14 January 2021
The emerging catastrophe of Brexit
A letter to Labour.
17 November 2020
A mind to extend?
Comments from Colin Gordon about whether extension is still thinkable. Click here.
16 November 2020
Coronavirus: Are you there Johnson? It’s us, the experts.
A report from the All Party Parliamentary Group written by our own Lizzy Price: Read it here
3 November 2020
Open Letter re lockdown to John Howell, MP for Henley
It will not surprise you that I’m writing to you about the second lockdown, which is now imminent. I have read your comments on the subject on your website, and they are in line with expectations. I am not an ‘instant expert on epidemiology’, I am a doctor and have always taken an interest, but, like all of us, I am learning something every day.
As you will be aware, the lockdown has been called as a last resort at a time when we are looking at the likelihood of many thousands of deaths per day unless drastic action is taken. It is in effect extremely belated and without a doubt many lives could have been saved, and it could have been shorter, had it happened earlier. Despite this obvious fact, which is entirely obvious to anybody with any understanding of current events, astonishingly several of your colleagues are threatening to vote against this necessary measure. This despite the fact that, in common with the rest of the Parliamentary Party, they have blindly followed the PM on the many recent occasions when he was manifestly in error.
The situation now is that departure from the EU transition period is less than two months away, business has been told repeatedly that it should get ready for a no-deal Brexit, despite a total lack of clarity about what preparations are required because even now the nature of any agreement with the EU remains uncertain. At the best of times this would have been a hopelessly short time scale, but in excess of 50% of the available time will be spent with many businesses completely unable to function due to lockdown. This, please remember, is a situation which did not need to arise and which the government has chosen to bring about.
As I’ve said before, a no-deal outcome, with WTO style tariffs on top of the already overwhelming non-tariff barriers to trade, would be catastrophic for British business. It will also be severely harmful for the NHS and for UK patients, including those in your constituency, because of the complex supply chains relating to pharmaceuticals and other medical products. Add to that the devastating effect of a no deal Brexit on international collaboration against crime, just at a time when the terrorist threat level in the UK has been raised to severe. We are gratuitously rendering ourselves extremely vulnerable .
It is way past time for rational centre-ground conservative MPs to speak up and make it clear that the government absolutely must sign a deal which gives British business, the NHS and the security forces at least a fighting chance. If this cannot be done, then there is an overwhelming ethical imperative on the government to request a delay, which given the extraordinary circumstances the EU 27 might well be minded to grant. Bear in mind that our former partners in Europe are suffering a crisis as well, and this is headache which they do not need any more than we do. It most certainly is not a time for grandstanding.
I would emphasise that this is not any attempt to “refight the referendum”. The UK has now left the European Union, and any presumed obligation which the government may have felt towards the 17.4 million leave voters has been discharged in full. Having done this, the government is under no obligation to go any further, but rather it must make rational decisions which are in the best interests of the 65 million.
Dr Peter Burke, Chair, Oxford For Europe.
2 November 2020
A letter from Geraldine Coggins, of OfE, to the Independent re Iain Duncan Smith.
18 October 2020
New statement from the CBI on no-deal Brexit
COVID-HIT BUSINESSES CALL FOR PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO SECURE HISTORIC UK-EU AGREEMENT – CBI & TRADE ASSOCIATIONS
7 September 2020
A Letter to Boris
From Liz Price:
Dear Mr Johnson,
I am writing to express to you my anger at your current proposal to undermine the Withdrawal Treaty through domestic legislation.
I probably need not remind you that you launched your election campaign last year on the basis of your “oven ready deal”. You played on the nation’s desire to move on from the stalemate, which had followed the 2016 referendum. You claimed to have secured a great deal with Europe, and promised the nation that you would “Get Brexit Done” on January 31st. When you secured your majority in January, you urged parliament to vote for your deal, declaring that in pressing ahead with Brexit you would (your own words) “allow the warmth and natural affection that we all share with our European neighbours”.
