Oxford for Europe

Forty Days and forty nights.
​by Peter Burke, Chair, Oxford for Europe.
​​
To say we are living at a time of rapid change is a gross  understatement, so the next five weeks really is going to be a very long time in politics. The latest development, the split in the Labour Party, can come as no surprise, and probably does not bring joy to many. We at Oxford for Europe are not party political, our objective is simply to help those enlightened members of whatever party to work towards achieving our shared objectives. It would be tempting to express regret about the loss of people who have been making our case from within the Labour Party. However, we can continue to hope that this cloud has a silver lining. The departure of seven important and capable backbenchers must surely be a shot across the bows for the party leadership. Nothing could possibly make it clearer that this country needs a more capable and effective opposition than it currently has.

If you doubt me, just look what is happening in the Tory Party. In her recent letter to Tory MPs, the Prime Minister said several things which were sensible, although possibly for the wrong reasons. “History will judge us all for the parts we have played in this process”. It will. Today’s politicians will have to answer in future for the consequences of their decisions, for the damage which Brexit will do to the economy, to Britain’s place in the world, and to citizens’ rights both in the UK and abroad. Politicians of both main parties try to hide behind the referendum, to pretend they are doing what they were told by “the people”. However future generations will see that for the superficial nonsense it is. We live in a parliamentary democracy and public representatives are expected to use their judgement to do what they know to be right.

“Without a withdrawal agreement we risk a combination forming in parliament that will stop Brexit altogether, whatever the long-term consequences for trust in our democracy”. Nothing could be clearer. There are catastrophic long-term consequences for democracy if a campaign of lying and cheating is rewarded with success. If we can stop this from happening, it is still possible that faith in democracy can be restored. You read it here: Mrs May believes that Brexit can still be stopped. So do we. Doing so would be not only good for the country, but good for our democracy.

Sadly, not all is common sense. Read in context her remarks are those of a Prime Minister mired in jingoism and loyalty to party above country. “Proudly, we are a broad church in which a wide range of views co-exist, united behind shared Conservative principles” she says. And she goes on “I believe that a country with our innate strengths, enviable resources, and enormous talent can face the future with confidence that our best days lie ahead”. This is the language of those who want to bring back the Blitz spirit. But you should remember that the Blitz was an externally imposed crisis. This one is not. Imagine a scenario in which the air raid shelters were populated equally by people who had fought for the country and by others who had voted to be bombed? By continuing to appeal to one side only, the PM is making her own job impossible. She had the opportunity to seek compromise when she first became Prime Minister, and again when she saw the writing on the wall after the 2017 election. Instead she has pushed forward as if the 48 million people in this country who did not vote for Brexit do not exist. She continues to believe that she can win over the so-called European Research Group. They for their part have demonstrated by their actions, including on Thursday 14th February, that they will never say yes to anything other than kamikaze politics. Like the DUP, by shunning compromise they are bringing on themselves the thing they most fear. 

Frankly nobody knows what will happen next. The smart money is now on a postponement from 29th March, but even with a modest postponement the political arithmetic is unlikely to change, so sooner or later it will be a matter of no deal or no Brexit. We can only hope that, recognising this, our political leaders will turn to a People’s Vote to help extricate them from the mess.

We have had 2 referendums on Europe, 1975 and 2016. There may well be a third. A year ago this seemed fanciful. Now it seems the only way forward. On 21st October 700,000 people, i.e. over 1% of the country’s population, marched on the streets of London making this very case. The Government has not forgotten that, but maybe it needs telling that what was true then is even more true today. This week the People’s Vote campaign announced that the next public march will be on 23rd March, with 6 days to spare. Let’s be there and show them what true people power means.


(The opinions expressed are those of the author, but are broadly in line with those of Oxford For Europe)

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