Millbank Rises Up Against Brexit

The Groundhog Day which is British politics took another turn on April 14th when a group of 9 anti Brexit groups launched a day of action in support of a People’s Vote on the Final Brexit Deal – a carefully chosen form of words. The 9 groups* are based in an office in the Millbank Tower, and in case any old stagers have missed the point, they proudly announced that this was where New Labour ran its 1997 and 2001 election campaigns and David Cameron took the Tories back into power in 2010. This  is sympathetic magic.

The actual strategy is more calculated. The People’s Vote (PV) is not a proposal for a new referendum, though the organisers are not happy with going ahead with Brexit. They just want the terms of the Brexit Deal to be approved by the electors. If this is not the case, then MPs should presumably send David Davis back for more discussion,. The parliamentary focus raises the question of where Labour would come in – Labour being an absent party thus far in the discussion. A broad front against the government would need votes from other parties and especially Tory rebels to win, so the two approaches could mesh. However  Labour and the PV people say the 2016 result must be ‘respected’ and unless there is a hidden agenda, stopping Brexit is off limits. 

PV  is a high risk strategy aimed at having the deal rejected. Their core case is  that new facts have emerged and the vote in 2016 was in the dark, which suggests the referndum should be re-run. But the Millbank strategist slide around a new referendum as they know there is no appetite for one. The most recent Yougov poll (March 29th) showed a clear majority against another referendum. Some 30% of Remain voters are against, presumably as they think a new referendum would be undemocratic, and People’s Vote know this, though one supporter, Tom Brake the Lib Dem MP argued on 12th December** that the polls show more people have turned against Brexit. But not in enough numbers to count so a referendum  is off the PV agenda.

Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Picard of Star Trek, speaking for the PV campaign on the Marr Show on April 15th was very clear that there is no intent to have another referendum. The briefing session I attended on the 22nd last was told that even suggesting an option to Remain annoys voters, and should be avoided on street stalls. So what the People’s Vote amounts to is a delaying tactic. Brexit will be delayed until the people have voted, but not opposed as such. 

Meanwhile  the government position is that there are only two the options in the ‘Meaningful Vote’. MPs will approve the deal, or the government will go for leaving with No Deal. If the vote goes against the government there would be a crisis, and some hope for a General Election. But the Millbankers only hope for a delay. If there is a People’s Vote and it was won, this would create a crisis with May claiming that the referendum gives her a mandate to walk out the EU. How the. fall out would be dealt with Millbank is keeping to itself.

 

An impasse with a few significant cracks

Is there a way out of the impasse? For a Kremlinologist like me there are some straws in the wind. In the old days of the Soviet Union you would notice a  purge of minor officials in somewhere east of the Urals and two weeks later the faction they backed exited the central committee in Moscow. Not that there is any danger of David Davis being purged, but there are some interesting developments on the margins which may be significant

Some months ago an epetition by one Anna Greaves calling for MPs to be allowed to vote with their consciences on the ‘meaningful vote’ on rhe Deal  reached 100,000 signatures. The epetition office titled this “the vote on the Brexit deal must include an option to Remain in the EU”.  The debate was scheduled for just after Easter – but then moved to April 30th. Last week it was postponed again to June 11th.

As government said in its response at the 10,000 signatures mark, the deal will be accepted or government  will ‘move ahead without a deal’. So what has caused the delay is hard to see. Possibly the problems with presenting a Deal mean government does not want to reveal its hand. And just possibly they might lose a vote calling for a referendum. We will not know till an MP puts down an amendment to do that. While both Labour and the People’s Vote fail to do this and there is no campaign for the unpopular option, then there will be no movement. But it stays as the Elephant in the Living Room, the option polite company does not discuss. 

*The main ones appear to be Open Britain and the European Movement – Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry for Open Britain, ex-Tory minister Stephen Dorrell from EM – plus seven others

** on the http://leftfootforward.org/2017/12/website  = they report what seems to have been a rogue poll.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018.

Anti Brexit In The Bleak Late Winter

The anti-Brexit movement continues in 2018 with a Labour Party trying to move beyond the ‘Brexit for Jobs’ slogan of 2017, and the extra parliamentary movement fragmented and without a clear strategy,  Labour’s  ambiguous  policy  was very successful – but only in the short term. Labour ended 2017 united and having gained support from both Leavers and Remainers, as the 2017 election showed. 

The formula devised by Keir Starmer was so ambiguous that a YouGov/Best for Britain poll in December found that 32% of Labour Remain voters believe Labour is “completely against Brexit” while 31% of Labour Leave voters thought it was “completely in favour of Brexit “. This is unsustainable.  In mid March Corbyn made a keynote speech which was aimed at taking the party forward.

Whatever it was supposed to do, it did not convince the voters. The UK Polling report of 11th March noted that “For Labour, just 18% of people now think their Brexit Policy is clear (down from 22% immediately after Corbyn’s speech), 21% of people say they support the approach that Jeremy Corbyn is taking towards Brexit”. With the YouGov poll  showing that around one third each of Remain and Leave Labour voters think the party is in favour of their position,  Labour is in a trap of losing support when the so-called  ‘Meaningful Vote’ is held in the autumn or later while it has no real answer to the big issue – why should Brexit happen?  

