Monday

24th Sep 2018

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.

News in Brief

  1. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  2. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  3. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law
  4. Open Society Foundation takes Hungary to court
  5. EU court asked to rule on halting Brexit
  6. EU threatens Switzerland on stock trading
  7. Italy's new basic wage restricted to Italians
  8. UK tycoon offers to create pro-Brexit party

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  2. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  3. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  4. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  5. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  6. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  7. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  8. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us