Bremainers Ask …. Russ Jones

Bremainers Ask …. Russ Jones

Russ Jones is an author and political commentator with over 277,000 followers on Twitter where he regularly reports on #TheWeekInTory as @RussInCheshire. He is currently writing the sequel to his book The Decade in Tory. The new book will be entitled Four Chancellors and a Funeral.

Steve Wilson: Of all the government failures and cock-ups that you have catalogued in ‘The week in Tory’ are there any in particular that stand out for you?

I started The Week In Tory because of one event that made me laugh my head off: our Prime Minister, Fat Malfoy, had accidentally made it illegal to drive to Wales. I started tweeting about it, and as I was writing I realised about eight other stupid things had happened in the same week, so I listed them. People liked it, so I did it again, and here we are, two years (and two books) later.

But that one still sticks with me. How can a Prime Minister accidentally make it illegal to drive to Wales? How utterly, barnstormingly cretinous.

David Eldridge: Is the new agreement on Northern Ireland the beginning of the end for Brexit?

The beginning of the end of Brexit was 9am on 24 June 2016. It’s been dying since the moment it happened, but it will be a long, drawn-out death.

At heart, Brexit was nothing to do with Europe, or with the UK either. It wasn’t related to trade deals or borders, immigrants or sovereignty. At heart, Brexit was about disruption. It was a slogan in search of a policy, promising we could simply kick away the hidebound experts, and do something different. It never said what it would actually do, just not “this”.

But ultimately all governance is about organisation. It doesn’t matter if you’re Corbyn or Thatcher, Starmer or Sunak: your job is to organise things. The “this” people objected to was that organisation, which is always fiddly and complicated, but needs to be done. However, in the wake of Brexit we elected to government a libertarian populist movement, whose defining mission was an instinctive opposition to any kind of organisation whatsoever, and therefore a rejection of the very principles of government. We shouldn’t have been shocked when they turned out to be absolutely terrible at it.

And this, of course, means Brexit was inherently doomed from the get-go. I don’t think it’ll end quickly, I’m afraid, but I do think the Windsor (NI) agreement is the death of that libertarian, Johnsonesque populism. It’s the first time for years that a major policy decision has been based on rationality. It made me quite hopeful, which is an unfamiliar feeling!

Ruth Woodhouse: I understand that you have been scathing about what you see as Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the referendum and his subsequent actions. Do you feel that Keir Starmer has dealt with the Brexit fall-out better and taken the correct approach?

My main problem with Corbyn was his self-evident inability to win, which was clear very early in his leadership. If you don’t win, it doesn’t matter what you believe in, because you can never implement any of it. If, by some miracle, he’d have reached Number 10, he’d have buggered things up in a thousand ways. All politicians do, and Starmer will too. I’m not claiming Corbyn was uniquely incapable. But because he never got the chance to be catastrophic, his devoted army still believes him to be a sainted, lost King Over The Water. So he still haunts the Labour Party, despite being as relevant to our future as Jim Callaghan.

I do worry that Starmer is misreading the mood on Brexit. I understand why – where’s the election-winning value in reopening the Brexit wounds, which will probably only benefit the Tories?

But public opinion is now strongly anti-Brexit, Sunak is already delivering a softer Brexit in NI, and is even starting to talk about relaxing migration rules (although I’ll believe it when I see it). I think it’s a bad idea to box Labour in.

I think it’s inevitable that political and economic gravity will pull us back into the EU, in some form. I worry that by ruling out absolutely any formal relationship with the EU (such as joining the Single Market) Labour will find itself on the wrong side of history.

And Labour will inherit a terrible economy. The single best thing it can do for growth is to re-join the Single Market and Customs Union, which could help fund the NHS and all the other crumbling institutions left behind by the Tories. It seems daft to absolutely rule it out.


Anon: Assuming the Tory party suffer a major defeat at the next general election, do you think they can survive. If so, what do they need to do to transform their future fortunes?

All parties are coalitions, but the Tory party is taking it to extremes. They’re not so much a party as a patchwork of imaginary grievances thrown together by Mary Shelley’s imagination.

Since the late 80s, there been have countless simultaneous versions of the Conservative Party, engaged in a furious (and to most people meaningless) thirty-year battle over who gets to keep the name. A bit like Pink Floyd.

Thatcher held it together through force of will, and because she kept winning. That tenuous unity largely disintegrated under Major and the political minnows who succeeded him. Desperation for power made those who despised Cameron shut up long enough to win, but Brexit let the demons loose once more.

The unifying socioeconomic theories that held these factions together have been proven wrong beyond any doubt. Truss killed off 30 years of Tufton Street fantasy economics in a single afternoon, and now there’s not much holding them together. If (as I hope) Labour introduce voting reform, the last thing binding the Tories as a single entity – FPTP – would be gone, and they’d all be free to follow their own mad dreams.

From the chaos a new, centre-right party of rational humans could emerge, consisting of people like Dominic Grieve or Ken Clarke. I don’t agree with them about much, but I can see their essential value and the thought process from which their policies emerge. And we need them.

I’m life-long Labour, but I’m not daft enough to think any party should face no viable opposition. Every government needs holding to account, and a sound, sensible centre-right party would be good for Britain, even from the opposition benches. Meanwhile the maniacs can all vanish into the anonymity of GB News for a decade-long circle-jerk, while the grown-ups get on with governing.

Mike Phillips: Does the current Tory party represent the dying embers of the British Empire and what lessons are there for the way we select our MPs?

I don’t think Britain knows what it’s for any more. A quarter of the world’s population was under British rule in 1880, and because we had all the money, jobs, flags and – quite importantly – guns, English ended up as the world’s default second-language. And we ended up assuming this makes us inherently important. It doesn’t.

150 years on, we’re a small, wet, heavily indebted island with few trading partners, no essential industries, and no means of feeding ourselves. We tell ourselves we’re the fifth biggest economy, but Panda is the fifth biggest cola company. I don’t see Pepsi shitting themselves.

