Friday

18th Aug 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy