People’s Vote Petition Makes Headway

The People’s Vote petition is close to meeting its current target of 250,00 names, making it the dominant force in anti-Brexit campaigning. It is likely to set a new target and with a half million names a real possibility – and a million by the target date of October 20th – the initiative has  to be taken seriously, 

Launched after the 100,000 strong march on 23rd  June, the petition demonstrates the organisational skills of Open Britain, which organised both the march and the petition. The initial target of 150,00 names was achieved within a fortnight with 171,058 signing by 7th July, and by the end of the third week 22,060 extra names had signed up. The fourth week added only 11,159, but this last week saw 22,851 names added, maintaining the impetus. 

However this success does not mean that there will be a vote on Brexit, or even a vote on the Deal, as government is able to choose what happens. More importantly, there are two petitions in circulation and only one calls for a fresh vote on Brexit itself. The Open Britain petition clearly leaves this as an open question – so would a People’s Vote actually stop Brexit?

 

The Peoples Vote (Open Britain)

The success of the People’s Vote petition, is partly due to its brevity. It reads

“We the undersigned demand a People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal”.

There is here no call for a vote on Brexit itself, and there is danger that the vote would be FOR the deal and thus FOR leaving the EU. The government has said that it will only allow a vote – currently only  vote in parliament – for or against the Deal, and if MPs vote against then a No Deal solution would be adopted. The People’s Vote seems to assume a vote would be against the Deal. Neither MPs nor the public can be taken for granted, and  arguing that polls show support for a Vote, while true, does not mean an automatic majority against the Deal.

Best For Britain

The People’s Vote certainly does not mean a vote on Brexit itself, but this has been proposed by Best for Britain. The BFB approach is two stage, parliament and then a popular vote. The key wording from its website says:

“We will campaign for parliament to reject any Brexit proposal that does not deliver the same benefits as we now enjoy as a  member of the EU. And we will support a People’s Vote on whether to make the final decision on whether to accept the terms of Brexit or keep our current deal with the EU. This vote is likely to be held towards the end of this year”.

BFB is therefore arguing for a two stage approach, a parliamentary debate and vote and only then a People’s Vote. This carries risks, for if parliament votes in favour of the terms of the Deal then whether a popular vote would be acceptable or indeed likely is questionable. Government has refused to accept any form of popular vote and can use a majority vote to avoid this. Whether it would still have a   autumn is open to doubt, but if there is a crisis, then the issue of having a third referendum will come onto the agenda. BFB would then be able to argue for a vote on the central issue of remaining in the EU. Open Britain is ambiguous on the central issue and as it is inevitable that the wording of a petition helps to channel the choices. If there is a People’s Vote should the government be allowed to define the choice to be made on its own negotiations?

Not A Clear Cut Choice

The People’s Vote if only confined to the terms of the Deal could play into the hands of the government. If May’s government manages to cobble together a deal and secure public support it could call a Vote on its own terms. May’s chances of doing this are slim and a No Deal scenario is a real possibility, but there can be no easy assumption that a deal would be rejected by the voters. Opinion polls do suggest  support for another vote is growing, though the increases do not suggest a major shift in opinion.

Rejecting the move to Brexit however is a bigger issue and much needs to be done to win support for that position.  Open Britain is not calling for this. Assuming a Vote means a Vote in the way Open Britain would want – against Brexit – is the Wish Being the Father to the Thought. Anti Brexit is an obstacle  race. There is no evidence Anti Brexit would win it unless the issue is put squarely on the ballot paper and then campaigned for. The Anti Brexit movement is not a majority and needs to review its options. As we head into the parliamentary recess, those options are limited by a lack of effective discussion. 

Trevor Fisher, August 2018.


Another Europe is Possible — Manchester: work in progress

On 5th July, the left wing anti Brexit group  Another Europe is Possible held the first of its summer road shows in Manchester. Under the slogan THE LEFT AGAINST BREXIT the project of taking meetings to major cities is intriguing, and certainly welcome. The two years since the Referendum have been marked by Westminster Bubble Politics, so the very fact that AEIP are going to provincial cities is valuable. If AEIP deliver on the promise that there will be a discussion, not just a series of rallies, then this could be a decisive moment.