We used to be a valued bridge between the USA and Europe, but Brexit broke half of that, and the shift in global power towards China has undermined the rest. We were once a beacon of stability, diplomacy and legal certainty, but now we smash international laws so we can treat migrants like cockroaches, and elect a PM who tells America to “fuck off”.

Unless we come to terms with our true status and build new partnerships for the next century, I don’t see a great way forward. And there is no partnership except the EU. We have no other neighbours. The EU is it.

As for MPs: we need massive democratic reform, and as part of that I’d like to see far fewer people in Westminster (we have the largest Parliament except China, which has 22 times our population). Instead, more local representation, better funding and powers for regions, and (this won’t be popular) pay the remaining MPs a lot more money. It’s a hugely challenging job with no pension, and if you want good people you need to pay for them. And we do need good people. But we should outlaw all second-jobs or political donations. Unless we have publicly funded political parties, political parties will always be in somebody’s pocket.

If something is offered to you for free, YOU are the product. That applies to politics too.

Lisa Burton: It’s a tough choice, but which politician do you think is the most dangerous regarding language and intention?

Steve Barclay. We’re all focused on the performatively evil Suella Braverman, the flagrantly pompous Rees-Mogg, and the shamelessly law-breaking Boris Johnson. But in the nooks and crannies behind the crooks and nannies, you’ll find Steve Barclay, diligently tearing apart the fabric of our society.

Of all the people I’ve written about, he’s the one safest from character assassination, because he was born without one. But he’s a wildly destructive force, sometimes holding three ministerial positions at once, and wreaking havoc across all levels of government. He gets away with it because he’s so effortlessly bland. Half the people I mention him to assume I mean Steve Baker.

Next month in Bremainers Ask – Anand Menon is Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at Kings College London. He also directs the UK in a Changing Europe project. His areas of research interest include the policies and institutions of the European Union, European security, and British politics. He contributes regularly to both print and broadcast media. He is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the European Union (OUP, 2012), and co-author of Brexit and British Politics (Polity 2018). He is a trustee of Full Fact, a member of the Strategic Council of the European Policy Centre, a Council member of the European Council on Foreign Relations and an associate fellow of Chatham House.

If you have any questions you would like to put to Anand, please email them to us no later than Sunday 4 April.

Bremainers Ask – Siobhan Benita

Bremainers Ask – Siobhan Benita

Siobhan Benita was a former senior civil servant who left Whitehall to campaign for better politics.  Passionately opposed to Brexit, she joined the Lib Dems on the morning of the EU Referendum result and became a leading voice in their anti-Brexit movement.  Now politically homeless again, she remains active on social media and spoke at the first National Rejoin March in Autumn 2022.  Siobhan has a French husband and two bilingual daughters.

David Eldridge: 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.

Mike Phillips: The Retained EU law bill will scrap thousands of EU laws, many of which were proposed by the UK and all of which were scrutinised by them. This imposes a massive task on civil servants. How do you view the risk of lack of Parliamentary scrutiny resulting in loss of previously agreed common standards?

The Retained EU Law Bill is going to impose huge burdens on already stretched civil servants as they attempt to meet the Government’s deadline to review all EU legislation by the end of 2023. As a former civil servant myself, I can honestly say that the amount of resource that this needless and entirely self-inflicted exercise will require – at a time when the civil service needs to be tackling huge challenges such as post-Covid, economic recovery, getting our public services back on track or meeting our climate change obligations – is both absurd and indefensible.

The fact that the Bill will allow ministers to revoke and replace EU laws with little or no parliamentary scrutiny is a major concern. Not only is this undemocratic but it will also create serious uncertainty for all stakeholders, including employers, businesses, regulators etc. And let’s not forget, that all of this effort will, ultimately, either produce no change or will actually create new red tape and regulatory burdens, especially for people who still want to trade or work with EU organisations. It’s bonkers.

Michael Soffe: Where, oh where, can those of us who feel “politically homeless” turn to? Do you see the creation of a serious full-on, rejoin party ever being created and funded?

 This is the million-dollar question that I have been asking myself for years now! I am optimistic that a serious, re-join party will emerge over time. Indeed, as polls increasingly show that a growing majority of the public now believe Brexit was a mistake, the creation of a mainstream re-join party is surely a matter of when, not if. Whether this will be a new party or, for example, a future Labour party dropping its ridiculous and unsustainable “make Brexit work” stance, I’m not so sure.

In the meantime, there are many ways that politically homeless campaigners like myself can engage, including: amplifying the voices of individuals who do publicly advocate for re-join, supporting the ReJoin Party and other fledgling movements in their grassroot efforts and taking part in movements like the National Re-join March, which took place in London in Autumn last year and which will be touring the country over the coming months. Despite its many flaws, social media has helped me to connect with other re-joiners and to keep the re-join narrative going. It can be exhausting and disheartening campaigning for something you feel so strongly about when every day the Government seems intent on taking the UK further down a nationalistic path and Labour isn’t prepared to call out Brexit for the disaster that it is, so being part of a re-join community (even a virtual one) helps to keep me energised and sane!

Anon: If you could take over the job of PM, with so many pressing issues facing the country, where would you start?

As PM, my first priority would be to bring about electoral reform. Our two-party system is broken and is no longer serving the national interest or reflecting how the public actually feel and vote. I would also prioritise reforming parliament. We have seen under the Tories that Ministers can break the ministerial code and the Nolan Principles of Public Life with little or no consequences and that must change if we want better politics and better politicians. The Lords also needs reform. There should, for example, be transparency around appointment decisions and fixed terms replacing lifelong peerages.

With regard to policy, I’d initiate a fundamental shift in funding with more resource going into prevention, such as early years provision and public health because this would create more efficient and effective public services in the medium to long term. And, given that tackling climate change is by far the single biggest challenge facing us today, I would require every policy to be considered through a net zero lens.

Peter Corr: The pro EU community is said to be “full of old white people”. Do you feel this to be true, and if so, what can we do to promote the Rejoin campaign to a wider, more diverse community to win support?

