What did this year’s contributors have to say about rejoining the EU?
Gina Miller: What do you think will be the path and timescale to rejoining the EU?
Under EU law, the UK is now a third country, so it would have to reapply and undergo the whole accession procedure from scratch, under Article 49 of the Treaty of European Union. Art. 49 states that “any European State” which respects the common EU values and is “committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the union”. These values include “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law”. In other words, even though our present Government is lurching to the right, we would still qualify.
On average, it has taken approximately nine years for recent members to join, from submitting a membership application to signing an accession treaty, for example Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania. But our having been members for 40 years would be a huge advantage over these countries. The fact that we have not diverged significantly from EU rules and regulations post Brexit is also beneficial. New border checks on EU imports have been delayed for a fifth time until January 2024, and the requirement for UK manufactured goods to have a UKCA instead of a EUCA mark from 2025 has been scrapped.
In other areas we are actively aligning with the EU: Horizon; aligning with the EU timeline for phasing out petrol and diesel cars; new food standards; and recoupling our electricity trading with the EU.
The question is purely a political one. It took Sweden and Finland only three years from application to the signing of an accession treaty. I see no reason why this time frame is not feasible for the UK, especially as we now have Poland and Ukraine as supporters of us rejoining.
Dominic Grieve: Why are our politicians so reluctant to talk about Brexit and rejoining the EU when the public have demonstrably changed their minds?
The public has clearly concluded that Brexit has not worked out as they hoped, but that is a different thing from saying they want to go back in. Returning will not be on the same terms we enjoyed when we left and will be a complex negotiation. This is why politicians avoid the issue. As time passes, however, it will become unavoidable, as it becomes obvious that there is no substitute to our building a much closer relationship with the EU.
Mike Galsworthy: How could a future rejoin campaign learn from the mistakes of 2016 to make a positive case for selling EU membership to British voters next time round?
Well, that’s why the rejoin campaign is starting right now and learning right now! You cannot wait on last minute persuasion; you have to try and win before the contest itself actually starts. For me, the biggest lesson from 2016 was exactly that. By 2016, the Leave side had campaign veterans championing Brexit. They’d been at it for 25 years. They knew each other, they’d tested lines on it, toured around, found financial backers and sympathetic media. The Stronger In campaign, when it came together in late 2015, was constructed of people who were woefully naïve on matters European, and green as green could be on campaigning. So, for me, lesson one has always been to build, train and fully equip the army long before the battle. And if you look at what we have actually built since 2016, it is quite phenomenal. We have lots of veterans around, lots of hard knocks, lots of experience and lots of local groups who have lived through the tough times. We’ve built character and resources – community online and community knowledge about our core arguments – and now we’re really building central capacity at pace.
That’s the primary lesson. The second lesson is to be able to go out and meet people at their point of need. The huge comms errors of both Stronger In and People’s Vote was to think that endlessly repeating “economic damage” and “we demand a people’s vote” as pretty much catch-all campaign messages was going to turn people around.
Society is much more granular. People care about their own and their community identities, and community priorities. Yes, Vote Leave was saying “take back control”, but they were also going into actual communities and telling them “take back control so you can catch more fish from your own waters”, “take back control and scrap the stupid common agricultural policy”, “take back control of immigration to clear out these Eastern European workers that are sleeping six men to a room and undercutting what you can reasonably charge”, “take back control so we can get your Bangladeshi family over here once we stop the flood of European free movement taking their place”.
You see? That’s how the messaging was tailored to meet people at their point of need/desire. Yes, it was all BS and shamefully so, but it was all based upon what different communities wanted. When did PV do anything like that? We absolutely need to understand community need – and meet those communities at their point of need with our offerings, but unlike the Leave campaign, make sure they are solid promises and those communities stay onboard all the way to delivery. Brexit is failing because the promises didn’t hold up. Rejoin will be a success if the promises do.
Prof. Juliet Lodge: Many believe that the EU would be cautious about considering any UK application to rejoin. Do you agree?
Yes and no. Yes, because the Conservative Governments appear to have flippantly squandered achievements and wallow in toddler theatrics instead of genuinely seeking to have a constructive, working relationship with our closest allies and partners.
Yes, because there seems to have been a lack of understanding at the most basic level about how we worked when in the EU, and how the EU has worked (well) and developed progressive political agendas and policies without us. Yes, because purely from the point of view of presentation, too many Government and opposition politicians display deep ignorance about political realities in Europe and the UK’s increasingly irrelevant position in it.
And yes, because many feel that Article 50 should not be invoked frivolously in the expectation that its consequences can be overturned the moment things don’t quite accord with what the state who invoked it wanted. I feel that Article 50 should never have been included years later as an amendment to the original founding treaties. When the EU was created, there was no clause to leave it. European integration was the promise to work to solve problems together, in effect, forever.
No, because many EU leaders and politicians and officials, business and civil society representatives would welcome us back in the EU as soon as possible. Why? The UK co-created some of the greatest steps leading the EU to become what it is today: freedom of movement, the single market (warts and all), cooperation on defence and security, ErasmusPlus, health, climate, food and safety standards, police and judicial cooperation, and many more. The UK helped draft and agree some of the regulations which are acknowledged as genuine world standards, including the GDPR.
The friendship group created by Terry Reintke MEP is looking after ‘our star’ until we return to the EU as members. By then, many of those who knew the UK as a constructive EU member may have retired so we can’t just rely on them to be our advocate. But we can do our bit on a people-to-people basis to sustain, expand and deepen our links. Above all, we can show that a country outside the EU, which has a bigger pro-EU movement than any of the EU’s current members, is educated, interested, dynamic and a trustworthy partner who would add value to the EU.
It’s our job to educate ourselves in order to give our children a fighting chance of being in the EU, enjoying the opportunities that arise from having shared values and a commitment to democracy and working together with their European peers to improve the well-being of their communities. Isolation on a global stage is daft, on a regional stage it heralds oblivion.
Siobhan Benita: Do you foresee the UK rejoining the EU? If so, what would be the timescale and steps on the way?
I absolutely foresee the UK re-joining the EU. As time passes, the economic damage that Brexit has caused for the UK will become increasingly obvious and fewer and fewer people will be prepared to defend it (or even admit they voted for it). We are already seeing a shift in the narrative with papers like The Telegraph and Daily Mail running articles highlighting some of the negative consequences of Brexit. In addition, pressure for the UK to re-join will come from younger generations as they reach voting age and want to access all the freedoms that we previously enjoyed as part of EU membership.
Given that I would like us to re-join the EU tomorrow, the timescale will never be as quick as I want but I do think it’s possible for it to happen in a matter of years rather than decades. In terms of the main steps along the way, the immediate priority is to get the Tories out with tactical voting at the next general election. I also believe that we desperately need electoral reform and a move to a more proportional system should ensure that we never again have a government with so much power but so little reflection of the voting public as a whole.