However the project is not yet set up to promote discussion, firstly because the old format of the rally is well established, and secondly because the technology of mass discussion has yet to be worked out as part of the New Politics which is now needed. Social media is infected by trolls, and video conferencing is problematic with large numbers. AEIP know discussion is needed and there is little time. Hopefully the AEIP will use modern technology to communicate and discuss key themes to a conclusion, though please not a troll infested blog site. Focussed discussion which can come to a conclusion has to be the aim. But time is short and the tried and tested methods are easy to use. 

So it is not surprising that the first rally was just that, four speakers including Caroline Lucas, the asset of the Green Party, with Michael Chessum chairing. This was a fair way to open a discussion with 120 people and by the time I left half an hour early to catch my train the questioning showed insight and spirit. But the audience was dangerously limited. Only one black person, no other BAME, and largely over 40s. I would suspect professional workers as well.  The schedule of meetings in 5 cities in July – London (12th), Bristol (26th), Nottingham (30th) and Birmingham (31st)  should show evolution to become more inclusive.

 Three main issues emerged. These were the People’s Vote, Labour’s ambiguities, and the 2016 referendum, a gaping wound which could not be put into perspective. The latter was referred to several times, always as an unfortunate mistake which “had to be respected”, the mantra adopted by the Anti Brexit movement and embraced by AEIP itself. This rebounded on  AEIP of leading to its long silence in the aftermath of the vote. Hopefully now it has regained impetus it can start to reconsider that foolish position, which is as illogical as ‘respecting’ the Black Death, Relegation from the Premiership, or Theresa May hanging on to power in June 2017. History has to be recognised. It does not have to be respected.

The current establishment politics dominating anti-Brexit leads to the illogicality of the People’s Vote (PV). Why does a left wing group acarcept this? Reality is that Government’s declared policy is that  MPs will  accept the Deal or the government goes for  a No Deal WTO solution. The government intends to leave  EU on March 31st. There is nothing in the People’s Vote which contradicts the position of the two front benches that Britain will leave the EU under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, despite Keir Starmer’s 6 tests.

But back to the PV. How many of the assembled realised the PV doesn’t actually stop Brexit? It is worth restating the eleven words People’s Voters accept, which are:

“We the undersigned demand a people’s vote on the Brexit deal”.

Nothing here on Leaving the EU, but on the night the questions were sharp enough to force Caroline Lucas to agree reluctantly that it would be possible for the vote to be in favour of the Tory deal. A vote which can both confirm Brexit and the nightmare of the policies of the hard right should have secured a sharp reaction. But while I cannot say what happened in the half hour after I left, the tendency was to focus on how to secure the vote of MPs – MPs are the only ones to make the decision on a vote, so need to be the focus of attention. There is no guaruntee that the MPs will vote for another vote and still less that it will include an option to remain in the EU. This unpleasant reality was not analysed while I was there.

Instead Labour took centre stage, and AEIP is committed to pressure Labour to vote to implement the Peoples Vote. However  there are not enough Labour MPs to overcome the government even if a stronger PV were available. This clearly means a Tory rebellion is needed, but how anti Brexiteers could secure a vote to have a vote is a circle yet to be squared.

While Labour’s position needs to be challenged, it should not be assumed that Labour alone can deliver

the People’s Vote, even if beefed up by committing to a vote on staying in Europe. And there are even bigger issues to discuss. A massive elephant trumpeting very loudly in the meeting was the 2016 vote,  a constant presence never properly  addressed. It was argued that the workers were reacting to the status quo aka austerity or other horrors, but in part a proxy rebellion against the establishment, but the ballot was explicitly about Leaving the EU. Ignoring this will reap a hurricane. May has a mandate to take Britain out of the EU How this would be tackled was not on the agenda at Manchester. 

Putting all the eggs in the basket of People’s Vote seemed satisfactory to those in the People’s History Museum. But if this is not challenged then this will become a dead end. To  a refusnik who will not sign a petition which has no commitment to counter Leaving the EU, the spirit of those at the meeting was inspirational but the key question was left unanswered: where is this movement going if it thinks the People’s Vote will deliver what they want?

Trevor Fisher, July 2018.

Brexit, Labour & the Future

Recent developments on Brexit are marching Labour towards Brexit uncritically. Despite the policy of the 2016 conference for a  third referendum – 2016 was the second referendum as the first was the 1975 referendum – third vote is  falling off the agenda. For Labour, it is unlikely it can win the next General Election without a third vote.