The Extra Parliamentary Movement

The wider movement is by contrast openly split, and with a wide variety of diverging organisations, five having a national role – Best 4Britain, Open Britain, European movement, Britain4Europe and  Another Europe is Possible (AEIP),. The splits between the five major groups had become damaging by the end of 2017, and Best For Britain  (B4B) under its new chair Lord Malloch-Brown attempted to lead a unity initiative. The  Guardian on 17th December reported “an agreement that their messages needed to be better co-ordinated”. There were three groups listed as co-operating – Best4Britain, Open Britain and the European Movement

The co-ordination lasted only till after the parliamentary  recess, when Chuka Umuna was reported by Labour List on February 2nd to “make the case against a hard Brexit after agreeing to lead a new grassroots campaign group”. This apparently new campaign, known as the Grassroots Co-ordinating Group or GCG is linked to the  All party parliamentary group on EU relations but  immediately led to a split. On 3rd February B4B’s Malloch- Brown told their supporters “Chuka chairs an important forum for discussion which we will continue to attend. However, B4B believes that Britain should stay… in Europe and therefore cannot combine with others who support a soft Brexit. We (work)… to build a people’s movement against Bexit…” and on March 13 they announced they were taking David Davis to court over breaching an Act of 2011.

The Emergence of the Millbank Tendency

On the same day the GCG  announced they were sharing offices in Millbank, with six organisations to move in to what was called “Project GCHQ ” (ie Grassroots Co-Ordination HQ), The main groups are Open Britain, European Movement and Britain4Europe, with Scientists for Europe, Healthier in the EU, and IN Facts also linked and the youth group Our Future Our Choice as a collaborating organisation.

The launch announcement stated the GCHQ  was placed “On the first floor of Millbank tower …. almost exactly at the mid-point where Labour ran their winning campaigns of 1997 and 2001 and where the Conservatives were based for the campaign that returned them to office in 2010…. the office brings pro-Europeans right to the heart of the hour-by-hour and day-by-day battles over the Government’s Brexit legislation”.

The full document is on the Britain for EUrope website and is extraordinary not just for the belief in sympathetic magic – Millbank is where Blair and Cameron won their victories, therefore it is apparently a magic wand for success – but for having no sense at all that the battle is to win hearts and minds of  millions of euro sceptics. And that failure is precisely why the Referendum of 2016 was lost. The Millbank Tendency has emerged seeing the parliamentary debate as decisive. B4B is going to the courts. Both are neglecting the role of campaigning to win over ordinary people in the country.

In my last comment (February) I pointed out that “less arrogance is needed by those who lost in 2016 and immediately an attempt to work with voter’s perceptions…. There may well be value… in questioning how far (Theresa May) has concealed material evidence… For example, on Article 50, why does she not reveal the law officer’s advice on whether it can be reversed?”. Since then we learn that the civil service risk assessments are also being concealed. While there has to be a battle for the hearts and minds, and parliamentary action could help with this, why despite so much London based activity  are basic facts still concealed?

The Next Step – St George’s Day Debate

While initiatives round the country like Is It Worth It with its Big Red Bus 2 are keeping the campaigning flame going,  the parliamentary front is about to see a significant occasion on April 23rd – St George’s Day – when an epetition calling for an option to have overturning the Leave Decision available when the so called ‘Meaningful Vote’  is debated. The epetition gained over 100,000 votes so must have a parliamentary debate, though there will be no decisions. Of course the answer will be that there will be a Meaningful Vote – defined by the government as two choices – to accept the deal or leave without one. But the government has to give its reasons why.

This will be of wider interest than merely to the hard core campaigners squabbling at the top of the movement, and needs to be widely publicised and campaigned around.

Trevor Fisher

March 2018


Could Anti-Brexit Be The New Politics?

Political analysis has long been unpredictable, but as Tory Brexiteers are reaching new heights of lunacy with talk of unseating Theresa May, reading tea leaves might make more sense. Who will be PM by the time we get to All Fools Day? The Tory Brexxies want to oust her for carrying out Brexit, but the wrong kind of Brexit. On 29th January the Daily Express confirmed the lunatics have taken over the Tory asylum with the  classic headline BATTLE TO SAVE A FULL BREXIT which means walking over the edge into a No Deal Scenario. 

As an indication of the temperature of the Tory hot plate, the Daily Telegraph same date has a phone conversation between Ben Bradley MP, Tory Vice Chair, saying “Getting some s…t from the usual suspects about Sell Out and Traitors” with Claire Perry, Minister for Energy reviving the old Cameron description of their opponent as “the swivel eyed few” who apparently are “mostly elderly retired men who do not have mortgages, school aged children or caring responsibilities”. The Tory split is not about Brexit  but over attempting to  sugar the pill so the worst disasters happen after Hammond and May have quit.

Given that Brexit is now policy for whoever is in Number 10 from whichever main party can cobble together a majority in parliament, the Brexiteers have won but fear they will lose their fantasy of an instant cost free divorce. And they may launch a civil war in the Tory Party to get one of their own in charge. This makes for sensational headlines, but it diverts  media attention away from the big issue, which is why the Anti Brexiteers are doing badly and cannot get their act together. 

The most recent poll asking how people would vote in another referendum (always referred to as a second, the 1975 referendum is totally forgotten) UK Polling Report said (27th January) that ICM found 45% Remain, 43% Leave, pretty much the figures over the last year. Britain4Europe found that most people thought the decision had been made — by the referendum — and the issue was closed. ICM found only 47% favoured another Referendum. Given the attempts by the Remain campaign since June 2016 have been extensive, this confirms that the Remain campaign has not changed the landscape. Hugo Dixon of Common Good argued last November that 60% had to show against Brexit for it to go down, and this is not happening.

