Chair's message to members - 7 October 2019
Dear Member or Supporter
I am looking forward greatly to seeing many of you at our Annual General Meeting this evening. This October is another month that some of our fellow-citizens wish to be the last month of our membership of the EU. So I thought it would be helpful to stand back, return to first principles, and think what this is all about.
Why EU membership matters
It’s not about the single market or the customs union, important though trade and prosperity are. It’s not even about Euro-laws that we like.
First, the EU is a force for peace in Europe. It is one of the pillars for ensuring that the greatest of calamities, war, does not reach us or conscript our children. It is good that so many of us feel able to take peace for granted. But it is also a mistake to do so. Rising nationalism should make us nervous. As President Mitterand said: “Le nationalisme? C’est la guerre”.
Second, the EU brings us closer together as an end in itself. It allows us to meet people from other countries as individuals. They become our friends, our colleagues, our partners, our neighbours in our communities. Freedom of movement gives us opportunity over the whole continent. It helps us to add European to our suite of identities.
Third, the EU empowers small and medium sized countries – including the UK – to realise our sovereignty. Together we can meet the large countries, big corporations, and global challenges on equal terms. On our own, we would be subservient. We work collectively where we all agree by treaty that it is to our advantage to do so.
Fourth, through modelling democratic processes in the Council of Ministers representing member states, the directly elected Parliament representing citizens and the independent European Court of Justice the EU supports democracy and the rule of law across the Continent. That helps to keep us all free and secure.
Sovereignty, freedom, identity, community, democracy, peace - these are our values.
What our campaign is for
Our campaign goes beyond obtaining for us as individuals or the UK as a country the benefits of EU membership.
Our campaign must also heal the divisions that have struck our country as a result of the Brexit débâcle. We are not trying to obtain a victory. We are hoping to achieve a new consensus. To settle the question we need six million Leave voters to choose Remain – and do so enthusiastically. That would replicate the result from 1975: 67R:33L. We should not make promises - domestic or EU policy reform - that we cannot deliver; only the political parties can do that. But we can make sure that we behave in a way that heals.
The method for staying in the EU
In a democracy, we the winners must conduct themselves in such a way that the losers accept that a decision has been made fairly and implemented respectfully. Politically, democratically, what began with a referendum can only be confirmed or stopped by a referendum.
It needs to have on it all the Brexit options that actually exist and that have material support in the country. Otherwise Leavers will say they had not been given a fair chance to be heard. It is hard to have a fair multiple choice referendum; but there are methods.
We need two campaigns
We need both a national Remain campaign and a campaign for a referendum: an aim and a method. The two campaigns would support each other. It is Remainers who want a referendum. So the best way to obtain support for a referendum is to obtain more support for Remain.
The Remain campaign needs to be positive and hopeful. It should be about the EU and sing of its vision and promise. It needs to address Leavers’ concerns directly: immigration, identity, freedom, democracy. I’m glad that is what they care about – because these are our arguments for being pro-EU.
The failure to have set up a unified national Remain campaign is one reason why the country is still bitterly divided at half and half on the core question. We risk that in the short referendum campaign period it will be too late to run the positive campaign we need. In that case, all that we would be able to do would be to try to maximise the turn-out of existing Remainers by continuing with the present anti-Brexit message: Project Fear Mark II. We know how well Mark I went.
It goes further than that. The lack of a Remain campaign also strengthens those forces within the EU who - although friendly towards the UK - are more concerned with the European project. If all that the Remain side is hoping for is to scrape over 50% by an anti-Brexit campaign then the UK cannot end up as a positive member of the EU. British governments would always be looking over their shoulders at the simmering Eurosceptic half of the population. We would be inside the tent, but messing it up for everyone.
I had hoped that the political parties would pick up the burden. But after the conferences it does not seem that there is a party that is backing all of: Remain; referendum; and a programme to heal the country that is based on an actual analysis of Leave voters (as opposed to a belief that the referendum was a proxy vote for that party's programme).
Through all the excitements that this month will bring, we must expect the return of the Deal, whether brought forward by the Government, Opposition or backbenchers. Good.
It might be Theresa May’s deal or Boris Johnson’s or Jeremy Corbyn’s – who cares? (all Brexits are bad) The versions of the Withdrawal Agreement are unlikely to be that different in reality. Perhaps the arrangements for the backstop will apply only to Northern Ireland rather than be UK-wide; one key test will be whether the Irish Republic signs up to it; another what a range of opinion in Northern Ireland thinks.
The political declaration has more scope for difference. But it is anyway non-binding. It is only once a government has been chosen to negotiate it that we will really know what the initial Brexit means. Then, post-Brexit Britain would be in a permanent negotiation with the EU, rather as Switzerland is.
That tells us what we should hope for. MPs should pass the deal – whatever deal the EU has agreed - but with a referendum condition. We should not especially rubbish the deal. There is no good deal that we would like. It is Brexit that is the problem, not any particular deal. There has to be a Brexit option on the ballot paper. It needs to be orderly, as the Deal is. Passing the Deal does not mean MPs think it is a good idea. It just means that they think it is a real-world plan, it actually exists, it fulfils the mandate from 2016. With a referendum requirement we would have the People's Vote before a general election.
A general election could not resolve Brexit, though it might decide what happens next. Only once Brexit has been settled, then should we have a general election. That could decide which party’s vision of Brexit should prevail in the direction of the negotiations (insofar as it has not been settled by the choice of options in the referendum). Or, as I hope, the election would decide which party is the more capable of healing the UK’s rift with the EU and the bitter internal divisions in the country as we stay in the EU and begin to move forward again. A key task for the first Remain-UK government will be to reach out to Leavers and meet their wish to "Take back control" in a way that benefits all of us.
What you can do
If you wish to be more active in campaigning, we publish ideas for actions you can take, a list of local campaign bodies you can join and we provide the opportunity for you to volunteer to do more with London4Europe.
This e-mail sets out the personal views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of London4Europe.