Oxford for Europe
​by Peter Burke, Chair, Oxford for Europe.
​​
31 March 2019
  
St Gladys’ Day – yes, but Independence Day – definitely not.
  
   Elizabeth Bennet’s Dilemma
  ​​
  
"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?" "Yes, or I will never see her again." "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do NOT marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you DO."
Jane Austen, ‘Pride and Prejudice’
  
  
This is precisely the same dilemma as Mrs May now has. She is likely, it seems, to make yet another attempt to get her Withdrawal Agreement past firstly the speaker and secondly the House, both difficult tasks. On Friday she did the first of these, only by stripping it of the Political Declaration, a safeguard which she herself had previously said was an integral part. She dismally failed to do the second. This time the only possible way of doing so would be by modifying it significantly, e.g. by the Kyle Wilson amendment demanding a confirmatory public vote. The WA is entering the Realms of the Undead, it is lingering about way past its time like a bad smell. Assuming it is beyond resurrection, the PM will face the dilemma of Elizabeth Bennet. If she allows a No-Deal Brexit to happen, she will lose the affection of half her cabinet and half of her party. If she does not, she will have to commit to holding European elections and lose the other half. And let’s face it, if she makes any more Brexiteer ministers resign and feels compelled to replace them like for like, she will be fishing from a very limited talent pool indeed.
  
  
So this is the woman who tried to fall on her sword and missed, and is now condemned to preside over the self-immolation of her party.

All this at a time when hardly anyone, Leaver or Remainer, believes the Government are doing a good job, and when Labour has taken a surge in the opinion polls – now about 5% ahead according to Deltapoll. Four years ago Mr Cameron promised that an in-out referendum would unite his party. That went well then, didn’t it?
  
  
Given the impossibility of uniting her party, she needs to reset her aims. She now in effect faces a simple binary choice, to save her country or not. And for all the Reasons we in OfE understand, the only way to save it is to whatever is needed to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
  
***
  
What about St Gladys’ Day, 29th March, The Day That Nothing happened? I wonder how many Independence Day 50p pieces have been struck to commemorate that day, and will now have to be melted down. How many UKIPers have prepared a street party and had to turn this into an organised riot instead? Some of us from Oxford for Europe got together in a watering hole and at 11 pm marked the fact that we were still in the EU, and live to fight another day. I think the best observation about Independence Day came from the Polish statesman Radek Sikorsky. At a debate I attended two years ago, Daniel Hannan spent 30 minutes wittering on about the joys that would await us on this day. Sikorsky responded by saying “Yes folks, you have your Independence Day” (to cheers of applause from Leave supporters with no sense of irony). “When we in Poland had our Independence Day it did not take half an hour to explain why it was a good thing”
  
Hannan
Sikorsky
  
Of course, St Gladys’ Day was not really the day when nothing happened. The unsuccessful vote on the stripped down WA was heralded both by the PM and by a succession of ERG members as the last ever chance to save Brexit. People like IDS, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg came across to the pro-Deal faction of the party, saying that if the deal was not approved then Brexit might well be lost. Let’s hope they were right, at least on that point. From the DUP perspective, what these people revealed was that they were willing to throw Northern Ireland under the bus to achieve their dream of Brexit. By way of balance, the DUP has now revealed it for its part is prepared to dump Brexit in order to preserve what they call the Sacred Union. In that respect they are joining the Boris Johnson of last year, who said that he thought the Withdrawal Agreement was even worse than staying in the EU. Alas the end of a beautiful relationship…
  
If people like Boris Johnson are allowed to change their minds, and of course if the PM is asking many more to follow suit, then why are they saying that the British people have no right to do the same?

St Gladys Day was also the day on which the official Leave campaign tacitly accepted the charges of criminal activity made against them. Maybe they think it was a good day to bury bad news, but do they really believe that such behaviour should have no consequences?
***
  
  
Today, at the Oxford Literary Festival, I went to hear Kate Adie and Martin Bell recalling their time as correspondents during the terrible years of the Northern Ireland troubles. It brought back to me, as vividly as anything could, my time living and working in East Belfast as a casualty officer in 1979 to 80. It seems to me not only idiotic but totally Machiavellian that anybody should contemplate returning to those times by jeopardising the Good Friday agreement, least of all in the name of democracy. The GFA is one of the great achievements of our time, it is an internationally binding treaty and has infinitely more moral force than an arbitrary non-binding binary referendum in which 27% of the population made an uninformed choice to achieve something which its proponents knew to be impossible.
  
  
But not just Northern Ireland, the whole of the UK and indeed Europe as a whole has skin in this game. Oxford no less than anywhere else. Our three largest businesses are the Universities, BMW and the NHS. We know how profoundly Brexit can impact each of them and many others  in this outward-looking multicultural city. As of today, we have 12 days to go, let’s wake up and smell the coffee.
  
And to our members and supporters: the fight goes on. Please keep signing the petition. Please keep hammering home to your MP how Brexit will affect you and the people you know. Please tell them they would have your full support if they supported a People's vote on the deal, with an option to remain, or as a last resort a revocation of article 50. There is still time, but not much
  
 
The views expressed are the personal views of the author, although consistent with the views and policies of Oxford for Europe



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