BATTLE OF BREXIT AND HOW WE ARE GOING TO WIN IT
By Caroline Brown
A report of the talk by Tom Brake MP, Shadow Spokesman for Exiting the EU, at the South-East Region AGM & Conference, Canterbury, Sat 17th November 2018
Such was the level of ignorance, egotism and unpreparedness on the part of Brexiteers that David Davis was in Washington, DC, attempting to st
rike a trade deal with the USA, while Dominic Raab had been taken aback on a visit to Dover to find that our current position, surrounded by a body of water, posed a few problems. After some 30 years' campaigning, they had no plan.
So where are we? According to the press, the Prime Minister was "on the up". However, when her deal is put to the vote in Parliament, there are no circumstances in which it could pass. Too many people have said on the record that they are not going to back the deal. "It's simply not going to happen. I'm 95% certain that the deal will not be accepted by Parliament, which is sovereign. There could be an opposition motion calling for a people's vote."
Only the most headbanging ideologues were happy with the prospect of leaving the EU on 29th March 2019 without a deal in place. There are two WTO members who have already declared that they will block any attempt by Britain to trade on WTO terms. The Secretary of State for Health has asked pharmacies to stockpile medicines and will meet the cost.
Tom described the effect of Brexit on a British firm making safety valves used in machinery and trains all over the world. There are rules around origin of manufacture and European companies cannot export to, say, South Korea a product containing British, non-EU, components once we leave the European Union. So the firm making safety valves is already facing reluctance on the part of European companies to take its product. There is also the just-in-time supply problem.
A people's vote could not be held before April/May, clashing awkwardly with the EU parliamentary elections, and we shall have to ask the EU for more time. However, it is "perfectly achievable". Tom is involved in a legal attempt via the Scottish courts to establish that Article 50 is unilaterally revocable up until 29th March 2019*. We should be able to get legislation through if Parliament votes down the deal in what will probably be mid-December 2018. The Electoral Commission needs 12 weeks to decide the questions on the ballot paper. In 2016, this was followed by a 10-week campaign.
A majority of people in the UK now favours a people's vote. "The movement is very much in our direction. We are preparing the ground for a people's vote happening in April/May and winning it convincingly." There is a very effective cross-party campaign. We must hope that the Liberal Democrats do well in the May 2019 council elections.
In answer to queries about the details of a people's vote, Tom stressed the importance of mimicking exactly the 2016 version, i.e. 16 and 17-year-olds should not be enfranchised (this would be difficult to get through Parliament, anyway); there should be no threshold; and the ballot paper would have two choices on it - "Accept the deal" and "Remain in the EU".
Tom foresaw more than one meaningful vote in Parliament. The Prime Minister will put her deal, slightly amended perhaps, to Parliament. The European Research Group will vote against it. The Prime Minister will then announce further minor changes that she might well have secured earlier and tucked away in her back pocket for producing at the right moment. This will enable the ERG to congratulate itself on its influence and save face, while voting for the deal. For some ERG members, party loyalty is important and a Corbyn government unthinkable.
There is little appetite from the public for a national unity government. The coalition government was a national unity government of a sort. There is already a very effective cross-party organisation campaigning for a people's vote.
Tom planned to post facts about the Prime Minister's deal on the Lib Dem website, not that it can actually be described as a deal at this point.
The Fixed Term Parliament Act allows for only two ways in which an election can be called. Either the Prime Minister declares that she would like one and two-thirds of MPs support her or the Government loses a vote of no confidence. The DUP opposes any move that might lead to Corbyn becoming Prime Minister because of his connections with the IRA. (Incidentally, the DUP hasn't yet been able to spend the £1 billion paid by the Prime Minister in return for its support as there is no government at Stormont.) Therefore, a general election is unlikely.
"Corbyn is the roadblock to a people's vote. We need to get Jeremy Corbyn on board. Otherwise, this whole exercise is useless." We are asked to write urgently to Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone can send him a letter because he is a party leader.
The 2019 campaign for a people's vote would differ from the 2016 version, which was almost entirely devoted to economics. It will have a much wider range of faces (For our Future's Sake, for instance) and cross-party representation. Tom thought it more effective to have ordinary people in the street talking, not MPs. During the last two-and-a-half years, the British have become much more aware of what the EU has done for them. They now have a wealth of facts and an appreciation of the benefits brought by membership.
At the same time, we understand a great deal better the reasons why people voted to leave the EU and we shall try to present a programme that really addresses their concerns. Reform of the EU is imperative, especially transparency when it comes to MEPs' expenses and accounting generally.
The BBC and social media acknowledge that they have not been as proactive as they should have been and they will fact-check what people are saying in real time so that liars can be challenged straightaway. Facebook will ensure that advertisements, etc, are from a proper political party. Tom had had a briefing on the National Crime Agency's investigation into Arron Banks' donation of £8.4 million to Leave.EU in 2016. "I can't say much about it except that it involves Russia, illicit diamonds and prostitution."
Asked why Michael Gove had remained in the Cabinet to support Theresa May, Tom pointed out that he was painfully aware that he had stabbed Boris Johnson publicly in the back and a repeat performance wouldn't look good on his CV.
Help us keep up the good work in Brighton & Hove by joining our next EU street stall, 6pm on Tuesday 27th November in New Road, Brighton. We demand a vote on the facts!
Chair, EU Campaign Committee
Brighton & Hove Liberal Democrats