The EU: Some personal reflections

“Brexit means Brexit”, we are constantly told, but what does “EU” mean? Here, to give us some insight into what we had actually been signed up for in the Treaty of Rome and subsequent treaties is the Chairman of the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

Edward Spalton describes himself as “not very political – country corn merchant and family feed milling business”, who was mildly europhilic until the arrival of the European Agricultural Policy in 1972. What made him change his mind? In his talk, he will give some personal reflections on the origins and development of the European Union, the ‘Weltanschauung’ driving it and living independently alongside it. And he will give a world preview of a new video ‘Witness to History – An insider’s view from the Foreign Office of 1950”. After a break, he will lead a discussion on “An amicable divorce – why breaking up is so hard!”

Labour’s Brexit dilemma

Before the EU referendum, many people thought that the outcome, whatever it might be going to be, was going to cause far more problems for the Conservative than the Labour Party. At least up to now, this is far from what has happened. Only one Tory MP, Kenneth Clark voted against Article 50 on 2nd February 2017 while 47 Labour MPs voted that way, showing how deep the divisions within the Labour Party over Brexit are at the moment.

A number of key statistics tell the story. Of the 230 odd constituencies held by Labour at the time of the EU referendum, 70% had Leave majorities. If London and a small number of university cities are excluded, the ratio rises to about 90%. Some of these Leave majorities were very substantial. In Stoke on Trent, where one of the recent bye-elections was held, the Leave majority was close to 70%. Among Parliamentary Labour Party members, however, the picture is very different. There is still only a comparatively small minority of committed Leave supporters, and most of the seats with the largest Remain majorities had Labour MPs.

This is what has caused the Labour Party such huge difficulties. Clearly there was a democratic vote in favour of leaving the EU on 23rd June 2017 which needs to be respected. Many Labour MPs who were both personally strongly for Remain and who had substantial majority support for this position among their constituency electorates, however, thought that they had good reasons, in their judgement, for voting against Article 50.

The danger then is that the Party as a whole loses out heavily in the country at large because of its ambivalent stance on Brexit – and more polling evidence emphasises the scale of this risk. On the one hand, of the 9.3m people who voted Labour in the 2015 general election, just short of 3.5m voted Leave in the EU referendum and half of these people, about 1.7m of them, say that they do not intend to vote Labour again at least partly because they are unhappy with Labour’s policies towards the EU. At the other end of the spectrum, fervent Labour-leaning Remain voters are concerned enough about Labour supporting Article 50 to desert the Party and to vote for the Lib Dems, which is clearly what happened in the recent Richmond by-election at the beginning of December 2016, where Labour finished up with only 4% of the vote.

Labour is thus threatened with losing large numbers of votes both among its industrial heartland blue collar erstwhile supporters, because it is not Eurosceptic enough, as well as from metropolitan middle class people, many of whom do not want to leave the EU at all.  Of course, issues to do with Brexit are not the only reason why the Party is in difficulties, but Brexit is currently dominating political discussion in the UK at the moment, and Labour cannot afford to call this issue wrongly. So what can it do?

The by-elections held on 23rd February 2017 provide some guidelines. In both Copeland and Stoke Central Labour’s share of the vote fell. Obviously, other factors were in play apart from Brexit but both the loss of the seat by Labour in Copeland and the low turnout in Stoke suggest that many Labour-leaning voters away from London and university cities are upset by the Labour Party’s lack of enthusiasm for Brexit.

Furthermore, even though there was some good news from a Labour perspective, this needs to be treated with caution. The threat from UKIP turned out to be much weaker than might have been expected, no doubt mainly because the Conservatives have promised to do much of what UKIP supporters want. Nor did either the Lib Dems or the Greens do well. The problem Labour faces, however, is that, as the main opposition party, it has to win support back from the government and this is not what is currently happening. Instead, it seems that the Conservatives have been much more successful on Brexit in positioning themselves where the country wants to be.

What, in these circumstances can Labour do? Really, there is only one way ahead on Brexit which has any realistic chance of helping it to recover the electoral support it needs to become an effective opposition, let alone the party of government. It cannot afford to disregard the result of the EU referendum both for democratic reasons and because the Party stands to lose much more support from those alienated by Labour backing off supporting Brexit than it is likely to lose by failing to obstruct the Brexit negotiations, which has to be Lib Dem and not Labour territory.

What Labour needs to do, therefore, is to recognise that it has to accept the referendum result and then to play as constructive a role as it can on the Brexit negotiations. This will not be secured by tactical manoeuvring against the government. It will be achieved by supporting the government wherever it is acting in the national interest, while no doubt carving out a distinctive Labour position where there is genuine difference of view, for example of social legislation. 

Brexit is all too likely to dominate the political horizon for all the period running up to the next general election in 2020. Labour needs to use this period to rebuild the electorate’s trust in the Party on the EU – as well as much else.

Photo by DavidMartynHunt

Making Brexit Work – what Brexit will look like

Making Brexit Work

The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the EU and, above all,
against the emergence of a centralised European state.

What Brexit Will Look Like:
Monday, 13th February
6.45 for 7pm
Britain and Free Trade

With the speakers;
Jim Mellon
International billionaire investor and Brexit supporter

Tim Congdon, CBE
Economist and advisor to previous Chancellors

With other speakers to be announced

Click here for more information

ADMISSION: £10 payable on the door or in advance
Including wine, orange juice, mineral water and nibbles

To purchase your ticket visit:
www.brugesgroup.com/shop/events
Or call Robert Oulds on 020 7287 4414
or reply to this e-mail

Alternatively, click here for a form to book your place

AGENDA:
Lectures: 7pm – 8pm
Discussion: 8pm – 8.30pm
Wine and refreshments: 8.30pm – 10pm

People’s Charter pro-Brexit rally

The People’s Charter Foundation, whose recent series of pro-Brexit protests, have featured in the media have announced a new event in collaboration with the Bruges Group. The next pro-Brexit rally will be on Saturday the 21st of Jan as requested by the people.

