Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

Searching for a voice and standard bearer

  • The House of Lords may prove to be yet another sticking point for Theresa May (Photo: ukhouseoflords)

Most of Britain’s beleaguered pro-Europeans have been in hiding since last June’s EU referendum. Tortured by the combination of imminent Brexit and Donald Trump in the White House, switching off the news and unplugging the phone takes the edge off the grief.

Perhaps pro-Europeans should wear black.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

It’s no surprise. Remainers are yet to find a political voice that can counter the new "one party Brexit state" of Theresa May.

Tony Blair found that out last week. Such is the ferocious hatred of anything related to the former prime minister that his remark that, "the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail," didn’t stop Brexiteers accusing him of treason and insurrection for suggesting that people might change their minds about leaving the EU.

"We have to build a movement which stretches across party lines, and devise new ways of communication," Blair said.

Most of his message was and is valid. But pro-Europeans need a different messenger if they want to have a chance of being listened to.

In the firing line this week was the House of Lords. As an unelected assembly dominated by former politicians, diplomats and academics, a care-home for the Establishment, the House of Lords is a soft target.

The Lords can’t block the bill. Nor is it in their interests to seriously try. Right-wing pundits are saying that the Lords should face abolition – or have their expenses cut - if they dare amend the Article 50 bill.

Boasting around 250 out of over 800 members, it’s much harder for the government to build majorities in the Lords than it is in the Commons.

Consequently, a handful of amendments are likely to get tacked on to the bill next week when it reaches committee stage. The most likely contenders include an amendment to guarantee an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and guarantees on the rights of EU citizens in Britain and the role of parliament in scrutinising the process.

Securing small concessions on the negotiations is as good as it will get in the short-term.

No buyer’s remorse

In the meantime, the 48 percent of Remain voters – and anxious Leave supporters – need a political movement to rally around if and when Brexit turns ugly.

There is currently no vehicle for their views. Labour is rudderless and divided – party sources estimate that around 7,000 members tore up their party cards after leader Jeremy Corbyn instructed his MPs to support the government’s bill to trigger Article 50 earlier this month.

Labour and its EU sister-parties are holding a post-Brexit conference in London on Friday and Saturday (24-25 February), presumably in a bid to work out what they stand for in the post-Article 50 world.

The failure of UKIP to take an extremely winnable seat in Stoke-on-Trent - the only piece of good news for Labour from Thursday's by-elections - should offer some encouragement to those hoping Labour remains a pro-European centre-left party.

The Liberal Democrat and Green parties, for their part, are simply too small to pose any serious opposition to the May government.

The Open Britain campaign group, which was formed from the members of the losing Stronger IN campaign team, has focused on retaining single market membership but accepting Brexit. It has had little media impact recently.

For the moment, any talk of another referendum is for the birds. There is little sign of much buyer’s remorse among Leave voters and considering the low quality and viciousness of last year’s referendum campaign, most would be forgiven for not wanting a rerun anytime soon.

Turn of the wheel

But the divorce and renegotiation are not going to be a long game.

Already 35 percent of Britons want a second referendum on the terms of exiting the EU, a figure which will probably increase if a successor trade agreement is not agreed before the Article 50 process comes to an end in spring 2019.

Outside dictatorships, political debate does not stop just because one side wins an election, Remainers have every right to keep campaigning and hope for a change in the political weather.

During the first House of Lords debate on the Article 50 bill this week, Nicholas Macpherson, a former Treasury mandarin, told Remainers to "not be too downcast".

"These islands have been seeking to define their relationship with continental Europe for the past 2,000 years. The referendum result represents a turn of the wheel, and the wheel will one day turn again," he said.

Pushing the wheel along, however, will first need a political movement worth the name.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

Column / Brexit Briefing

British MPs back May's Brexit bill

Triggering Article 50 was backed by 498 to 114 MPs in the UK parliament, with the Scottish National Party and Labour rebels forming the bulk of the dissenting votes.

France's Macron issues Brexit warning

The centrist presidential candidate tells talented Britons to come to France and warns against giving the UK "undue advantages" after Brexit, in a speech in London.

Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?

Ahead of the European Parliament election in May, the bloc is ideologically split between authoritarians seeking to reduce its sway, and those seeking a moderate track. In essence, voters have to decide if they want to move forwards or backwards.

Russia and money laundering in Europe

After Danske Bank, both the US and the EU need to abandon the principle in bank regulation that it is all right to be a crook as long as you are big.

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us