This month we asked three former contributors to Bremainers Ask to comment on the current state of play of British politics and Brexit. This is what they had to say:
Anna Bird, CEO European Movement
Summer 2022 will be seen as the time the tide began to turn against hard Brexit. Even the archetypal gung-ho Leaver, Lord Daniel Hannan, recently wrote that Britain should have stayed in the single market.
Failed Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, in an extraordinary speech at a recent think-tank conference, could not point to a single concrete economic benefit of Brexit. He went on to blame the EU – and the European Movement. He accused us of “latching on to any number, usually out of context, and treating it as evidence that Brexit is ‘failing’”. If we are being singled out for attack by our opponents, we must be doing something right!
As for ‘latching on’ to evidence, we knew before the referendum that Brexiteers had had enough of experts. Michael Gove told us. Neither Lord Frost, nor his political master Boris Johnson, listen to objective analysis. But even they must know, behind the bluster, that Brexit is breaking Britain.
The government’s own Office of Budget Responsibility predicts that Brexit will mean a 4% hit to GDP. The impact on individual families is starker still. Brexit means a typical family with two earners will be nearly £1000 poorer every year by 2030 than if the UK had stayed in the EU, according to a Resolution Foundation study.
Meanwhile, airport disruption due to staff shortages is worse in the UK than elsewhere. Airline bosses say they have had to reject en masse applications from EU citizens who can no longer work in the UK. Worse, NHS queues are causing life-threatening delays – again Brexit is a significant factor.
As European Movement UK President Michael Heseltine pointed out in a recent article in the Guardian, Johnson, Frost and ‘Brexit Opportunities Minister’ Jacob Rees-Mogg have their hands over their ears. But even their (former?) allies in the Europhobic press are picking up on what is going on.
So are the British public. Brexit is hitting hardest those regions that voted most heavily for it. In Wakefield, where 66% voted Leave in 2016, so-called ‘Red Wall’ voters deserted Johnson’s government in the 23 June by-election. On the same day In Tiverton and Honiton, the pro-EU Liberal Democrats wiped out a 24,000 Tory majority. Every promise the Brexiteers made to rural communities has been broken.
Brexit was not the only factor in these results. But 2016 Leave voters did not vote loyally for the Conservatives in either by-election. And a pattern of dishonesty with its roots in Johnson’s mendacious 2016 Vote Leave campaign was a common thread.
Repairing the damage done by this government’s hard Brexit, and restoring broken relations with our European partners, is going to be a long haul. We will need to win a historic battle for hearts and minds over many years, to regain our place at the heart of Europe.
The European Movement has the stomach for that fight. This is a battle for the soul of our country. And recent events make us even more certain we can win it.
Jon Danzig, journalist and film maker
In my life, I have never known a worse time either for my country or the world at large. I started to campaign against Brexit when the word was first invented back in 2012. Of course, back then I hoped against hope that leaving the EU wouldn’t happen, but I obviously felt it could. And, of course, it did.
When Brexit happened, many of us on the same side thought that, soon enough, people in Britain would realise the huge downsides of being outside the EU. Yes, cause and effect are often difficult to see or prove. But we in the pro-EU camp thought that, for example, higher prices because of new barriers to trade with our most important export and import market in the world – our neighbouring countries – would soon be blindingly obvious, and deeply felt. But it’s not been that simple, or clear cut.
We didn’t anticipate the post-Brexit arrival or impact of the world’s worst pandemic in 100 years – Covid19. That changed everything. Britons got poorer, prices went up, but how much could be blamed on Covid and how much on Brexit? Then, although some predicted it, most of us didn’t anticipate that Russia would invade Ukraine. Again, that has had a huge impact on our economy, resulting in yet more increased prices, along with rising inflation leading to a cost-of-living crisis.
I could – and would – argue that most of the downsides since the EU referendum six years ago can be blamed on Brexit. But proving that to the public at large, is complicated, involves graphs, charts, and statistics that few will want to digest. Not the clear-cut pre- and post-Brexit comparisons we thought would easily win the case against leaving the EU. What we can agree is that Brexit, Covid and the appalling war now raging in Ukraine have all contributed to a sharp decline in our fortunes. And all this has also changed our feelings about the future, which now looks more dismal than at any time for all of us who didn’t live through the Second World War. [And I haven’t even mentioned climate change – probably the biggest threat to the entire planet].
Although we didn’t realise it at the time, and probably wouldn’t have believed it if we’d been told, before the terrible events of the past few years, many of us were living in what we can now recognise as a relatively golden age. Now, all that’s been shattered. We cannot go back to that ‘golden’ past, and the future ahead looks grim. On top of Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine, we now have an attack on fundamental rights in the UK, with Boris Johnson’s government, for example, intent on dismantling our Human Rights Act. Not because that law is bad, but because our government clearly doesn’t like a law that stops them doing bad things (e.g. forcing refugees to be flown from the UK to Rwanda).