Currently the Tories have the ball of their feet with their Deal or No Deal so-called ‘meaningful’ vote which is due in the Autumn.  With 15 Labour MPs voting with the Tories over membership of the EEA rather than abstaining as Corbyn wanted it is clear that Leave has serious support within the PLP. This position is more or less the same as Tony Benn’s position in the 1975 referendum, which Leave lost, and uses the wording which has now been used by groups like Open Britain which are against Brexit that we must “respect the referendum result”, a phrase which is a no brainer. The real issue – especially for the young – is respecting democracy by  giving them what the People’s Vote is calling for – another vote. 

Labour Leave is rehashing the old Bennite argument that the UK can survive and prosper outside the  EU. I personally agree with  rejecting EEA and EFTA for the UK needs to be inside the institution, not as the ‘vassal state ‘ with no ability to shape the rules.. However the isolationist argument was spurious before Trump got into the White House with “America First”, and completely invalid now he has started a trade war. The UK has to be inside the EU and forming strong links with Canada and Mexico.

So what is the beef? The real issue is providing a future for the Young, who overwhelmingly favour the EU and are being betrayed by Brexit. The Leavers ignore this dominant fact of electoral politics, while correctly pointing to the fact that for the moment,  “the electors, and Labour’s traditional heartland voters” have rejected the EU. But this only affects some electors in some declining areas which will suffer most from Brexit. If  Labour MPs are now terrified of losing seats if they stick to their guns, they will face the bigger problem long term of losing the young. It pains me to say this as an old age pensioner, but my generation – the Baby Boomers – have failed young people. And the failure runs through all aspects of our politics. 

Caroline Flint raised the immigration issue over the EEA , and there is a real debate to be had, but immigration is overwhelmingly a concern of the Old. The Guardian of 22nd January 2017 reported that of 22 priorities, immigration was the lowest ranked among 18-34 year olds. It was ignored by  the young in the  2017 election when May flagged it up. We cannot ignore the fact that it did affect the vote in the old traditional working class areas, which have to be won back to get a majority Labour government. But Brexit is not the way to do it. It will hand young voters to the Remain parties.

The big issue is whether when the 6 tests are to be used in the ‘meaningful debate’ in the autumn Labour will call for a third referendum this time on the Deal.   This position is morally sound and constitutionally valid, for there is no reason not to allow a third vote. As David Davis said in 2013, “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”. True even if he is now the Minister for Brexit. He told Seema Malhotra in Select Committee on 25th April that the Deal document may be no more than a ‘bare bones’ document and cannot be amended. So the six tests are almost certain to be failed. Given that the chances of Labour defeating the document are limited, the most viable way forward is to put the deal to a public vote.

If Labour abandons the position is fought the 2016 referndum on, it moves away from democratic practice,  at the price of risking the votes of young people and metropolitan voters. The Green and Lib Dem Parties are struggling. Nothing would hand them progressive voters more quickly than voting for Brexit. However the big issue is not just whether Labour is about to hand the next election to the Tories by losing votes.

The core issue is democracy. The 2016 referendum was not a priveleged ‘once in a generation’ vote which cannot be repeated. After the 1975 vote Harold Wilson made it clear it was the right of Leavers to campaign to reverse the result. The current Leave campaign  cannot deny voters the same right that they had to get a public vote on the choices before the UK before the UK drops out of the EU. Currently Remain has won one vote, Leave has won one. The next, critical vote will be a best of three – if MPs have enough democratic principle to bring it on. 

Trevor Fisher, June 2018.

Anti Brexit or a New Party?

On Monday 14th May, David Miliband, Nicky Morgan and Nick Clegg spoke in favour of a soft Brexit at a rally in Essex.  Cross party co-operation against Brexit is not controversial, but the press comment suggesting this was a move towards a new Centre Party – noting David Miliband’s return to British politics – sounded alarm bells. Linking the two issues of anti- Brexit and a centre party is a no-brainer.

The Social Democrat Party failed in the 1980s and there is less room in the centre now because  the politics of triangulation pursued by New Labour collapsed. That project, based on compromises with the Tory Right while abandoning any effective defence of centre left politics was New Labour’s answer to four election defeats,  but as Gordon Brown found in 2010 it only produced short  term gains. Politicians of the centre still do not understand their own failure and try to find compromises where there are none – there is no soft Brexit.

