There are many practical reasons for not creating a re-joiners’ party. Or, to put it differently, there is much that can be done to restore a genuinely positive relationship with Europeans which could open the doors to eventual re-joining. This can best be done through working within the existing party framework.
I see huge, so far largely untapped, opportunities for swinging the public mood strongly against the leaders of the Brexit process to a point at which the polls would show a substantial majority emerging in each existing party in favour of assuring that our links with our European neighbours are filled with good will rather than damaged further by mistrust.
I would suggest that, at this stage, the focus of any campaigning should not yet be on re-joining but on highlighting the fact Brexit is not delivering on what many of those who voted to leave Europe were told to expect. They can now see that they have been badly let down on their expectations for frictionless trade, continued cooperation on dealing with crime, ease of access to EU countries, maintaining the global role of the ‘City’ in financial services, collaboration on research and health and other aspects of cooperation that have been essentially benign during our many years of membership.
They could be forgiven for assuming that ‘taking back control’ and restoring sovereignty was all about devolving responsibilities reclaimed from the EU to parliament in Westminster and to the national assemblies. They might now feel betrayed by power grabbing by ‘Number 10’ and the erosion of the role of our elected representatives in ensuring due scrutiny and oversight of government – including parliamentary oversight of the Brexit process itself which has been arbitrarily shut down by the Leader if the House.
It has also become evident that, in spite of the claims of Johnson, Gove and other ‘leave’ stalwarts that we have successfully negotiated a Free Trade Deal with the European Union, we have ended up with a cumbersome trading agreement that greatly complicates the movement of goods and people, adding substantial costs and administrative burdens to most transactions. These bring absolutely no benefits whatsoever to Britain or European countries and have already caused massive economic damage, some of which is irreversible as businesses have gone bust. To put it bluntly, it is a downright stupid deal and it is incredible that it could have been negotiated by British leaders who had promised us ‘frictionless’ trading arrangements.
Surprisingly, it has not yet dawned on many members of a British public (whose thoughts are mainly on how to emerge from the COVID pandemic and to start to return to a ‘normal’ life) that the greatest irony of the Brexit process is that it was born under the emblem of the Union Jack but the deal reached and celebrated by its promoters is now seriously threatening the very unity of our United Kingdom. I suspect that, in spite of the rise in ‘nationalism’ related to each component nation, the last thing that most voters want is to end the of the Union in which we have grown up just because Johnson and his English chums produced and continue to defend a deal that went against the expressed preferences of voters in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
We have arrived at a situation in which Brexit is simultaneously damaging British prosperity, reigniting conflict in Northern Ireland and adding momentum to an already strong movement towards Scottish independence. This was not what the majority of British people voted for in 2016, and I am sure that it is not what most want now. We must cease to look a each of these issues separately and alert the public to the collective danger that they pose to the integrity of our country. This danger is real and can only be prevented by an immediate government commitment to reopen negotiations of the Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union.
However, probably the most damaging outcome of the Brexit process has been its systemic undermining and exclusion of almost all the mechanisms through which we have worked fruitfully with our European fellow nations for many years. Our engagement in most of these arrangements for professional, scientific, legal and financial collaboration has not involved ceding any of our sovereignty to ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’. Yet we have had to helplessly watch our government’s hard-line negotiators engage in the deliberate demolition of institutional arrangements that are not just benign but also serve the common good of geographically close nations who face interconnected challenges that can only be effectively handled jointly.
This same team of negotiators allowed their own strongly anti-European convictions to undermine the good will that most British people – even many of those who resent the heavy hand of Brussels – know is so important for the nurturing of mature relationships in Europe. The steps taken, for example, to create formidable obstacles for cultural and artistic collaboration between our country and those across the Channel and to close down Erasmus are far from what was promised in 2016 and bring no gain to anyone.
At times like this, I often think of the sacrifices of my father and mother who lived through two devastating European Wars both of which were ignited because of a breakdown of trust and transparency between the nations from which our continent is composed. I believe that, as they look at the changing international balance of power, many people will be alarmed to see how Britain has not only weakened its own standing in the world through its self-isolation but also damaged the effectiveness of institutions that have contributed to nurturing peace in Europe throughout most of my lifetime.
Just 7 years ago, in his biography of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson wrote of his mentor that “It was his idea to bring these counties together, to bind them so indissolubly that they could never go to war again – and who can doubt, today, that this idea has been a spectacular success?”
Little more needs to be said, because more and more of the British electorate have come to realise that they have been conned into supporting a process, championed by a compulsive liar, that endangers the lives of our children and grandchildren, by taking Britain out of an alliance that he himself has claimed to have assured our peace. He is not helping either himself or us by pretending that all of Britain’s current problems are the result of the Covid pandemic rather than of his pursuit of his personal obsession to become prime minister, regardless of the negative effects on our lives and those of future generations.
The European Movement is starting to lay bare the devastating impact of Brexit on many individuals. Following the recent changes, it has the capacity to play a leading role in building a national consensus that we have been led up the garden path and that we can do much better if we are honest with ourselves and with our allies. Given the growing awareness of massive patronage within government, corruption, irresponsible spending of taxpayers’ money (such as a possible twenty thousand million pounds invested in a failed search and trace system), delays in top-level decision-making that led to needless COVID deaths, and ministerial lying to parliament, this is the right moment for our Movement to pull all the stops out.
Let us give the government due credit for its successful furlough and vaccination programmes but not allow these to cover up the much more fundamental problems that their mishandling of Brexit and their pervasive amorality have created.
Apparently one in 5 people who survive Covid lose their sense of smell. But surely even they can still smell rats.