The Limits to Opposition 

The main strategy of Remain organisations is focussed on parliament and the so-called ‘Meaningful’ vote on negotiations due in the autumn (or later) which will challenge Labour’s ability to sit in the fence — but there is no opinion poll data yet on how this plays with the voters, though it is clear that Labour has gained in the short term from its ambiguity, and surely would have lost the Stoke Central by election had it not supported Brexit and Article 50.  Christian Wolmar argued exactly a year ago on this site, that MPs should have defied the whip and voted against Article 50. In retrospect this was correct in principle, but would have allowed UKIP to take Stoke Central, which saw a large UKIP effort to paint Labour as anti-Brexit fail. Labour’s front bench got the tactics right though in the autumn it will have to vote or against a Tory position — possibly devised by swivel eyed loons — and the risks of a Labour split are growing. 

Labour  will have to look again at its 2016 conference policy of a referendum on Brexit, though this is not a panacea as it is not popular, even with Remain voters, and the Lib Dems have gained nothing from being defeated in both Houses when calling for another Referendum.  Lord Ashcroft alone seems to have polled on the Referendum issue, and his results are not encouraging. Only on the one issue of voting for the government policy of accepting the deal or leaving without a deal vote is any modest support for a vote. This option got 39% supporting a vote, 31% opposing and 30% Don’t Know. The voters were against a vote on all other options, with even Remainers not wanting a further referendum. And a vote on the government position would accept that Britain will leave with only the terms up for grabs. The majority of the population is clearly against another referendum. So why has the situation been so unfavourable to anti-Brexiteers?

Understanding Progressive Weakness

An excellent way into this issue was the Guardian article by Nicky Hawkins on 23rd January WE NEED A REALITY CHECK. Progressives were “Struggling to make sense of a world that was unthinkable just a couple of years ago….Progressive campaigning efforts largely haven’t worked, and are still not working. Since the EU referendum, little has changed in the tone and tenor of the public conversation on Brexit….” This is obviously true. Apart from the little understood Corbyn surge, what has happened in Britain and America has been the triumph of the populist right, and on Brexit the failure to make any inroads has been marked. 

Further, some in the Remain camp have clung to the idea of Bregret – the wishful thinking that hordes of remorseful leave voters would quickly change their minds. In reality, there’s no evidence that leave voters regret their decision: in fact recent polls suggest they stand by their vote even as they become more pessimistic about Brexit’s impact on Britain”. The ICM poll actually suggested some movement between Remain and Leave – in both directions – but that “A very small lead for Remain….(is) down to people who did not vote in 2016 disproportionately claiming they would vote Remain…” but the figures are tiny and are not weighted or filtered by the likelihood to vote. 

More to the point, “To stand a chance at winning over voters, progressives need to be able to answer the question of why something really matters… You can’t argue against an emotion with numbers – you  have to weave the facts into  a different and more appealing story than your rivals”. This is the heart of the issues, and not just a problem for the number crunchers who tried to combat the big red bus with hard evidence. Slippage over the money for the NHS have been monumental – Brexiteers are now down to £100m per week not £350m, if not arguing the money can be found by cutting overseas aid. Its not the facts that mattered, it was the emotional link between Brexit and the crisis in the hospitals. Brexiteers  grasped that a solution to a crisis was needed, and the progressives lacked a costed answer.

The article suggests postive campaigning, suggesting “activists in the US, the UK and Ireland won the campaign for equal marriage by framing it in terms of love, commitment and family – values that speak to conservatives – rather than the language of human rights. They didn’t seek to shout people down or fact check their beliefs”. There is a lesson here for Corbyn’s victories over the critics in the PLP who delivered him two party majorities – and the basis for a successful election campaign. Democracy was his calling card, and he used it well. Compared to Gordon Brown, who never stood for a leadership election, Corbyn won fair and square and carried the mantel of democratic support. So does Brexit. There is no choice but to win a referendum. Democracy is popular, and the 2016 vote was seen as democratic.

The broad point made by the article is that “The first step is understanding where people are coming from: lots of analysis to work out what’s really going on when someone answers yes or no on a ballot paper”. Very much the task, and for the Labour Party’s internal politics clearly vital to understand that the  Corbynista victories are not clear victories for the Hard Left, but they certainly mean no support for the Hard Right. Blairites please take note. Your day is over. Members vote against your candidates in every internal election, so move on.

On the main political front of Brexit, the progressive failure is profound, with  no sign eighteen months since the 2016 vote that  the divided and ineffective anti-Brexit movement can get to 60% plus of voters wanting to challenge the 2016 result. Less arrogance is needed by those who lost in 2016, and immediately an attempt to work with voters’ perceptions. For example, with the Swivel Eyed Loons on the march, the option pursued by Theresa May in attempting a soft Brexit may go belly up. But there may well be value in exploiting her weakness in appeasing the Loons by questioning how far she has  concealed  material evidence to keep them happy. For example, on Article 50. Why does she not reveal the law officer’s advice on whether it can be reversed? Sow doubt, legitimately, and the seeds may germinate in the mind of soft leave voters that they have not been given all the information. Which is what progressives tried to do over the Big Red Bus, and failed. 

Nicky Hawkins is right that labouring over facts and figures does not persuade the unconverted. We might learn from the old Maoist opera and Take Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Why not?

Trevor Fisher

February 2018



Situation Report on Brexit Xmas 2017

Eighteen months after the 2016 Referendum the advance to a Hard Brexit continues with the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) 2017-19 through its second reading in the Commons. Some concessions were made including the date – which still remains 2019 but may now be adjusted slightly from March 29th, and Amendment 7 – whose significance needs scrutiny.

The major factor is the weakness and divisions within the Anti Brexit forces and whether these are to be addressed. Before the House went into Christmas recess it appeared likely that this would happen. The attempt to unify anti-Brexit was flagged up in the Guardian (report by Patrick Wintour 17 12 17) and is overdue. However a moment of unification may pass without action.  It is vital that this is not the case.  The analysis following focusses on the proposal and how it may develop.

