brexit referendum but also that it largely fulfils the promises made then. Jeremy Corbyn should stop at least for a time (he will look out for more no-confidence votes) focussing on getting into No 10 and instead address the matter in hand: Brexit.
And let's be clear. That is all that is on the agenda right now. Although many believe that Labour's Conference motion says that a failed attempt to obtain a general election would commit the party to a referendum, it doesn't. It just says "If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.". As Barry Gardiner and Emily Thornberry keep reminding us, a general election is a public - or indeed People's - vote. Corbyn is not moving to a referendum. He is still on his Brexit plan, still looking out for the route to No 10.
So it will take a while to get serious. We have to hope that calls to extend the Article 50 period before we have a plan get nowhere - we would just waste more time on more fantasies.
Corbyn's Brexit is one of those: a Customs Union where the UK has a say in the EU's trade negotiations; a close relationship with the single market that - presumably - passes Labour's six tests by bringing the exact same benefits as full membership while at the same time being outside freedom of movement and state aids rules. He seems to assume that the EU's "no cherry picking" mantra only applies to Theresa May and not to him.
Nick Boles MP - and George Osborne in the Evening Standard - are pushing Norway Plus, also known as Common Market 2.0. Boles and his cross-party group of MPs are playing to the false belief that we had joined something that was just a trade organisation. That is to ignore the determination of countries on the continent after World War II to ensure "never again" by practical means. The origins of the EU are as a vehicle for peace; trade is a means to that end. Since Norway Plus does not address freedom of movement - to which the public remain as hostile as ever - the Boles plan is not the grown up compromise that its supporters like to see it as being.
The ERG still want No-deal. It is the most popular option in the country amongst Leave voters. So we cannot just ignore it or wave it away. It must be possible in theory that after decades of opposing the EU the ERG will finally get their act together and come up with a viable plan, perhaps one that accepts the withdrawal Agreement but heads to a Canada FTA for Great Britain. Because it is hard to see the EU changing the Withdrawal Agreement. The ERG's assumption is that the EU will sacrifice Ireland for the money. But the EU (and the Government) see the money as a payment of past commitments, while the ERG see it as a payment for a future trade deal. Not settling our bills is hardly going to make for a positive relationship - nor suggest to any other country that we are a reliable partner. So the EU's assumption that it is the UK that will come begging for a deal after No-deal seems reasonable. Nor can the EU - having invested so much in the backstop - be seen to trade it away, however much they would like the cash. If the EU prefers the interests of an ex-member to those of a member the club will collapse.
And so we come back to the deal, as Parliament also will have to. While the Withdrawal Agreement cannot realistically be changed the Political Declaration can. The package is a real-world Brexit. It exists. It can be implemented. The deal does not deliver all the promises of 2016. It delivers formal sovereignty and reduces effective sovereignty. Essentially it delivers the anti-immigration Brexit that many Leave-voters wanted at the lowest economic cost. It is also pretty close to Jeremy Corbyn's proposal. He just needs the EU to shave off the fantasy bits. Also Theresa May needs to accept that there is no realistic way of avoiding both a hard border and a border in the Irish Sea without the UK being in a permanent customs union. That signals the danger. The two party leaders might end up agreeing Brexit between them.
That is why we need to keep up the fight for the referendum. So that we can Remain in the EU.
We are getting ready
The reason why Norway cannot work is a lesson for Remain too: we need to get on with the campaign to win hearts to freedom of movement or we will lose the 2019 referendum also. As Caroline Lucas said, it was a moral failure not to campaign for freedom of movement. We have not yet had a national Remain campaign, just a campaign for a people's vote that studiously avoided campaigning for Remain.
London4Europe are certainly getting ourselves ready. On Wednesday we had a big meeting at Europe House with many of the local European Movement branches and local organisations who are not EM affiliated that are campaigning for Remain in London. We were joined by the new Regional Campaigns Officer for London from the People's Vote campaign, Liron Velleman, and the PV Campaigns Director Tom Brufatto.
The meeting was a great success, full of energy, commitment and determination. It was a room full of experienced, dedicated campaigners. We generated a lot of useful ideas and contacts for how best to support and manage the Remain campaign in London. More on that will follow. We will carry on working with the national campaign and local organisations.
For now, I hope that you will do your bit to seize the chance we have been given. Have a look at our list of suggestions for what you can do. Make contact with your local EM branch or non-EM organisation (this is no time for organisational egos) and find out what you can do to take part in campaigning.
These latest votes show that Brexit can be stopped. Please do not rely on someone else stopping Brexit for you. That's not how it works. It will be stopped by us. All of us. And only if all of us stop it. So, if you are not already actively engaged, now is the point to work out how you can be, to plan the next six months or so of your life to create regular and substantial time for campaigning. If you are already engaged, great - thank you; how can you do more? Because getting the referendum (and alas we do not yet have it) will turn out to have been the easy bit; directly engaging with Leave voters and persuading millions of them to vote Remain with enthusiasm will be much much harder. But we are up to it!
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