Unfortunately, the accusation that the pro-EU community is “full of old white people” can sometimes feel justified when you look at who – traditionally – the most prominent pro-EU individuals have been. That said, there are some fantastic, high-profile campaigners such a Femi Oluwole and Marina Purkiss who certainly don’t conform to the stereotype. The other accusation that I hear quite often is that the pro-EU community is very middle class.

The bottom line for me is that Brexit will make everyone in the UK poorer, regardless of age, ethnicity or class background. And, whilst Brexiteers were sadly quite successful at persuading many voters that they would be better off post Brexit, the lies are now beginning to crumble and the economic reality is becoming clear. As with any issue, the pro-EU movement will be stronger and more impactful if it is inclusive, reflecting the UK’s diverse population. As we edge towards the possibility of re-joining the EU, having clearer messages, delivered by a wide range of people, on how this will benefit everyone will be crucial and the work to engage communities and community leaders should be happening now.

Lisa Burton: I note that you joined the Liberal Democrats on the morning of the Brexit Referendum result, as they were the only party with a clear rejoin message at that point. How do you feel now about how the party handled Brexit and their position now?

 This is a tough question for me to answer because I have a lot of friends in the Liberal Democrats. We desperately need a strong, centre-ground party in the UK and I would like to see the Lib Dems doing well in the next election. All that said, however, I am extremely disappointed in the way they handled Brexit and in their current position.

In the run up to the referendum the Lib Dems were so unequivocal in their pro-EU stance. Their “Bollocks to Brexit” approach gained them profile and traction, and consequently they were successful in getting 19 MEPs elected to the European Parliament in 2019. In contrast, Lib Dem MPs today are virtually indistinguishable from Labour in their stance on Brexit. I understand the thinking; where the Lib Dems see their best chances of winning seats at the next election, they are largely Tory-facing. Nevertheless, I believe they have made a strategic error in rowing back from their clear, pro-EU position.

As a party, they are currently at around 9% in the polls and this hasn’t budged since we left the EU, despite their reticence to talk about Brexit. Unlike Labour, they need to take some risks. There was an opportunity to be seized in scooping up the millions of people like myself (and disillusioned Labour and Tory voters) who are desperate to throw support behind a serious a re-join force but the party chose not to seize it. What a shame.

Next month: Russ Jones is an author and political commentator with over 277k followers on Twitter ( @RussInCheshire) where he regularly reports on #TheWeekInTory. He is currently writing the sequel to his book ‘The Decade in Tory’. The new book will be entitled ‘Four Chancellors and a Funeral”.

If you wish to submit a question for consideration, please email it to us no later than 8 March.

Bremainers Ask….Revisited

Bremainers Ask….Revisited

To start the year, we asked three former Bremainers Ask contributors to tell us about their highs and lows for 2022 and their hopes for the coming year. This is what they had to say.

Alexandra Hall Hall is a former British diplomat who resigned from the Foreign Office in December 2019 after concluding she could no longer represent the British Government’s position on Brexit with integrity. She is now a frequent commentator and writer on British politics and foreign policy post-Brexit. You can read Alex’s earlier contribution to Bremainers Ask from May 2022 here

The low point of 2022 for me was without question Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. By the same token, the highpoint was seeing the courage of the Ukrainian people in refusing to yield to Russian aggression, under the inspiring leadership of Ukrainian President, Volodomyr Zelensky.

I was glad to see the UK respond so robustly to Russia’s invasion. Though I might question some of the motives behind Boris Johnson’s decision to champion the Ukrainian cause, I genuinely believe the British Government has shown impressive leadership on the issue. Johnson’s own visit to Kyiv in the spring undoubtedly boosted Ukrainian morale. I am willing to give him credit for that. I was also glad to see the UK work constructively with the EU and NATO to galvanise an effective international response, including by coordinating sanctions against Russia, and conducting a long overdue clamp down on Russian money and influence within the UK.

I was disappointed this did not translate into wider reflection within the British Government on our post-Brexit relationship with European partners. I had hoped that cooperation on Ukraine might prompt greater willingness to put UK-EU cooperation on broader foreign and security policy matters onto a more structured footing. Instead, many Brexit advocates argue it is proof that the UK can successfully coordinate with the EU from the outside, even though such coordination is now far more time-consuming and burdensome, and we have lost our direct influence on EU decisions.

I had also hoped that the need to stay united on Ukraine might persuade the British Government to adopt a more constructive approach on Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the UK persists with its threat to renege unilaterally on certain aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol unless it is renegotiated to British satisfaction. While the mood music on this issue has improved, it remains to be seen whether Sunak will be willing to face down the hardliners in his party in order to strike a deal.

From a purely domestic perspective, 2022 was the year of British politicians behaving badly. I do not need to recount all the shameful examples. The UK’s global reputation, already badly damaged by the incompetent, dishonest handling of Brexit, took a further battering. The disastrous Truss premiership was the absolute nadir.

At least with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, a veneer of normality has returned to British politics. But just as Donald Trump’s Presidency still casts a long shadow over American politics, so the continuing influence of Boris Johnson and his ilk casts a long shadow over the Conservative party and British politics. Like his predecessors, Sunak seems to remain afraid of the extreme wing of his party, and willing to compromise again and again in an effort to appease them.

As a result, even though restoring the British economy is Sunak’s priority, he is unable to pursue some of the easiest ways to achieve this, such as by relaxing immigration to address UK labour shortages, or by staying aligned to EU standards in order to facilitate UK-EU trade. Instead, he is pressing ahead with the Retained EU law bill to shred all outstanding EU legislation on our statute books by the end of the year. Not only does this risk many important environmental, consumer, worker, health and safety protections being lost, without time to draw up adequate replacements, it also risks UK businesses being left without a stable and predictable legislative environment within which to operate. Even worse, the draft bill gives unprecedented powers to the Government to draft new laws without proper parliamentary  oversight, using so called Henry VIII powers, representing a further erosion of British democracy.

I wish I could be more optimistic for 2023. Instead, I fear the war in Ukraine will grind on with more bodies and blood, as the West still hesitates to send Ukraine all the weapons it needs. I also fear that Sunak will remain in thrall to the right wing of his party, and that Boris Johnson and his supporters will also constantly try to undermine him in hopes of engineering Johnson’s return. British politics risks continuing on an unstable, damaging path.