The Unification Proposal

Wintour’s article headline was “former diplomat to lead remainer’s bid to shift public opinion on Brexit”, with a subhead – “Lord Malloch-Brown aims to unify campaigners and sees MPs vote on the final deal as ‘the moment to stop the trainwreck'”. Unity is desirable, but is far from achieved.  There is no proposal for a single organisation, but Malloch-Brown claimed “from New Year is likely to see a much more co-ordinated campaign”.

All anti-Brexiteers must welcome this. But firstly, will it happen? Three organisations were named as taking a lead role – Open Britain, the European Movement, and Best for Britain (BFB), and that Malloch-Brown “has recently become chairman of Best for Britain”. There was no mention of Britain4Europe, which has a real grassroots presence. The earlier document on key seats strategy in the 2017 election (26th April) had named Open Britain, the European Movement and Britain4Europe, not BFB. It is vital that a broad front group emerges with all major organisations involved.

Whether this will happen we will see in early 2018. Immediately attention should focus on the second proposition, that the MPs vote on the final deal is the key moment for stopping Brexit. 

The background  analysed

Malloch-Brown is quoted as saying “The aim will be to shift public opinion by the time MPs come next autumn to have the meaningful vote that was agreed last week. We cannot know precisely the Brexit deal that the meaningful vote will be on, but it will be the moment to stop the trainwreck”.

 The idea of a ‘meaningful vote’ in the autumn on an unknown deal scheduled for March 29th 2019 or thereafter  is contradictory, but more contradictory still are the problems of whether  MPs can vote to defeat Brexit by voting on the deal, or at least the (incomplete) deal available in autumn 2018. Government has made crystal clear that a veto vote by MPs will not happen. This is underlined by responses to epetititions drawing responses from Government that do not suggest the vote on Article 7 of the Exit Bill (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 – vote December 13th 2017), will be effective. There are at time of writing two relevant petitions.

a) An epetition submitted by Tom Holder (deadline 12 3 18- e-petitions are open for  six months therefore this would have been submitted around 12th September 2017) entitled ‘Petition Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal’  with three options suggested for the ballot paper, the response from the government was as follows:

 

“On 23rd June 2016 the British people voted  to leave the European Union. The UK government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum. The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history. In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.

 

“There must be no attempts to remain inside the European union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the government to make sure that we do just that. Rather than second guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union, the challenge is to make a success of it, not just for those who voted to leave but for every citizen of the UK, bringing together everyone in a balance approach which respects the decision to leave the political structures of the EU, but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

“Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the  power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the government is determined to see through that instruction.

“Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement (i) reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote (ii) which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU (iii). We can get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before.”

(i) This statement made  in September 2017 raises the question why the government refused to back Dominic Grieve’s amendment 7 to put this commitment into law in December.

(ii) My emphasis – this is a phrase used in parliament which seems to have no meaning at all, as the vote will be a foregone conclusion. As the next part of the sentence indicates, the choice is to accept the government’s position or accept the government’s policy. The deal cannot be amended or rejected for further negotiation. Any vote under these circumstances is a farce.

(iii) But as Justin Bieber sang in a chart hit, “Can we still be friends?” – second verse and chorus – breaking up is easy, staying in a positive relationship something else.

 

(b) an epetition submitted by Anne Greaves deadline 17th May 2018. (thus submitted November 2017) taking up the point  (ii) above and which said of the choice offered

“A lesser of two evils choice between a bad deal and no deal is not acceptable. Our country deserves better than than Hobson’s choice, and our MPs should be allowed to vote with their conscience to deliver what they believe is best for the country”. Government response was shorter and less belligerent, but made no concession on substance, while leaving out the phrase ‘a meaningful vote’,  making the following statement. 

“The British people voted to leave  and the government will implement their decision. The vote on the final deal will give parliament the choice to accept the agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The result of the Referendum held on 23rd June 2016 saw a clear majority of people vote to leave the EU (iv)  Parliament overwhelmingly confirmed the result of the referendum on 8th February, by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal)  Bill. The Government is clear that it its duty to deliver on the instruction of the British People and implement the result of the referendum.

“The government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as  possible after the negotiations have concluded. The terms of this vote are clear: Parliament will have the choice to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal (v).We are confident that we will get the best possible agreement and one which Parliament will want to support.”

 

Department for Exiting the European Union 

(iv)  The facts are that while a narrow majority of those who voted were for Leave, unlike the 1975 vote there was not a 2/3 majority. Nor did the whole UK vote for Leave – the phrase used in the first government response which has been removed – as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. This will have consequences for the survival of the UK which Brexiteers do not discuss.

(v) If the vote is to take place after negotiations have completed, why expect it  in Autumn 2018? 

Possible Outcomes

The government’s position does not give much room to suggest  the ‘trainwre

ck can be stopped’. No vote will take place on Leaving, and the choice of a ‘bad deal or no deal’ which is all that is on the table, will not include a vote on staying in the EU. If “Brexit is Brexit”, it cannot be stopped by a vote on this basis. If the Commons votes against the deal, the government is committed to leave the EU. The Amendment 7 passed on December 13th merely adds “subject to the prior enactment of a statute by parliament approving the terms of withdrawal of the UK from the EU”. The policy of the government is to leave without such approval if parliament votes against the deal.

It is possible that a use of Crown Prerogative could spark a constitutional crisis. There will be intense pressure to accept even a bad deal, but if the Commons voted against, and the government persisted, a Commons majority could pass a vote of no confidence in the government, which if passed would mean a General Election, or if Labour took office a government committed to passing Brexit.  The only other option is for parliament to vote for a Referendum. A General Election would be impossible to call.