The politicians who spoke in Essex were living symbols of a failed politics of retreat. Nick Clegg, now reinventing himself as an anti-Brexit warrior to  large and uncritical audiences, is a warning from history about compromising with the right. There is no ambiguity about  the historical record – Clegg led the Lib Dems into coalition with an austerity producing Tory leadership under Cameron, and lost three quarters of his MPs and over 85% of his MPs (57-8)  in 2015. He himself lost his seat in the 2017 election and his party’s attempt to get a Brexit Referendum through parliament has been an abysmal failure. Nevertheless nothing stops Sir Nick – having had a knighthood conferred by a grateful Establishment – thinking his Orange Liberal politics are the way forward.

Nicky Morgan was the successor to Michael Gove as Education Secretary after a period of turmoil and dogmatism, and did nothing to remedy the problems caused by Gove’s reforms, notably  the GCSE edict which is now causing severe stress and trauma for both pupils and teachers alike. Increased demands and cuts in funding continued to be the Tory recipe for state education, and like Clegg, Morgan has never condemned the austerity policies followed by her Tory Party since 2010. 

David Miliband at least cannot be accused of embracing austerity, but as a fully fledged New Labourite he supported the politics of triangulation and was part of the damaging and electorally disasterous Brown Government which lost in 2010. There is no sign he has revised his political views and as he left the country has made no contribution to Labour’s partial recovery since 2010. 

What Miliband’s contribution to the Campaign With No Name will eventually be is not clear, but he is critical of Corbyn for not wanting the EEA option and accuses him of risking being ‘midwife of a hard brexit’.  But on this Corbyn has a point. We do not want to be like Norway a state with no voice. Saying it would make Britain a vassal state is overegging the pudding, but Brexiteers and anti Brexiteers can agree that the EEA provides  a limbo state neither want. Brexiteers want OUT, Remainers want In. Why be a fringe state with no power? 

The three musketeers seem to be running with the People’s vote campaign without endorsing it. The People’s Vote wants to challenge the terms of the Brexit Deal, but a vote on the terms can be no more than a delaying action, despite a commitment to stay in the EU while the haggling takes place. This avoids the elephant in the room, the 2016 Referendum. Brexiteers argue  that 2016 was a democratic decision to Leave the EU in toto and must be accepted,  a logical view which has convinced some 30% of Remainers, on the latest polls, giving Leave a 2-1 majority. To counter this needs a reasoned case for a third Referendum – there have been two already –  on the core issue of remaining or leaving. There is no point in just putting the terms of the Deal to a vote, and no half way house whether joining the EEA or remaining in the customs union or other evasions. Either we are In or Out the EU. 

For the Remainers who want IN and realise the argument cannot be about half way houses, how to secure a third vote and win the outcome is the only show in town. Parliamentarians have a role to play, and alliances are necessary when the vote on the Deal happens in the autumn. Labour has to be restrained from voting with the Tories and brought to commit to voting against the Tory deal. The objective has to be more than a soft Brexit. The choice has to be to offer  a third, binding referendum on staying in the EU. To have any chance of securing this objective, playing within the existing party structures is a given. As the crisis develops, a General Election is likely to happen as the Tory Party rips apart. We need an undivided Labour Party to face up to the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

May 2018

SPIKED & The People’s Votes Phoney War

The Millbank* campaign for a People’s Vote (PV) on the Brexit Deal was launched on April 14-15 to tepid interest on the Andrew Marr show and a swinging attack on the  pro-Brexit Blog Site SPIKED (Spiked is the old Living Marxism crew and a classic example of populist reaction). In a piece  entitled THE PEOPLES VOTE A PARODY OF DEMOCRACY, Fraser Myers picked up on some obvious flaw in the  project which it would be foolish to ignore. Notably that  the People’s Vote  is an attempt to re- run the 2016 referendum which cannot be honest about that fact for fear of being called undemocratic, so seeks a popular vote on the terms of the Deal. But not Brexit itself.

Haggling over the details is not likely to be popular, and David Davis after the blog went to press suggested that the deal put to the Commons is likely to be only a draft, making the ‘vote’ a phony war. Neither the details nor the big issue – Brexit and the future- are likely to go for debate.