For me, the big question for 2023 is whether British opinion will finally swing sufficiently decisively against Brexit, that it will give the Labour  party the political space it needs to adopt a stronger position in support of UK-EU cooperation. Opinion polls suggest that more and more British voters are coming to regret the decision to leave. Our challenge is to demonstrate how top voter concerns like the poor state of the economy, the NHS and other public services, are directly related to that decision to leave.

2023 is also the year in which we need to nail the Brexiter narrative that if Brexit is not going well, it is only because it was poorly implemented, or “thwarted” by Remainer elites, or because Ministers have yet to take proper advantage of the so-called opportunities of Brexit. Brexit never was and never will be the solution to the UK’s problems.

Gavin Esler is an award-winning broadcaster, novelist and journalist. His most recent book is entitled “How Britain Ends – English Nationalism and the Re-birth of Four Nations”, and he is currently working on a new book explaining how, as a nation, we can do better. You can read Gavin’s earlier contribution to Bremainers Ask from April 2022 here

It’s always daft to write history when you are still living it, but the past year has been so crazy I’m happy to give it a go. The year 2022 will be seen by future British historians rather as Olaf Scholtz spoke of his country when he became Germany’s Chancellor. The United Kingdom is at a “Zeitenwende” – a turning point. Everything seemed to change, including our three prime ministers in four months and the resignation of at least 60 government ministers, plus the notorious Kwasi Kwarteng political suicide note. He called it a “fiscal event,” forgetting that a cardiac event is to most of us just a heart attack. The good news was that we managed to change our head of state and head of government almost simultaneously with no revolution, gunfire or rioting. The worst that happened was a leaky fountain pen and a temporarily grumpy King. I felt sorry for King Charles at that perfectly normal human moment when he was ambushed on TV by an inky malfunction.

The bad news however was everything else, and a group of failed politicians it was impossible to feel sorry for, especially Matt Hancock whose bush tucker and other trials did not seem stressful enough. In Roman times he would not have been on I’m A Celebrity. He’d have been forced on to I’m a Gladiator and fed to hungry lions. But the event of the year – as Oscar Wilde might have said – is that for the British people to lose one prime minister might be seen as unfortunate. To lose two is carelessness. In fact, we have lost five prime ministers in six years and none of them struck me as up to Gladstone and Disraeli standards.

What was exposed ruthlessly in 2022 is not merely the characters of some very strange people who rise to the top in politics. It’s a failed system of governance where those in power seem to make up the rules to suit themselves. Liz Truss became our prime minister because around 80,000 people who pay just over £2 a month to join the Conservative party decided she was The Right One. Or Far Right One. Rishi Sunak became our prime minister because Conservative MPs decided trusting their own party members was a disaster, so they chose him. Boris Johnson became prime minster because he undermined his two immediate predecessors and the party whose supposedly “secret weapon is loyalty” rewarded his disloyalty with the top job.

The one serious bit of good news of 2022 was that the B-word returned in public speech. Brexit, that greatest self-inflicted wound that we British have inflicted upon ourselves in recent years was finally regarded as something which could be discussed in polite company. My hopes for 2023 therefore include the real possibility that the unravelling of Brexit will become so obviously clear that the leadership of the Labour party will aggressively try to unpick its worst aspects even if they pretend to be living up to what was once supposed to be “the will of the people.” Many of the people who voted for Brexit have inevitably changed their minds.

My second great hope is that we start to remember what is meant by patriotism. To be a patriot is not to sit in front of a Union Jack and witter endlessly about the non-existent benefits of Brexit. To be a patriot is to want the best for your country, and to avoid making British citizens, wherever they may live, poorer and experiencing more difficulties in their lives. By that definition Brexit is one of the least patriotic events in British history.

Otto English is the pen name of author and journalist Andrew Scott. He has written for the Independent, New Statesman, Politico and Byline Times. His book “Fake History” was published in June 2021, and he is currently working on a sequel. You can read his earlier contribution to Bremainers Ask from September 2022 here

Some years ago, while down an absolute rabbit hole of research, I came across an old interview with the author Graham Greene. Unfortunately, I cannot find the recording now but suffice to say that Greene came across as extremely grumpy and when prodded on why that might be, complained that he was very easily bored. He went on to describe an incident where, while on a boat in the Suez Canal, he and the rest of the passengers came under fire from the shore.

“At first,” Greene said – and I paraphrase – “one felt an immense fear and excitement – but soon it gave way to boredom… it was just very, very boring”.

I remember wondering at the time how anyone could ever think that dodging bullets in the middle of the Suez could ever be described as ‘boring’, but as the last eight years, of at times cartoonish events, have unwound, I think I’m beginning to get it.

Living through extraordinary times can get very boring indeed and ever more, the country has felt like an absurd soap opera in which a team of frenzied writers have been cooking up crazy plot lines.

Since the Scottish independence referendum in 2015, the once United Kingdom has reeled from one crisis to another, like a drunken bear fighting a donkey on acid, in a glassware shop. In hindsight, the Scottish referendum was but an amuse bouche for the uncivil war of Brexit that followed in 2016. That disastrous folly wrecked our global standing, screwed our political institutions and wreaked economic turmoil on us all. What followed whipped back the curtain on the libertarian lies of British exceptionalism – and the myth that we ‘don’t need the EU’. But in the process, it also took a sledgehammer to the old political consensus.

In all the chaos that followed, whether that be the inanity of the culture wars, the misery of Covid, lockdowns, the migrant crisis, the on-going disaster in Northern Ireland or the tsunami of other miserable stories lost in its wake, people’s positions have been largely defined by how they voted in that referendum.

At the same time, the pandemic and war in Ukraine have been a salutary lesson in how very dangerous it is to take our certainties for granted. World events can turn in a moment and threats to our peace and security can come out of nowhere. All of this has, I believe, irrevocably changed the political landscape. Britain’s new political lines are no longer defined by left, right and centre, but by ‘pragmatic and progressive’ versus ‘chaotic cloud cuckoolandism’. The good news is that, if polling is to be believed, most voters now sit, ever more, in the ‘pragmatic and progressive’ camp.