It would appear those like Lord Malloch-Brown who believe that MPs can reverse Brexit are mistaken. A ‘meaningful vote’ in Autumn 2018 is not what parliament agreed in December 2017.

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

Article 50 & The Rules Of The Game

Brexit is the one issue where Surge Politics does not currently apply, partly because the constitutional rules are badly understood and it is widely believed that the deal is done and once parliament had approved Article 50 and the negotiations began, leaving is inevitable. This is not so, but underpins the lack of movement in public opinion, which is still split down the middle. But there are some indicators that though the Tories have the impetus to continue toward a Hard Brexit, challenge is possible.

There have been no polls recently on Brexit though a Prospect Magazine poll in early autumn suggested that opinion was now 48% Leave 52% Remain – too slight a shift to make a difference.  So what could produce a major shift in public opinion? Poll data is short term and starts to decay as soon as published, so the fact that no polling was done in November is a problem But some polls done earlier are still useful.

There is some evidence that the government is not trusted. Polling published at the start of October,  done for BestforBritain (the Gina Miller group), on the credibility of the key players in the negotiation – May, Johnson and Davis – showed around half of voters thought Boris is motivated by his own interests and only 23% think May is primarily motivated by concern for the national interest. None of   the three  scored highly on putting the national interest first.

There was a different story where the May statement NO DEAL IS BETTER THAN A BAD DEAL  is concerned. Polling shortly after the PM made the statement showed  48% agreeing, only 17% thought a Bad Deal better than No Deal. At Start of October Sky data asked same Q, and a massive 74% thought no deal better than bad deal – but Q is what no deal means. Published on October 30th, the headline data leaves open the question of whether both Remainers and Leavers voted for No Deal. For Remainers this can mean not leaving, for Leavers leaving with a cut and run over the edge and far away position. More polling is needed.

The most important data is that produced by BRITAIN 4 EUROPE in its briefing for a National meeting on 2nd December. This states the following key findings:

1)  Divisions remain entrenched

2)  Soft  LEAVERS are fragmenting with some questioning their vote to Leave

3)  * Brexit is seen as irreversible*

4) Widespread concern at the complexity of the negotiations

5) Some ask that further scrutiny is needed.

The key fact about this poll is the third finding, now widely believed. Indeed, the Tory Brexit spokesman in the Lords said just that on 13th November – and then had to retract. But the story was not widely reported and needs to be better known – the status of Article 50 is going to become crucial in the months to come.

Lord Kerr had said that Article 50 is revocable. This has been used by Remain campaigners, so the Tory Lord Ridley asked  Lord Callanan (Minister of State  in the Department for exiting the European Union) the following question which gained a straight response – but withdrawn a week later.

House of Lords 13 11 17 Col 1845

Lord Ridley (Con) “Further to what my noble friend said about fixing the date of withdrawal… can he confirm that the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case brought by Gina Miller confirms in precise terms that article 50 is irreversible, in contrast to what the noble lord, Lord Kerr, has said?”

Lord Callanan: “I can confirm that. It is also stated by the European Commission that Article 50, once invoked, is irrevocable unless there is political agreement on it”.

Lord Elystan Morgan (Cross Bench)

“My Lords, does the minister agree that the notice given in March this year in relation to Article 50 was not a notice of withdrawal but a notice of intention to withdraw? Does he appreciate that our distinguished colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the vast mass of legal authority, are of the opinion, therefore, that such a notice can be withdrawn unilaterally….?

Lord Callanan, (Con)

 “My Lords, no, I will not confirm that, because it has been stated by  legal opinion on this side of the water and in the EU that Article 50 is not revocable. It all flies in the face of the results of the referendum…”

 

House of Lords 20 11 17

2.42 PM Announcement:

 Lord Callanan (Con)

“Last Monday …. I responded to a question from my noble friend Lord Ridley regarding the Supreme Court’s view on the revocability of Article 50. My response to my noble friend was incorrect… I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who highlighted my mistake…..I undertook to check the record… ad make it clear that the Supreme Court did not opine on the revocability of Article 50…

“…to reiterate… the Supreme Court proceeded in the Miller case on the basis that Article 50 would not be revoked but did not rule on the legal position regarding its revocability. It was, and remains, the government’s responsibility that our notification of Article 50 will not be withdrawn…..”

Comment

That  Lord Callanan did not know the constitutional position  is remarkable. It is well established that parliamentary sovereignty means that any law can be repealed. The role of European Law does not change this, and Lord Callanan is right in his opinion. However while parliamentary sovereignty is absolute, and the Tories have promised Parliament will have a vote on the Deal, they have also said that a vote against will be ignored as they are bound by the 2016 Referendum. Thus we have a situation where referendums dictate and parliament cannot overule a referendum. This now appears the constitutional position, so only a Third Referendum (the first was in 1975) can repeal Article 50. The first challenge is to tackle the illusion that this cannot be done – which Lord Callan never quite got round to saying on 20th November – and then win the battle for Referendum 3. That Article 50 can be repealed is clear. But it is a phyrric victory unless a Referendum can trigger the process of repeal. 

 

Trevor Fisher                                                                          

November 2017

Labour on the Rocks

For any blog site commenting on current developments, the latest headlines define the agenda. The opening days of April provided many, but if the Livingstone saga is ignored as driven by one person’s private attempt to stay in the headlines, there are two underlying themes that make Labour’s future increasingly grim. The first is the Party leadership abandoning Party policy to appease right wing interests, and the second is the short sighted belief that the battle for Party dominance is what defines party politics. Both major factions, Old Left and Modernised New Labour are paddling these canoes with no sense that the public is moving elsewhere. The first of these two problems is now coming to a head.