In all your actions you have deceived the House, you have deceived the country and you have tarnished the office that you hold. Your mandate was awarded on the basis of a Withdrawal Agreement which you said was finalised, but now you seek to undermine this – your own – deal through domestic legislation. As you know, the effect of this will make us in breach of the international obligations: you threaten both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement. Where is your warmth and natural affection to our neighbours? Where, more fundamentally, is your statesmanship?
In every office you have held, in every privilege bestowed on you, you have shown that your word is worth nothing. As our Prime Minister, this should be a matter of profound shame. You undermine the values and the reputation of this country.
The reckless disregard you show to our friends and allies is mirrored by the same attitude to UK businesses, farmers, workers, to those who have made their home here legitimately from the EU27 and to the security and peace in Northern Ireland. This will all be a matter of record. Of course this is no consolation for the people whose lives you carelessly throw aside. But history will judge.
I hope one day you realise the damage that you do. If you continue down this path, your legacy is and will always remain one of dishonest and unforgivable recklessness.
I urge you to reconsider this act of profound folly.
Published also in West England Bylines: https://westenglandbylines.co.uk/a-letter-to-boris/
10 August 2020
Peter Geoghegan’s new book
‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’
‘If you’re concerned about the health of British democracy, read this book – it is thorough, gripping and vitally important’ Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland. Democracy is in crisis, and unaccountable and untraceable flows of money are helping to destroy it. Politicians lie gleefully, making wild claims that can be shared instantly with millions of people on social media. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro and populists in many other countries are the beneficiaries. Peter Geoghegan is a diligent, brilliant guide through a shadowy world of dark money and digital disinformation stretching from Westminster to Washington, and far beyond. He shows how antiquated electoral laws are broken with impunity, how secretive lobbying bends our politics out of shape, and how Silicon Valley tech giants have colluded in selling out democracy. Geoghegan investigates politicians, fabulously well-funded partisan think tanks, propagandists who know how to game a rigged system, and the campaigners and regulators valiantly trying to stop them. Democracy for Sale is the story of how money, vested interests and digital skulduggery are eroding trust in democracy – and a powerful account of what must be done about it.
Peter Geoghegan is an Irish writer, broadcaster and investigations editor at the award-winning news website openDemocracy. He led openDemocracy‘s investigations into dark money in British politics that were nominated for a 2019 British Journalism award and the Paul Foot award. His journalism has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, the London Review of Books and many other publications. He has made documentaries for BBC Radio Four, worked on investigative TV programmes for Channel 4 and regularly appears on British and international broadcast outlets.
21 July 2020
The Russia Report
This is now out, after a totally avoidable delay of 9 months. The Government’s attempts to say ‘nothing to see here’ are transparent and are part of a gaslighting campaign which must never succeed.
The report makes it clear that Russian interference in the UK democratic process is the ‘new normal’, and calls clearly for an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 Referendum. Even though it finds no evidence of such a role, it roundly castigates successive Tory Governments for failing to seek one. It leaves open the question of whether the reason for this gross neglect was malice, incompetence, or both. We in Oxford For Europe, together with our sister organisations, call for urgent action so that such abuses can never happen again and so that those responsible can be held to account.
9 July 2020
OfE’s first major Zoom Meeting
This featured Dominic Grieve and Michael Dougan. See here for details.
Barring a miracle, on January 1st 2021 the UKs trading relationships with both the EU and most of the rest of the world* will be reset, as the treaties and agreements which currently govern them become invalid. 13 minutes of reality from an expert in EU and trade law.
*Except those countries with which we have post-Brexit trade agreements.
8 June 2020
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER
FROM LEADING RESEARCH SCIENTISTS IN THE UK
Rt Hon Boris Johnson, MP
10 Downing Street
Monday, 8th June 2020
Dear Prime Minister,
Impact on Science Research of Brexit Transition Termination
The response to Covid-19 has shown how international collaboration has been essential for rapid progress in understanding the disease. No single nation has the expertise or innovative pipeline and power to characterize the virus, develop a vaccine for it and distribute that vaccine globally.