As we’ve gone through Prime Ministers and Chancellors faster than most of us get through underwear in a heatwave, this country seems to have edged ever more back towards a general consensus – that we want to be a grown-up country once more.

So, call me a crazy optimist and cross your fingers very tightly, but I’m beginning to think there are brighter times ahead. Happy New Year.

Coming next month

Former London Mayoral candidate and senior civil servant, Siobhan Benita, left Whitehall to campaign for better politics.  She is passionately opposed to Brexit and spoke at the first National Rejoin March in London in Autumn 2022. Siobhan has a French husband and two bilingual daughters.

If you wish to submit a question for Siobhan for consideration, please email us before the 7 February.

Bremainers Ask ….. Marina Purkiss

Bremainers Ask ….. Marina Purkiss

Political Commentator, broadcaster and co-host of The Trawl podcast, Marina is very active on social media, with 289,500 Twitter followers. She has her own show, The Table, on BylineTV and regularly appears on the Jeremy Vine Show.

Valerie Chaplin: Thank you for your no holds barred reporting on “The Trawl” and “Bylines TV”. Do you think, if Labour wins the next election, they will change their “Make Brexit Work” stance, as so many now are realising Brexit was a terrible mistake?

Sadly I’m starting to think Labour will maintain their very hard pro-Brexit stance if they get into power. Keir Starmer has failed repeatedly to leave the door ajar for people like myself who are so-called Remainers and desperate at least for closer alignment to the EU and its single market and customs union, as well as freedom of movement. Starmer also appears to be ignoring all those people who, polls show, are starting to recognise that Brexit is a huge catastrophe for the UK, and he seems to be doing this to appease the red wall voters who voted unanimously for Brexit.

In part, I understand why. The Brexit word is like a touchpaper and he will be hammered by the right-wing press and the Tories if he shows any indication of actually going back into the EU or even just aligning the UK with the single market and customs union. That said, it’s really sad if that is the case because everyone and their dog can see that Brexit is a bad idea. The problem he’s got now is that he’s been so final in his wording about Brexit that it feels there is no more conversation to be had about it. Therefore, if Labour do get into power and do start going back on their word and decide that no, they don’t want to make Brexit work, and yes, they do want to start progressing towards closer alignment with the EU, then they’re going to look like massive liars, and people who lie to get into power, just like the Conservatives – which is dangerous and frankly depressing, given the already incredibly low trust in our politics and politicians, so it feels a bit like a no-win situation.

Helen Johnston: Brexit fans are getting harder to find, but they are still out there. What advice would you give to someone engaging with a Brexiter to try and persuade them away from the ‘dark side’?

I would say, most importantly, don’t speak to people as if they are stupid (even if you think they might be), because straight away you’ll get their back up and the argument is unwinnable. I would just ask them questions about whether their life has improved since Brexiting, whether they feel that what was promised was delivered, if it hasn’t been – why not? And if/when it is – what are they expecting?

If they go down the road of things like ‘sovereignty’, you can ask them what that really means. If they mention controlling our borders, I like to point out that that the ‘migrant crisis’ and record numbers of channel boat crossings, demonstrate that, actually, we lost control of our borders when we Brexited, when we withdrew from the Dublin Agreement, which allowed us to send migrants back if they didn’t qualify for asylum. Or you can ask them why our economic recovery is the lowest of all G7 countries – despite us all weathering the storms of Covid or the war in Ukraine. That tends to get them thinking, even if they dare not admit it.

Also, I think so many people didn’t realise how many benefits there were to being in the EU. Plus now we are seeing the cost of living crisis, we’re seeing interest rates rising, inflation soaring – now don’t get me wrong, this is being experienced the world over due to global shocks, but why is the UK faring so badly? It’s because of Brexit. Brexit isn’t the sole cause, but it has exacerbated almost everything.

Everything is in crisis now thanks to 12 years of Tory rule, but in particular interest rates, inflation, the NHS, social care, etc. – much of this down to our super tight labour market, thanks to Brexit.

And we need to reassure people we’re debating with that it’s ok – we don’t blame them. After all, they were expertly lied to, promised a Utopia, so I don’t blame these people for voting for it. But I would just say, try to wake up now and see that what you were promised is not going to be delivered. And the opportunities that they talk about as well, like deregulation, is only going to benefit the 0.01% of very rich people and very rich business owners. It’s also going to make it even harder to trade with our partners in the EU if you have no regulations.

Tony Isaac: The Tory Government seems to be running out of road with ever more toxic rhetoric against migrants and “wokery” as a last desperate tactic to stay in power. Is this the beginning of the end for the right-wing ideology behind Brexit?

Do you know what? I think it may be. I think what we are seeing now is what is left of the Tory party, the dregs if we’re honest, clutching to whatever “woke wars” they can, to try and keep people angry and divided, and to keep them in power. And the migrant crisis, or rather the Home Office crisis, as I like to call it, is a vehicle for doing that. The use of words like “invasion” by Suella Braverman was just so inflammatory, and done on purpose.

And then you’ve got, sadly, Rishi Sunak, who has said that it is one of his main priorities to fix the migration crisis. Now when you actually think about how much the migrant crisis impacts people in their day to day lives, versus the huge cost of living crisis which has been exacerbated by Brexit, which has basically been delivered by 12 years of Tory governance and austerity, why aren’t people more concerned about that? Well, because the Tory Government and the right-wing press make sure that they deflect away from this, to focus people’s energy and anger on the migrant crisis, when instead they should be focusing on the Tories.

So I think they are going to cling to this rhetoric for as long as possible to avoid a light being shone on them. But yes, I agree, they are running out of road.

Lisa Burton: I enjoyed Byline TV’s The Table with yourself Supertanskiii and Dan Hodges. Do you think there should be more room given to debating with those who have completely opposing views?

This is a tricky one, because I quite like to engage with people and try and break down their arguments. A bit like the way that James O’Brien does, and he’s very good at doing this, just by asking questions.

