Oxford for Europe
Halloween Beckons
Another extension - Is this getting to be a habit?
​by Peter Burke, Chair, Oxford for Europe.
16 April 2019
"I just think the facts have changed and we’ve learned an awful lot more…It’s been really very very difficult - to say you are wrong, and I mean actually we should all do that more. And I also think, Brexiteers and remainers, we both love this country, and actually I’ve thought more and more what a beautiful country this is, and how amazingly lucky we all are to live in Britain, and maybe we are setting about destroying something which, despite all of our faults has been a remarkable human achievement, tolerance of foreigners, getting along well with each other, and whether we have by mistake turned our back on that and I played a part in that".

- Peter Oborne
The journalist and broadcaster Peter Oborne is rare creature, a formerly convinced Brexiteer who is now prepared to admit he was wrong. He said as much, emotionally, on BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster, as a follow-up to his brilliant article, which should really be compulsory reading for future students of history. He is far from being the only one, as the organisation Remainer Now ( https://www.remainernow.com/) can attest.

As they put it: “We think that only the 'will of the people' can overrule the 'will of the people' and our growing Remainer Now family are fed up of having their 'vote respected' by people in power who won't listen. Please help us get them heard.”
One thing almost everybody seems to agree on is that last week’s events in Brussels were a national humiliation, or, the very least, a profound embarrassment for the UK. A prime minister pleading on bended knee for something she had repeatedly sworn she did not want, then having to leave the room while the EU27 heads of government decided to give her something different again. Predictably the gutter press will blame the ineptitude of the Prime Minister and the naughtiness of “Brussels”. In this they are wrong. While the Prime Minister’s ineptitude is real, profound, transparent and terrifying, it is not primarily responsible for this mess. And the EU27 are doing no more than we always knew they would, which is to act in their own countries’ best interests, knowing that they are dealing with the UK from a position of relative strength. 
The true cause is the folly of the Farages and Foxes, who repeatedly told us, whether they believed it or not, that this would all be straightforward, that we have the easiest deal in history, that we could have our cake and eat it, and that the Europeans would become instantly supine at the roar of the British lion. Now that all of these predictions have been proven 100% wrong, one might expect such people to admit their mistake and follow in the footsteps of Peter Oborne. Not a bit of it. Indeed it may even be, in this crazy world, that their star is in the ascendant, with a strong possibility that Mrs May’s successor will be an extreme Brexiteer, and that pro-Brexit parties will do well in the forthcoming European elections. It is within our power, however, to stop that from happening.
The time between now and Halloween will fly. Several things are important about this extension. Firstly, as we all knew would happen, the Prime Minister has agreed to concede on Euro elections. This means that there is much less standing in the way of a third extension than there was to this one. The UK will have not only MEPs but a seat on the Commission.  In the new agreement, unlike the previous one, there is no firm termination date and it would be very easy to alter should it be necessary, subject presumably to a French veto not being exercised. As our geographically nearest neighbours on the mainland, the French have a lot to lose by a no Deal Brexit, and if they are given an excuse they may well show more flexibility than they have this time round. If over the next six months momentum around a People’s Vote builds and the concession is made, it is very hard to imagine that the deadline will not be extended to allow it to happen.

Two caveats, additionally of course to understandable French impatience. The first is that Jean-Claude Juncker’s successor as Commission President takes office on 1st November. Inconvenient, but far from insuperable. The second is that the extension is in effect eating into the transition period. IF Brexit goes ahead, the 31st December 2020 deadline stands, so the transition period falls from 21 months to 14 months. This will of course be nothing like enough (frankly, 50 years would not be enough), so we have yet another compelling argument for cancelling Brexit completely.
As to the cost of holding European Parliament elections? It is truly extraordinary to watch Brexiteers bleating in Parliament about the waste of £100 million, when they were silent about the £1.5 billion+ cost, now written off, of No-Deal Brexit preparations which have already been made, not to mention the £64 billion hole in the economy which has opened up over the past 2 ½ years as a direct result of the referendum outcome.

Let us not waste these 6 months, as Donald Tusk reminded us. We have an opportunity in the EU elections to make our case. But it is really essential that they are taken seriously,  and it would be tragic if the apathy of the majority could once again be exploited by extremists. In our constituency, the South-East, UKIP managed to take 4 of the 10 seats. That alone is reason enough for us to take up the fight. When we have the chance to meet lapsing leavers, let us remind them of Peter Oborne. The journey of rediscovery , for those who make it, is not easy but it is crucial. We need more who are prepared to make it.
Some good news: we have able allies. The people behind the Led By Donkeys project have not been idle. In case you have not seen it, they have beaten Farage to buy up his own Web Domain ( https://thebrexitparty.com/), and the effort was worth it. Take a look.

We could have done with people of such ingenuity in 2016!

Last but not least: Our next big event will be a meeting in Oxford Town Hall on Tuesday, 30th April at 7.30 pm. The title is "Celebrating the European Union - What the EU has done for the UK".  The speakers are Prof Timothy Garton Ash, the noted historian and political commentator, Prof Sarah Harper CBE, gerontologist and population expert, and Catherine Bearder MEP, who has represented the South-East for the Liberal Democrats with distinction for the past 10 years, and I will be chairing. This will be a popular event. Please follow this link to book your place.

I will let Prof Garton Ash Have the last word: "Whatever happens, Britain will remain in Europe. The European Elections are a great chance to have a pre-referendum on remaining in the EU"
The views expressed are the personal views of the author, although consistent with the views and policies of Oxford for Europe
Oxford for Europe