The major political issue of our time is Brexit, and the dominant forces in the PLP have abandoned defence of the EU for acceptance of the hard right agenda on splitting from Europe. The party policy passed by the 2016 conference, still holds that while it “noted” the TUC decision to accept the majority vote, it would reserve its position including not triggering Article 50 and stated that “The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through parliament and potentially through a general election or referendum”, which remains feasible, most crucially through another referendum.

But the PLP leadership, from Corbyn to Mandleson, abandoned this with classic short term thinking. The principled reasons for defending Europe were abandoned once the vote came in, but it was not only Corbyn who demanded total obedience to Brexit. Miliband’s speech to the Open Labour conference was that a soft Brexit was acceptable and Labour would get this, with no reference to the actual results of this policy. As I have already argued, there is no soft Brexit and to accept the Tory agenda as Corbyn did by putting a three line whip on Article 50 was folly. However the electoral argument is currently top priority. The Corbynistas still claim that they can win the next election, arguing it will take two years to turn the party round.

This has to be measured against the reality of Labour’s actual election results. At both the February by- elections, in Leave constituencies, the vote for Brexit candidates outnumbered the pro-Brexit parties, but by accepting Brexit Labour is said to have held on to Stoke Central, despite losing Copeland. The result was clearly the result of UKIP splitting the Brexit vote. This was a poor outcome in a Leave seat, and there is no answer from the Party leadership on what would happen in pro-Remain constituencies: the threat to Labour’s north English seats was enough to ditch party policy. However the double thrust of losing Remain and Leave seats is now looming. SNP and Lib Dems are as much a threat, in Remain constituencies as UKIP and the resurgent Tories are in Leve seats.

To add a twist of pure stupidity, the Times reported on April 6th that Peter Mandelson is arguing the UK should pay £50billion to release the UK from the EU, at which point negotiations on a trade deal could begin. The idea that paying £50 billion wins votes is a non-starter. The Leave case rested largely on stopping monies being paid to Brussels. Paying large sums to them would trigger a backlash from the Right and is so far from reality that Mandleson has entered the realms of delusion.

The same day the paper reported that internal Tory polling showed the Lib Dems likely to win back seats in South London and the South West they lost in 2015, but due to the strength of their local organisation not the call for a second referendum. This will be put to the test in the vote Farron has called on May 12th, but at least means that a snap election is impossible for the Tories to call, so Labour has time to assess what is to be done about its Brexit favouring leadership.

The grim failure to grasp what accepting Brexit involves was most sharply pointed up by Ed Miliband – of the Speech of Retreat at the Open Labour conference on March 11th – and Hilary Benn, now risking becoming the member for voting with the Tories, jointly writing in the Guardian on 2nd April. What stood out was two experienced politicians arguing that Labour can build national unity but “we don’t do it by appearing to write off the 52%”, a statement not merely political nonsense but hypocritical since they belong to a party elite which ignored the growing alienation of the working class voter as Labour failed from 2001 to hold its core vote. It is dangerously patronising to second referendum supporters. These know they have to pay close attention to people who voted for the Tory hard right and win their support. This is very different from seeking to appease people who Labour now fears will vote against them in the future. The Labour leadership has lost any credibility by flip flopping over Europe and the strategies and tactics needed to hold on to and develop Party policy will not come from the compromised politicians on the front bench.

Trevor Fisher

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

This article first appeared on Labour Uncut as ‘Labour’s pro-Brexit front bench is more of a problem than Corbyn

Brexit and the Archbishop

Any campaign for a 3rd EU referendum faces major problems, the first being that EU 1 has been forgotten. That Referendum, in 1975, was caused by divisions within Labour which still remain. EU2 in 2016 was caused by divisions with the Tory party, which still remain under the surface. EU1 was an overwhelming YES while EU 2 was a narrow NO, but the first lasted forty years as it was not particularly destructive. EU2 was so destructive it may end the UK and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.

However there is no simple way either can be re-run and something better has to be devised than a crude yes no with no checks and balances – as was said in the 2016 epetition…. which tellingly was devised by a UKIPPER, though not I think UKIP policy. But when they thought they had lost, the better brains in their ranks were looking for a third referendum. Now its a once in a generation decision.

However that is not where the big obstacles lie. The Lords debate (EU notification of withdrawal Bill March 7th) was noted for a sensible debate – the Commons debates have been contemptuous, as befits a chamber that voted to give away its rights of scrutiny – which threw light into three of the dark places of the referendum process – its role in democracy, the flaws in referendums but their unavoidability nowadays, and the reasons why there is no soft brexit, only In or Out The EU.

To start at the top, the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury arguing against a 3rd Referendum spoke volumes. Knowing the that the 2016 bill had created deep divisions, his Grace argued “it will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic; it is unwise. Even if circumstances change, as the noble baroness Lady Wheatcroft, rightly said they were likely to do – even if they change drastically – a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum”. We may say that only when it is as badly handled as the 2016 one was, but the really crucial aspect of this is that having a debate and a vote is regarded as divisive, and even if the circumstances are likely to change drastically – ie badly – the nation cannot be allowed another vote, it would be dangerous.

In fact a third vote is the only way to reconcile Remainers to the situation, win or lose. Hard Brexiteers will never be convinced, but it is their right to campaign for another vote if they lose EU3. The fundamental democratic principle is the right to challenge the status quo. Remainers backed the right of Leavers to do so after 1975 and still do so. But we now have an Orwellian world in which Remainers are undemocratic for wanting to scrutinise and debate Brexit.

