While the news is full of Conservatives promising to leave by 31st October is there anything that Remainers can do?
The airwaves are full of stories of Conservatives promising to leave the European Union by 31st October. Is there anything that those who still believe that the UK’s long-term future still lies in remaining members of the EU can do? It is easy to become depressed and believe that as the news agenda has moved on our voices are no longer heard. Has the argument that we cannot have both the benefits of membership, in terms of free trade, without any of the responsibilities and costs been lost? Do we have to resign ourselves to accepting that our country is about to be relegated to an off-shore insignificant island, tearing itself apart as the result of xenophobic nationalism, as its economy shrinks and the opportunities for our young people become less and less?
I don’t think so. Once the Conservatives have selected their new leader and installed him in Number 10 the news media will realise that nothing else has changed. No new arguments have been put forward to persuade the EU to make the changes to the Northern Irish back-stop that the ERG and those supporting the Brexit Party demand as the price of their support for a Withdrawal Agreement. The argument that you only get what you want in negotiations by acting hardball only works if the other side believes that they will lose more by refusing to accept your version of the deal or they believe that you can afford to walk away. Neither of these conditions hold true. Accepting a situation where there is an open border between the EU and a third country strikes at the whole principle of a common market, which is fundamental to the EU. They cannot accept it and continue to police a common external tariff. And for the UK to create such a break-down in relations will not only make it extremely difficult to negotiate a new trade deal with our European neighbours any time soon it will also signal to the rest of the wold that we are an unreliable partner where rational economic decisions of mutual interest will be secondary to a political populist agenda.
On the other hand, the number of MPs in the House of Commons willing to support a “no deal” Brexit will not have increased. Indeed, a lurch to the right in the Government under Mr Johnson, the most likely winner, will release a few current ministers from collective responsibility and strengthen the numbers against crashing out at the end of October without any transition arrangements in place. Under Speaker Bercow it seems impossible that Parliament will allow itself to be silenced and any Government that ignored its elected politicians would be even weaker when it comes to persuading other countries that it is a reliable negotiating partner for future trade deals as well as any other damage to our democracy.
Why then are most Conservative MPs demanding that we leave on Halloween with or without a deal? Because for them the immediate threat is that the Brexit Party destroys their majority for a generation or more. This issue has always been more about the future of the Conservative Party than about what was best for the country. Unfortunately, in our populist times this thinking has become even more short-term. They hope that a more popular Prime Minister will reduce the risk of Farage and they seem incapable of thinking beyond that as to what happens when he confronts the same realities that have confronted Mrs May.
So, what happens next? It becomes increasingly difficult to foresee. A General Election would probably lead to another hung Parliament, with the SNP and the Lib Dems holding the balance of power. Something neither the Tories nor Labour would want and would make Brexit even less likely. The only way that a new Conservative leader would call an election would be if there was an electoral pact with the Brexit Party. As they have no MPs currently, giving up seats would be extremely difficult to arrange and justify to those Conservative MPs that would have to be sacrificed. However, it remains an outside risk.
Remainers have to work both locally and nationally to forge alliances between those parties that support remain so that should a General Election be called our vote is not divided. This is one reason that Labour cannot continue to sit on the fence. If they do, they will find that their tribal support has been squeezed to a minimum by ignoring the only issue on which the election would be fought.
At the same time, we have to continue to persuade our neighbours, relations and friends that the argument is not over and that there are good reasons for remaining in the EU. We want to work to restore our position at the heart of international actions to confront the important challenges to our peace and prosperity. It is only through international collaboration that issue such as immigration, climate change and the ongoing rules-based system to avoid war can be pursued and extended.
If you need any ammunition in this debate, this link may be of use https://brexit.tools/and come to our meetings and other local events.
It is also important that we continue to voice our concerns in public and I would urge you to support the March for Change on 20thJuly in London. Unlike previous marches that Open Britain Shrewsbury has supported, organised by the People’s Vote Campaign, this one is clearly aimed at showing that there is ongoing support for remaining in the European Union and participating in its necessary reform. A People’s Vote remains the most democratic way to reverse Brexit but alongside that we need to campaign for the positive benefits of remaining a participant in the European Union. So please come and join us. Links to how to come on our coach from Shrewsbury are here. Come and join us!
This fight is a long way from being lost. The facts have not changed and there is still much to do.