Our “full Brexit” campaign is non-partisan, welcoming all the 52%. We are bringing together as many Brexiteers as possible for a Pro-Brexit Rally on Jan 21st at the George V Statue, opposite the Houses of Parliament

What we now know and what we don’t know

Mrs May has finally delivered he much-awaited speech setting out her Brexit plans.

So what do we know?

We know that she has set herself a very ambitious timetable if she is to secure a deal within the two-year timescale stipulated by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, especially as she has promised a Parliamentary vote on the final deal.

Some of the points she mentioned come as no big surprise. We will no longer be subject to the European Court of Justice. “We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws”, she said. We could also have taken it as read that she does not want to see any hard border reinstated between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

It was no surprise that she expressed a determination to restrict immigration, openly acknowledging that it was a big concern for many during the referendum campaign. “The message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver.

So how does she propose to deliver this greater control? The balance between immigration control and access to the Single Market was  the most keenly-awaited aspect of the speech. The answer is that she wants maximum access to the EU for our companies without being a member of the Single Market. The Norway and Liechtenstein options appear to have gone out of the window. “I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the  Single Market….Being out of the EU but a member of the Single Market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.”

So what will replace our single market membership which will enable us to maintain our trade with the EU? These were her words:- “Instead we seek the greatest possible access to {the single market} through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement. That Agreement may take in elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas – on the export of cars and lorries for example, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders – as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years…..I …want tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible.”

However, things start getting a bit confused at this point. “I do not want us to be bound by the Common External Tariff.  These are the elements of the Customs Union that prevent us from striking our own comprehensive trade agreements with other countries.  But I do want us to have a customs agreement with the EU. Whether that means we must reach a completely new customs agreement, become an associate member of the Customs Union in some way, or remain a signatory to some elements of it, I hold no preconceived position. I have an open mind on how we do it. It is not the means that matter, but the ends.” Her options as far as the customs union is concerned may be very limited. Interviewed on BBC Radio Four’s World At One programme, the German MEP Elmar Brok was adamant that there could be no “associate membership” of the Customs Union.  

Mrs May did not go into too much detail about future cooperation with the EU on criminal justice issues. “A Global Britain will continue to cooperate with its European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs…..With the threats to our common security becoming more serious, our response cannot be to cooperate with one another less, but to work together more. I therefore want our future relationship with the European Union to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and the sharing of intelligence material with our EU allies.” Hopefully the end of our  membership of Europol, no more welcome for any Eurogendarmerie on UK soil and the end of our involvement with the flawed European Arrest Warrant.

Her insistence on a phased approach – an orderly Brexit (the final point in her speech) – suggests that she is keeping some cards up her sleeve. She insists that “it is in no one’s interests for there to be a cliff-edge for business or a threat to stability” and although ruling out “unlimited transitional status” she did not specifically exclude  a limited transitional arrangement.

Furthermore, although rejecting EEA membership, she said nothing about a shadow EEA arrangement – in other words, behaving as if we are in the EEA, which is an agreement and not an organisation. This would mean applying EU standards to all our exported goods. As she plans to repatriate the acquis, this is by no means impossible as the EU standards would still apply. Under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, if exports conform to the standards of the country that it is being exported to, their entry cannot be refused. Since 1992 the EU has been legally bound to accept global standards, so if it refused to do so, we could take it to court.

Another option which has not been openly discussed but should not be ruled out would be to use Australia’s relationship with the EU as a model. In 1997, Australia’s government signed a joint declaration on EU-Australian relations, followed two years later by a Mutual Recognition Agreement. The UK could do likewise, or make a unilateral declaration, up to and including a commitment to full regulatory harmonisation.

In short, there is more to come. She has clearly not revealed her hand totally and some commentators reckon that the what has been dubbed a “hard” Brexit may turn out, as further details ares revealed, to be not as “hard” as some have concluded. Anyway,  we will await further developments with interest.

Government confirms how to tackle EU indoctrination in schools

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                           

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)                                                                                          

News Release

15th December 2016

Government confirms how to tackle EU indoctrination in schools 

In a series of written questions, the independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has been tackling the Government about the issue of children being indoctrinated in schools about the EU.  For the first time, the Government has responded in detail and even provided an outline of what to do if you think your child is not receiving balanced teaching in lessons on political subjects.

Lord Stoddart said:  “This is easily the most comprehensive answer I have received on this subject and it appears that, for the first time, the Government has taken the matter seriously.  In a post-Brexit Britain, EU propaganda will be irrelevant and our educational establishments should be focusing on our own system of Government and the key role of Parliament in rebuilding Britain as a prosperous and leading world power.”

His latest question asked the Government to confirm ‘what action they plan to take to monitor and enforce the requirement for balanced treatment in educational establishments of political issues, including the UK’s membership of the EU’.

Lord Nash, for the Government replied (12th December):  ‘All schools are required to teach about political issues in a balanced way. Sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996 require maintained schools to prevent political indoctrination and ensure the balanced treatment of political issues.’

He added that:  ‘Ofsted inspectors will consider the breadth and balance of a school’s curriculum, the quality of teaching and how the school promotes pupils’ acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different beliefs.

Lord Nash also outlined the best way for parents concerned about unbalanced teaching of political subjects, to address the issue, ‘through the school’s complaints procedure and if they are not satisfied, escalate the complaint to the Secretary of State who has powers to intervene if schools are failing to comply with legal requirements.’

The full text of Lord Stoddart’s written question and the Government’s response can be accessed via this link