The problem I’ve got, which is why I’ve turned down going on channels like GB News, is because sometimes you run the risk of giving validity to someone whose argument doesn’t deserve it, when you engage with them. So, for example, you can argue about Brexit and people have got their thoughts, and you can break it down with facts and they come back at you with their “alternative facts”. But, with people like climate change deniers, or people who intentionally spout misinformation, I worry that if someone like myself were to have a public debate with them, it brings credence to their viewpoint, in that pursuit of false equivalence. So there could be a danger in actually letting them air their views, and perhaps having people believe them.

So I think it’s a really difficult question, and you have to use your own judgement to decide whether that person is worth engaging with in good faith, and could there be a good outcome? If not, it’s probably best to steer clear.

Steve Wilson: With so many followers and your willingness to speak out you must attract a lot of trolls. How do you deal with the criticism, negativity and abuse?

I tend to ignore as much as I can. Obviously, I’m human and there are some things that if I see them, they really get to me. I posted a tweet just a few hours after giving birth and was expecting some backlash… It was in response to Nicola Sturgeon saying she detests Tories, and I basically said:

“I’ve just given birth, and I’m full of the kind of drugs that make you love everyone, and I still detest the Tories.”

It was tweeted in jest and my eyes were still popping around in my skull from all the post-labour drugs as I struggled to type it! It got huge traction, but there were some very personal replies, quite horrible, suggesting I wasn’t a good mum, basically telling me I should be focusing on my baby. One person actually called me a sick woman. Because I was in a bit of a vulnerable state when I read those, it made me feel awful. But I just muted the conversation, and didn’t look back. And I think that’s a discipline that I have learned, and one needs to learn when you are on Twitter. You need to have the discipline not to engage, not to read everything, because some people are going to be horrible and they get their satisfaction from getting a reaction from you and knowing that they’ve got to you. If you don’t engage, you starve them of oxygen and eventually they lose interest, which is why I think I actually get by with very little in the way of abuse – that I notice anyway!

David Eldridge: How do you foresee the next election? When will it be, and what do you think the result will be?

Interestingly, I would like a coalition Government. My worry with a purely Labour Government is that Keir Starmer would not then feel any pressure to deliver on proportional representation. For me, this is the biggest issue, because proportional representation, that huge, desperately needed overhaul to our voting system means that we will never find ourselves in the frustrating position of being in a two-party race, which has made us so divided, and has also created such apathy in the electorate. So, for me, that is the best outcome. Whether that will be the case or not, I’m not sure.

I think the way Keir Starmer is going, especially with the finality with which he talks about never going back into the single market and customs union, never discussing freedom of movement, runs the risk of alienating lots of would-be Labour voters. And if he continues in the same vein, I think more people who feel politically homeless, who would have voted Labour, will vote for other left-wing parties, which could then end up in coalition, which is my preference.

And what would I encourage people to do, if, like me, you detest the Tories and just want them out? Well, you may need to just suck it up for now and use your vote tactically – by that I mean, on voting day just hold your nose, if you need to, and vote for the party most likely to unseat the Tories. Yes, you may hate Labour, but I can assure you, the Tories are worse. And for up-to-date guidance on who you should tactically vote for in your consistency to do just that, be sure to follow The Movement Forward on Twitter (@MVTFWD) or visit 

Eyes on the prize!

Bremainers Ask ……. Peter Corr

Bremainers Ask ……. Peter Corr

Peter Corr is an ex-army HGV driver who lost his job thanks to Brexit and decided to do something rather special to protest about that. He set up the campaign group ‘UK Rejoin the EU’ to fight against Brexit and recently organised the National Rejoin March – the biggest pro-EU, anti-Brexit demonstration and rally the UK has seen for years.

Lisa Burton: Through organising the National Rejoin March, you have been collaborating with many groups and organisations and therefore hearing a lot of voices and opinions. How have you found the experience?

I found the experience to be a huge learning exercise and really fun.  I’ve met lots of different people, every single one of them enthusiastic and infinitely more knowledgeable than me.  In just a few short months, I feel I’ve made more genuine friends than I have ever had before and it has shown, in my opinion, that working together in an equal and collaborative way can really get things done.

Did serving in the army have anything to do with your passion for being part of the EU?

Until recently if you’d have asked me that, I would probably have said no.  But recently I began to think it has quite a lot to do with it.  No matter what people think about the armed forces, while you are serving you genuinely feel like you are doing a public service, protecting your country and its people.  It gets kind of engraved into you.  Since leaving the Army, I can’t honestly say I continued that public service in any meaningful way.  But seeing the country I love being utterly destroyed by politicians lying to win goals that can do nothing but harm made that sense of public duty kick back in.  I wasn’t prepared to sit back and give up.  I wanted to fight for what is clearly right for our country and the people in it.  I think that sense of public duty is still in me and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.


Valerie Chaplin: What are your plans for the future re marches, protests and campaigning?

This is genuinely the start of something I want to continue and grow for as long as necessary until we have rejoined the EU.  Not the single market.  Not the customs union.  But fully Rejoined the EU.  Direct action takes many forms, from protests and marches like we started with (NRM London), to street stalls, concerts, petitions, lobbying, anything and everything we can think of, and as often as humanly possible.  We all sat back and practically gave up for too long, mostly due to Covid in reality, but we need to now continue campaigning much stronger than we ever have and not give in.


Ruth Woodhouse: In June 2021 you organised the online event “Music Sounds Better with EU” to highlight the problems faced by musicians post Brexit. Has the situation for artists changed at all since then and what is the government’s current position?

Unfortunately no, not really.  The creative industry is close to my heart, so I sometimes may give more precedence to it than other industries.  Any job which involved working across Europe has been affected by Brexit.  But back to the creative industries, for up-and-coming workers or artists (it affects everyone in the industry, from lighting technicians to DJs to full orchestras) it’s just over.  A new artist can no longer afford to have a mini tour across Europe to help kick start a career like so many did during our time in the EU.  It’s having an affect the other way round too.  At festivals in the UK, for example, we’re missing out on seeing some amazing artists from Europe.  It genuinely breaks my heart, and Music Sounds Better With EU is another thing which is just the start and we have plans for in the near future.