Only in a dictatorship can the governing status quo not be challenged. Parliament has given up its right to scrutinise and challenge Brexit, which EU 2 certainly gave the government the right to initiate, so the only channel left is a third referendum. Referendums are as daft as using a chain saw to do brain surgery, but its all we have left due to our politicians. It is neither dangerous nor complicated to say STOP: we want the status quo.

Many now fear an endless sequence of referendums, but that is the result of a destructive process. Referendums are indeed destructive, and a deliberative process like a Constitutional Convention would be better. But parliament sanctioned referendums. And as for Soft Brexit, while Referendums are a bad thing, they do have one valid consequence. They are clearly IN or OUT. So lets keep that choice going while we can.

Trevor Fisher

Brexit And Gibraltar – Cause for Concern

This is the full version of a letter (to The Telegraph) from the Labour MEP for the South West and Gibraltar Clare Moody. The consequences of the Brexit vote are now becoming clearer and the dangers more evident. The Brixiteers clearly have not understood the vulnerability of Gibraltar as they have failed to grasp other destructive consequence of Brexit.

It is notable and alarming that Michael Howard and other Tories called for war as a reaction to the alleged threat to Gibraltar, making the issue more than just the standard Brexit issue. There has been no war talk in Western Europe since 1945. This was an ominous first and makes discussion of the effects of continuing with the Brexit project more urgently necessary than ever.

Editors.

 

Dear Sir,

It is the outcome of the referendum and the UK government’s actions since, that has put the interests of Gibraltar at risk post-Brexit. Equally Theresa May’s Article 50 letter completely overlooked the fact that the Government is also responsible for negotiating for Gibraltar, a deep concern not only for Gibraltar but for all British citizens that are relying on the competence of this government in the negotiations.

The remaining EU27 are predictably looking out for their own interests and now will only hear the Madrid government’s view as the UK is no longer at the table. This careless and totally unnecessary misstep by the Prime Minister did not go unnoticed by them last Wednesday.

I was shouted down in the campaign for employing Project Fear when I pointed out the problems that Gibraltar would face if the UK voted to leave. Spain was rightfully forced by the UK to open the border as part of their deal to join the EU. It is why that it was no surprise that 96% of Gibraltar’s population voted Remain.

The government has, belatedly, committed to standing up for Gibraltar’s interests, although Michael Howard’s comments have been incredibly counter-productive for the UK in these negotiations. We now need to see if May’s promises are met, the statement on Friday from the EU27 was a draft and we will find out if the reference to Gibraltar has been removed when we see the final statement is published. 30,000 Gibraltarians and many million other British citizens are depending on May delivering on all the promises she has made about what Brexit will deliver.

Yours faithfully, Clare Moody, Labour MEP for the South West and Gibraltar

New Brexit Forum Created

Progressive Politics has now added a Brexit Forum to site’s list of features.

Brexit is not only the defining issue of this Parliament, but almost certainly, the political issue that will dominate the politics of a generation.Some believe the will of the people must be followed, as so the debate becomes one of a soft or hard Brexit. Others believe that the end result of the negotiations may be so horrendous that the British people may well change their mind; they should have the chance to speak on the final settlement in a final referendum. Others are dedicated to campaigning for the Britain to either remain in the EU or to seek to rejoin at a future date.

You may think it a little over the top to suggest that this issue will dominate politics in such a way but, as I approach my 60th birthday, I remind myself that the very first national vote I took part in was the first referendum on Europe. Throughout all of my political adult life the issue of Europe — and Britain’s relationship to it — has not been far from the headlines.

The Brexiteers have reminded us of the value of long term political thinking and campaigning, just as the Monetarist economists did a generation or so ago. In the face of the post war settlement and political consensus, economists like Milton Friedman dug in for a long, hard, political battle. It took the Monetarists until the mid 1970s before they found their champions in the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The Brexiteers have shown similar stamina. For many years most of us thought the Brexiteers to be, frankly, bonkers but yet they won out in the end. It is a reminder that we cannot take progressive values from granted as we move through the years. We cannot always move forwards. We have to have a view to defending and consolidating what was won.

In reality, Labour has long been as divided over Europe as the Tories but for much of the Blair/Brown years that division ran alongside the Parliamentary mainstream and left divide. Cornyn’s election as Leader — as in so many areas of policy — has many scratching their heads as to what Labour really now believes over Europe.

Over the last six months we have seen a growth in both national and local movements dedicated to fighting or overturning the Brexit decision. At the heart of these groups are young people for whom this is without doubt the defining political issue of the age. Having worked with them a while now I don’t doubt this fervour will be long lasted.

And so there is much to discuss about Brexit but we need to move beyond the decision that have already taken (whatever we think of them).

What will life in Britain look like in a post Brexit world? What are the challenges for our economy? How midge Brexit impact on our social and welfare security? And what might Brexit mean to the very make up of the UK and to our institutions of governance?

This issue will run and run. It is vital that — on this issue — Labour moves onto the front foot and seeks to lead opinion rather than simply respond the agenda setting of Theresa May and her colleagues.

So, whether you are pro EU or anti, whether you are for a hard Brexit or soft, or whether you feel we should be campaigning to stay in or seek return at some future debate, your views are welcome.

Please feel free to contribute to the debate by contributing to us. Send any copy to:

editors@progpol.org.uk

Each article or viewpoint will have a comments section. So, if you don’t fancy composing your own contribution then please feel free to make a shorter one as a comment.

Brexit Economics: The Shadow Chancellor Who Deserted The Ship

Now the by-elections are out of the way it is time to get back to Brexit, the political issue that will dominate not only this Parliament but that may well be a defining issue for a generation.