Across the ‘pond’ in the USA they are also experiencing an attack on fundamental rights. For example, the constitutional right of women to have an abortion has been removed. That could only happen because the right-wing, populist ex-President Trump, before he left office, appointed to the Supreme Court three of his favoured judges. [See my article: https://jondanzig.blogspot.com/2022/06/in-us-gun-and-abortion-laws-aretopsy.html]. To top it all, we now know – with compelling and increasing evidence – that Putin’s Russia helped to fuel and fund Brexit from the outset. Something I had no idea about when I first started to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU. [See my video The Russian Connection].
How do we get out of this mess? I say knowledge is our best defence, and attack. It may take a long time, but truth usually prevails in the end. Our side needs to get better at telling it and selling it.
Lord Andrew Adonis, Chair European Movement UK
I can’t quite believe I am writing this, but the biggest event of the last six years in terms of Britain’s relations with Europe may not be Brexit. Probably more significant, in the short and long term, is Britain’s decisive role in supporting Ukraine’s resistance to the latest of Europe’s fascist dictators, Vladimir Putin.
In the short term, providing the military hardware to help stop Putin from achieving an immediate knock-out blow in his attack on Kiev, and his attempt to remove Zelensky and install a puppet regime, was of monumental importance not only to the fate of Ukraine but to the wider security and stability of democratic Europe.
NATO, which has organised this support for Zelensky, is a military club which everyone in Europe now wants to join. Sweden and Finland, who have just applied, will take NATO’s membership to 30, extending the alliance across virtually the whole of Russia’s eastern border with Europe.
In retrospect NATO was the dog that didn’t bark during the Brexit wars. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 – that an attack on one is an attack on all, to be resisted by all – is in its potential consequences a far greater diminution of Britain’s sovereignty than anything agreed with the EU during our half century of membership. Yet neither Nigel Farage nor Boris Johnson and the Brexit Tories ever proposed that we withdraw from NATO so that we could “take back control” of our defence, and anti-Brexit leaders sensibly never sought to widen the issue to include defence.
Brexit is probably the high-water mark of the uncontrolled spam of English nationalism. The sound and fury about “foreign judges” in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights ruling against the proposed deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda could conceivably lead Johnson and Priti Patel to seek to withdraw from the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. This would be a political obscenity. But since the only country to have left – indeed been expelled – from the Council of Europe in recent years is Putin’s Russia, in response to its Ukraine invasion, I doubt even Johnson would think he could ride the contradiction while Putin remains at large.
However, six years on from the 2016 referendum, there is still no reversal – or sign of one – in respect of the hugely disadvantageous Brexit trade and economic deal under which we left the EU. Far from seeking to negotiate a better EU trade deal, Johnson and his foreign secretary Liz Truss are embarking on an egregious breach of international law by seeking to legislate to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.
There isn’t yet a meaningful political debate about the case for a better Brexit deal, despite polls showing a growing majority against Brexit in the light of big reductions in trade between Britain and the EU far beyond any Covid effect.
According to London School of Economics data, nearly half of all UK companies have either ceased or reduced their trade with the EU since Brexit took effect. Yet Keir Starmer, who was Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit spokesman before becoming Labour leader, has largely left the Brexit field and won’t commit to seeking fundamentally better Brexit terms. And for as long as Johnson remains at the helm, and there is no credible governmental path towards a renegotiation, there is no incentive for any Tory MP to call for this either.
However, the truth will out. Unless the trade situation improves, Tobias Ellwood will be the first of many Tory MPs to call for an “upgraded” Brexit deal akin to that of Norway, which is part of the single market while not belonging to the EU itself. There is only so long that the Tory leadership can say “fuck business” – or, as Rishi Sunak puts it more elegantly, that we need to accept “lower trade intensity” as the price of Brexit. The Tory leader after Johnson, maybe Sunak himself, won’t be inhibited by having negotiated the current Brexit deal. It is hard to believe, because it is virtually impossible, that they will be as shameless as Johnson either.
The stark reality is also that the only solution to the Irish problem is for Britain to be within the single market or something close to it. Only then will both the EU and the UK have confidence that trade between the Britain and Ireland can be uninhibited while vital concerns about safety, standards and smuggling are addressed.
So Britain has not left Europe, and even under Johnson the Ukraine war graphically demonstrates our fundamental interdependence and common values. Trade is indispensable to a free and prosperous Europe, and Britain’s leaders will ultimately recognise that free trade is the best way of securing these age-old goals. The long trek back towards the EU’s single market hasn’t yet started but there is a feeling of inevitability about it. Whether it takes months or years is too soon to say. But I suspect the process will start the day after Johnson ceases to be Prime Minister.
In our July Newsletter, we will be putting your questions to Jane Morrice. Born in Belfast, and a teenager during the “troubles”, Jane Morrice built a career on peace building, journalism, Europe and equality, including direct involvement in the creation of the Good Friday Agreement.
If you would like to put a question forward for consideration, please email us no later than Thursday 7 July at firstname.lastname@example.org