Steve Wilson: Did the National Rejoin March day go as anticipated and how do you feel about the fight to rejoin the EU going forward?

The first National Rejoin March honestly went way better than I or the team could have possibly hoped.  The numbers that attended were phenomenal (50,000 according to our Police Liaison), the entire day was extremely positive and fun, and the goal was met – which was to get the word ‘Rejoin’ in as much of the UK media as possible.  Even this exceeded our expectations, as we reached the news all over Europe, Australia and even America.  The overwhelming message from the feedback since the day, is that people have ‘hope’ again, including me.  We are going nowhere, until we’ve rejoined the EU.


David Eldridge: With the Labour party and Rejoin both polling at over 50%, surely Starmer can afford to lose a few pro-Brexit voters and adopt a more EU friendly stance. What do you think the Labour party should do now?

I completely agree that Labour can afford to lose the diminishing number of people who still, despite everything, support Brexit.  The polls as I type this suggest a 57% support for Rejoining the EU.  That is without ANY mainstream campaign.  That is without ANY mainstream politician punting for it.  It’s without practically anything at all advertising Rejoin as the solution to the problems we face.  I honestly believe, with just a little bit of the above, that 57% number will rocket, and the first party to adopt a full-on Rejoin policy will massively benefit from it at any general election.  We can ALL see now with our own eyes what life is like out the EU and compare it directly to what life was like in the EU.  This makes for such an easy campaign for Rejoin, in my opinion, that it baffles me why the parties are still holding back from it.  Just do it!  People need you to do it.  Now.


It’s clear that rejoining the EU will be a step-by-step process. What should the first steps be?

I don’t personally believe it is.  For example, the single market.  One of the biggest lies Brexit was won with, was that we can’t make our own rules and laws.  So, if we were JUST in the single market, that lie would become a truth.  We’d be accepting rules and laws made in the EU and we’d have no say in them, being out the EU.  To me, that’s a harder thing to sell than just Rejoining the EU.  Rejoin the EU and we have the single market, but with seats at the table (again) writing those rules and laws.  If the UK-wide parties don’t step up and fast, then the first ‘step’ should be fighting for PR so those parties no longer hold the full power they used to.  Then Rejoiners can get people in Parliament who are not from the traditional parties, such as people in the Rejoin the EU Party, who would argue for us.  This is my personal view, not that of ‘NRM’.


Helen Johnston: Do you feel the public mood is changing in the UK as the harm Brexit has caused becomes more apparent and harder to blame on covid, Ukraine, etc.? 

Absolutely!  And it’s undeniable.  Research piece after research piece clearly shows how economies in the rest of Europe and other parts of the world have almost recovered to pre-pandemic levels in so many ways, while the UK still lags behind.  There’s only one thing different in the UK, we’ve imposed economic sanctions on ourselves.  We’ve added costs to our imports and exports.  We’ve ruined relationships with our biggest trading partner.  We’ve opened up workers’ rights to a more and more far-right government that just wants to trash them.  Again, the list is endless, and undeniably because of the effects of Brexit.  Of course, other factors affect us too.  But everything bad happening in the world is made worse in the UK because of Brexit.  The polls clearly show people are waking up to this fact.


What do you think campaigners need to be doing to persuade more people to support the Rejoin movement?

Be positive.  ONLY positive.  No more “this is what we lose” campaigning.  Flip it to “this is what we gain if we rejoin” campaigning.  So ,don’t say “we lost freedom of movement because of Brexit”.  Say “we will gain freedom to live, love and work in 27 other countries if we rejoin”.  Don’t say “our NHS is crumbling due to staff shortages because of Brexit”.  Say “Let’s Rejoin the EU to help the staff shortages in the NHS”.  Every negative thing caused by Brexit can be flipped to be a positive for Rejoining the EU, and I believe that’s how we should all conduct the Rejoin campaign.  Purely positively.  And do it as often as possible, not just online in our bubbles, but offline, outside the bubble.  Direct action.  That’s what ‘National Rejoin March’ as a “brand” is all about.


Anon: Many seem to believe that the EU would be wary about any future application from the UK to rejoin. Are they right to be concerned, and if so, how do we convince the EU otherwise?

I don’t believe they are right to be concerned.  But I understand why they are.  Who would honestly blame the EU for not ever wanting us back after the nonsense we’ve caused for years now?  However, the EU doesn’t work like that.  It’s not working based on silly rhetoric or ‘feelings’.  It works on reality, truth and what’s good for its citizens.  The UK rejoining the EU, but taking it seriously this time, electing MEPs who want to go to the EU Parliament to help build futures, not wreck the place like Farage and co. did: that is a good thing for the UK, the EU and the world.  We had both Guy Verhofstadt and Terry Reintke speak at the National Rejoin March, and we deliberately picked them because they both often say, as sitting MEPs, that the EU will take us back, that they’ve left a light on, and it will not take as long as some people say.  So, use them as examples when you hear the argument that the EU wouldn’t have us back.  They will, as soon as they know we want to – and we mean it.  Check out both their speeches as soon as we release them, they should fill you with hope.  They did for me

Finally, I would just like to say thank you to everyone at Bremain in Spain, for everything you’ve done for the NRM and everything you’ve been doing in your many years of pro-European campaigning. You are honestly an inspiration to us all.


Coming next month:


We are delighted to welcome Marina Purkiss – Political commentator, broadcaster and co-host of The Trawl Podcast. Marina is active on social media, with 288,000 Twitter followers, and has recently appeared on Bylines TV and the Jeremy Vine Show. If you wish to put a question to Marina, please email us at before 8 November. 

Bremainers Ask….. Baroness Sarah Ludford

Bremainers Ask….. Baroness Sarah Ludford

Since 1997, Baroness Sarah Ludford has been a member of the House of Lords and is currently the Liberal Democrat’s Europe and Brexit spokesman.

She was a Member of the European Parliament for London from 1999 to 2014, working mainly on EU security, justice and human rights issues and on EU foreign affairs including as vice-chair of the EP delegation to the US.