Hence the importance of  Myers, who argued “The rearguard Remain campaign launched its latest initiative to derail the democratic vote for Brexit…. to call for what they insist is not a second referendum”. While a further vote is perfectly sound constitutionally and Spiked is on very dodgy ground discussing democracy, they have spotted the elephant in the room. Myers argued “Their own polling tells them the people don’t want one”. And that is the underlying problem Millbank is avoiding.

Recent  polls  show a small movement in favour of questioning the 2016 vote depend on wording when calling for people to ‘have their say” or “final vote” is popular, but when the more precise ” a public vote” is suggested, the figure in favour drops to 39% agreed and 49%  opposed. Consistently the polling since 2016 polls reject a further vote and some 30% of Remainers are opposed to a further vote. The PV campaign is agitating for a vote which has no substantial public support. Spiked and the Brexiteers are opposed to a further Referendum for their own reasons but the public do not currently want one – by a margin of 65% to 35% on the latest polls. This is a crucial weakness Millbank has failed to address

Democracy, Sovereignty & the Third Vote

While  Spiked  may criticise Millbank’s tactics accurately,  they are wrong on fundamentals. While the 2016 vote was democratic – though flawed – there is nothing undemocratic  in calling for a further vote.

Britain not having a written constitution, the rules are made up inconsistently, but no one has ever said the second vote could not take place (it is of course the third vote which makes the case stronger) but the unresolved issue is whether this can happen imminently. Parliament can do anything it wants to do under parliamentary sovereignty. The only issue is whether  circumstances have changed sufficiently to make a third vote legitimate.

On this, Millbank is correct. The 2016 vote was a blindfold vote. As the terms of the deal are to be revealed, Britain has the right to vote again on whether it wants to go ahead. And it would be just as legitimate as the one the Scottish Nationalists are calling for, blocked by May but only on a temporary basis.

But the issue of what the deal on offer would be if it is ever put to a “People’s Vote” (sic) has become as  slippery as an eel. David Davis indicates the full Deal will not be on offer, and this is  likely to catch those who like Best For Britain argue the full deal must be there to vote for.  This has never been on the cards, despite  the Six Tests that Starmer has set. As Thornberry and Barry Gardiner have suggested,  voting  against the Deal may be impossible if it is as vague as motherhood and apple pie, and this is the prospect.

David Davis confirmed  to a Select Committee at the end of April that the Deal will not be available – rightly, as it will take years to do – stating the position put to the Commons in the ‘meaningful vote’ will be “a political declaration rather than a treaty draft”, (BBC 25th April 2018). This would be a trap for Labour if the proposal rests on the 2016 Referendum. It is also likely to confirm the Leave date as March 29th 2019. Labour could not vote against that having voted for Article 50. If parliament voted against that to send negotiators back to Brussells it would do so having left the EU. What bargaining position they would then have is anyone’s guess. The pressure would be to accept the deal – or leave with no deal, which has been Tory policy since February 2017.

The Millbank tendency and it’s outriders are stating they do not want a vote on Brexit but only the terms of Brexit- which will be defined by the Tories. If this is the best offer for a People’s Vote, do not expect a wonderful outcome.

If the ‘terms’ so called are as Davis said, “a political declaration” it will be in terms that stress the referendum result, not the fine details which will not be there. Labour hopes the 6 tests will give  details they can reject to send the government back  to renegotiate on its terms- the government will go back to negotiate if ‘parliament is in control’. This is not likely if the terms are merely a political declaration.

Meanwhile People’s Vote supporter Gareth Thomas MP is seeking in May a vote on “A people’s vote … to take back control over Brexit from a small cabal of leave ideologues” (Observer 29th April). Not likely if the ‘terms’ to be voted on confirm the result of the Referendum of 2016. For both Labour and the People’s Vote, challenging that Referendum is going to be essential. And at the moment, the People do not support this as Spiked and others in the Brexit lobby are only too happy to point out. That is the challenge.

Trevor Fisher

April 2018

* Based in the Millbank Tower a 9 organisation coalition of pro Remain Organisations explicitly inspired by the Blair- Cameron campaigns which were based in the Dark Tower near parliament.

 

 

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