Diane Abbot is right when she points out that any political party with a foot in both the Remain and the Leave camp would find life difficult. Replace remain and leave with immigration and the economy and you have a more accurate reflection of the political dilemma facing Labour.

Immigration is, of course, an exceptionally difficult issue for any progressive Party to consider not least because the issues raised seem different across the regions of the country. Despite immigration being such a high profile concern Labour has not even started to debate the issue seriously, despite the All Party Group on Social Cohesion calling for a Commission to examine how a devolved immigration system might work. Clear, solid and principled policy will only come from pan-party debate, votes and brave leadership. As none of these factors are in place we can’t expect any clear Labour policy on immigration any time soon.

The economy should be an easier issue for Labour to headline on as ultimately it is should be our core issue. Talk to anyone for more than a few minutes and fears of Brexit quickly surface, even amongst those who voted to leave. Remember, the South Wales steel worker interviewed the day after the referendum? “I voted to leave but I didn’t think it would happen”.

It is very easy for broadcast journalists to find pensioners who simply don’t care about the economic arguments but dig a bit deeper and it is clear that many, if not most, of those of working age feel very insecure about their futures.

Fears for the future are understandable not least as the economic foundations of Brexit seem to change each week. During the referendum campaign Johnson captured headlines by proclaiming that, of course, we could stay in the single market. Other — harder Brexiteers — wanted out from both the single market and the customs union as soon as possible but these more extreme voices were never effectively challenged as the media focussed on the Johnson and Farage roadshows.

Since the referendum the government continues to shift its position, firstly, preparing to abandon the single market and subsequently showing itself willing to abandon the Customs union, preparing to trade if need be on World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs. As this mess unfolds Theresa May’s government becomes increasingly dependent on Donald Trump to seal a quick trade deal with the USA; they will have little choice but to snap up whatever is on offer from Trump. Some are optimistic as Trump opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as did many progressives did in Europe, but Trump’s objections are on very different grounds. How easy do we think it will for British industry to get tariff free access for high value manufactured goods without us reciprocating by the further opening up our health and public services?

At least 50% of our major businesses feel that Brexit is already having a detrimental effect on the bottom line. Each week we see businesses — from financial services to manufactures — making it clear that they will re-consider their UK bases and future investment programmes if they are left with a ‘hard Brexit’. It is already clear that trading on WTO terms will be a disaster for the UK, making our economy uncompetitive in the global economy. Negotiating trade treaties to replace those we already have access by virtue of EU membership will take years.

So, given the seriousness of these economic concerns is seems extraordinary that John McDonnell is not addressing them. He is failing to articulate a clear commitment to the prioritising of the economy in the Brexit debate.

Many of those Labour MPs who voted to trigger Article 50 argue that there is still time to act as the shape of the final deal becomes clearer, yet in reality they are being lured into fighting on Tory territory. You can’t trust Labour with Brexit will be the continuing rallying call of this government. McDonnell needs to get wise; he can’t campaign for eighteen months on being a better party for Brexit and at the last minute throw up his hands and declare the whole thing is a disaster.

For Labour finding space in the media for an anti or doubtful Brexit message will be hard. This is why Labour’s position needs to be unequivocal and our priorities shouted out long and loud. The Vote on Article 50 was a disaster precisely because it abandoned the one opportunity for Labour to grab serious media time and to make the headlines. It would have allowed McDonnell the become our champion the protection of jobs and living standards from the outset.

Such a stance need not be automatically anti Brexit or against the popular vote. It is possible, we must suppose, that the government may pull off an acceptable deal with Europe even if this seems unlikely. However, there must be a real likelihood that the position we are left with after leaving the European Union is worse than that if we had remained in it. At the end of these negotiations, do we think McDonnell is really brave enough to take on the government, to argue against the very foundations of Brexit if that becomes necessary?

There is another reason why Labour needs to adopt a laser-like focus on the economy and on jobs and trade over time. Many of the electorate seem to have a poor knowledge of basic economic principles. Tim Shipman’s account of the anti European movement and the referendum campaign, _All Out War_, shows how — as the referendum campaign reached its zenith — both campaigns found that their focus groups were un-moved by economic arguments, they simply didn’t understand them. Labour will need to campaign long and hard to effectively inform voters. Education campaigns demand time.

So, whatever the eventual result of the negotiations with the EU Labour must campaign hard now if it is to have any chance of having a serious impact on public opinion. Labour’s ability to take on the Tories in the future will depend on it.

Labour’s position needs to be unequivocal. Labour must be a party prepared to defend jobs and prosperity and prepared to argue against the Brexit deal _if_the deal sells the country short. Labour should be clear now that there must be a second referendum on the final terms of the Brexit deal. May’s ‘take it or leave it vote’ will offer little chance for eleventh hour campaigns or reversals.

Labour’s pitch to voters needs to be blunt. To trade on WTO terms would be to impose a ‘tax’ on each job in the UK. If voters are uncertain about economic arguments they sure as hell understand the notion of tax. Whether you work in manufacturing, hospitality, financial services or technology, trading on WTO terms will make you and your employer less competitive in world markets. The low tax, low protection economy favoured by hard Brexiteers will decimate the public sector.

The policy and campaign positions discussed here are not designed to be anti Brexit, rather they are aimed positioning Labour as the protector of our economy, our jobs and our living standards.

In failing to step up to the mark John McDonnell has effectively gone absent without leave. Until he finds the courage to develop a clear line on Brexit and the economy, Theresa May will continue to dominate and Labour will continue to poll at record lows. Labour’s Leadership is already conceding the future of the post Brexit world to the Tories and the right.

Andy Howell
28th February 2017