A qualified barrister, Sarah has worked in Whitehall, in the European Commission and in the City for Lloyd’s of London and American Express. Sarah was a local councillor for 8 years during the 1990s in the London Borough of Islington.

Keith Glazzard

Is there any justification at all for changing Human Rights legislation in the UK?

Thankfully, one of the few sensible things the Truss government is doing is drop the Bill of Rights Bill which would have gutted the Human Rights Act. However, we cannot lower our guard because the fear is that this right-wing government will simply try to insert into a range of new legislation the horrors that the BORB would have delivered in one place.

There is no justification for substantially changing the Human Rights Act, which has proven its value for nearly a quarter of a century. In particular, it ‘brought rights home’ so that claimants no longer have to make the long and expensive trek to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (which of course is separate from the EU) to seek to enforce their rights, but can do so in domestic courts.

I thoroughly concur with the views expressed in this letter in June from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I sit.

The Independent Human Rights Act Review led by former Appeal Court judge Sir Peter Gross – ignored by the unlamented Dominic Raab as it largely gave the HRA a clean bill of health – suggested just a few relatively minor reforms, which can be read in the executive summary of their report. Sir Peter also gave evidence a few weeks ago to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (on which I sit). Here are the transcript and the recording.

A major recommendation of Sir Peter’s review was to increase ‘public ownership of rights’ through greater public and civic education. I thoroughly endorse this call, as the myth peddled by much of the press that the HRA only assists criminals and illegal immigrants is untrue but highly persuasive and corrosive. As we saw, the rights of people in care homes – not least, their right to life – was a big casualty of the Covid pandemic.


Michael Soffe

How would you convince me (as a 110% “Rejoiner”) to vote for the Lib Dems in the next election?

Valerie Chaplin

Why are the LibDems not supporting the call to rejoin the EU when the majority of the British public now think Brexit was a mistake?

Lisa Burton

It was good to see you speak at the National Rejoin March. What would you say to those who say it is too early to discuss re-joining the EU?

I am grouping these three questions together as they raise essentially the same ‘Rejoin’ issue. The Liberal Democrats have passed several conference motions post-Brexit, but the latest one was in March 2022 which reaffirmed the party’s support for a longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU.

I think a key paragraph is “Conference therefore recognises that as the UK seek to build a closer partnership with Europe, it must first convince EU member states that the UK is serious about rebuilding the relationship and forging stronger links, which can only be built back gradually over time.” The same applies to public opinion in the UK. The full policy paper which the motion endorses is here.

Given the awful mess Liz Truss has got us into in terms of our EU relationship, seeking to breach the Northern Ireland Protocol unilaterally – and unable even to say whether President Macron is friend or foe! – a gradual ‘road map’ approach simply reflects the political and economic realities.

Had it not been for our September conference having to be cancelled due to the sad death of the Queen, we would have debated (and undoubtedly passed) our first ‘sectoral’ motion deriving from our road map policy, on UK-EU cooperation on foreign and security policy.

I would also draw attention to this excellent Times article (26 September) by Edward Lucas, a senior journalist as well as LibDem parliamentary candidate in City of London and Westminster, on LibDem policy.

So while we do not call for ‘Rejoin Now’ as that is simply impractical, our commitment to the end goal of rejoining is not in any doubt whatsoever, and I shall be speaking at the rescheduled National Rejoin March on 22 October.

Sue Scarrott

Can the Labour party be persuaded to dispense with the undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system in favour of proportional representation?

The jury is out on whether Labour can be persuaded to abandon FPTP in favour PR. John Harris observed in the Guardian that ‘Polling suggests that 83% of Labour members now support electoral reform. In the build-up to its conference this week, about 140 constituency parties have submitted motions calling for exactly that’ but ‘Unfortunately, Keir Starmer and his allies still see changing our systems of power and politics as an irritating distraction, and are clearly terrified that any conversations about coalitions and partnerships will be a gift to the Tories.’

A conference resolution proposing a new voting system is due to be debated as I write this. The deputy political editor of the Guardian tweeted that she expected it to include ‘Labour must make a commitment to introduce proportional representation for general elections in the next manifesto’ – but we will see!


David Eldridge

What, for you personally, has been the worst aspect of Brexit?

We are all losers in a material sense, as imports and exports have become more expensive and burdened by red tape, through the loss of amenities we used to enjoy in the Single Market and Customs Union such as free data roaming, pet passports or EU border channels. I entirely sympathise and seek to support those who have experienced the worst effects, whether businesses ruined, or lives disrupted, by the loss of free movement and having to go through the settlement schemes.

For me, the worst part of Brexit has been an emotional wrench, a kick in the guts. I lost my husband three years ago and so it has been a period of intense grief from all directions.

I first felt ‘European’ nearly 60 years ago, on our family camping trips down through France to Spain, thinking ‘I belong here’. Then as a student I studied European history and current affairs, was an intern (‘stagiaire’) then for seven years an official at the European Commission, and later for 15 years an MEP. So it is a strong part of my identity. I have been able to reclaim my European citizenship by getting my Irish passport; I did not have to apply for citizenship as I am Irish from birth due to my mother having been born in Dublin. (I realise this understandably arouses jealousy, but it’s not from anything I did myself!). As I have no intention of ever moving from London, the main value to me is that it restores that part of my identity that was brutally torn away. I hope by working towards Rejoin to get it back for all Brits.

In next month’s newsletter we are delighted to be featuring National Rejoin March founder, Peter Corr.

Peter is a former soldier and lorry driver who lost his job thanks to Brexit and decided to do something rather special to protest about that. Peter is organising the biggest pro-EU, anti-Brexit demonstration and rally for years.

As the march is scheduled for October 22 in London, we are delighted that Peter has agreed to be our next featured campaigner in Bremainers Ask, especially at this very busy time.

Please note that the feature will be published after the march, at the end of October, but your questions will be submitted to Peter before the march takes place, so please bear this in mind when you submit your questions.

If you would like to put a question to Peter, please email us at no later than Thursday 6 October.