The huge scientific problems facing globally inter-connected economies, ranging from climate change to artificial intelligence, require shared expertise and research power. There is a wonderful vehicle for galvanizing and funding such collaborative research and innovation, the European Research Area.
The UK played a major role in the creation of the ERA and defining its ways of working and has led many of its most significant research efforts. But our involvement is now in jeopardy with the prospect of a No-Deal Brexit.
We believe that the Government should take whatever time is needed to negotiate a productive future relationship with the EU, including UK research and the ERA. This can only benefit both parties and is manifestly in the long-term interest of the UK and all its citizens.
Covid-19 has inflicted a severe setback to our economy and to future prospects of our youth. Recovery from such a setback will require a strong research and innovation base and a No-Deal Brexit would severely damage it. It would erode the attractiveness of our universities to talent from around the globe and the attractiveness of the UK as a location for leading science and technology businesses, at precisely a time when those goals are under threat due to the pandemic.
We believe a No-Deal Brexit will cause unnecessary and possibly long-term damage because of an arbitrary timeline set before the pandemic.
Venki Ramakrishan, Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2000, President of the Royal Society
Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate, Physiology or Medicine 2001
Martin Rees FRS, Baron Rees of Ludlow
Niall FitzGerald KBE, Chairman – Leverhulme Trust
Professor Daniel Anthony, University of Oxford
Professor Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford
Professor Edward Bullmore, University of Cambridge
Professor Roger Crisp, University of Oxford
Professor Annette Dolphin, University College London,
Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE FRS, University of Cambridge
Professor Barry Everitt FRS, University of Cambridge
Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith FRS, University of Cambridge
Professor Christine Holt FRS, University of Cambridge
Professor Charles Hulme FBA, University of Oxford
Professor Roger Lemon, University College London
Professor Stafford Lightman, University of Bristol
Dr Alice Prochaska, Former Principal and Honorary Fellow Somerville College, Oxford
Professor Wolfram Schultz, University of Cambridge
Professor Maggie Snowling CBE, University of Oxford
Professor David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS, University of Cambridge
Professor William Whyte, St John’s College, Oxford
7 June 2020
What Happened to the Oven-Ready Deal?
A commentary by John Danzig. Here
18 May 2020
email from Chair of Oxford For Europe to John Howell MP:
From: Peter Burke
Sent: 18 May 2020 12:48
To: ‘HOWELL, John’ firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Immigration Bill
I am contacting you today because I understand that this afternoon you will have an opportunity to vote on the second reading of the Immigration Bill. In common with many other colleagues working in the NHS, I am extremely concerned about the impact this is likely to have upon the service people, Including your constituents, will be able to obtain. As you will be aware, the health and care sector, particularly in Oxford and surroundings, is extremely reliant upon workers who come from EU countries, many of whom are caring and support staff on relatively low salaries, and who are classified as “unskilled” despite the fact that they do difficult, challenging and essential jobs, and currently many are exposed to particularly high risk.
This bill would be seen by many such people as a slap in the face , and will provide them with yet another incentive to return to their countries of origin. In addition, of course, there will be yet another disincentive for such key workers to resettle in the UK. It will be all too apparent to us how reliant we have been on this group of people over many years, and there is no question of their place being taken in sufficient numbers from within the indigenous population.
In the circumstances, I would like to add my name to the many others who are calling upon you to withhold your support from this damaging piece of legislation.
I very much hope that you and yours are surviving these difficult times in good health,
8 May 2020
Following on from VE Day, a useful reminder of the EU’s origins from Jon Danzig:
There are two important days to remember this week – VE Day on 8th May, and Europe Day on 9th May.
The European Project was born out of a determination to avoid war between European nations, and 75 years later, no member of the EU has ever gone to war against another member. Celebrate Europe Day! https://www.celebrateeuropeday.net/
1 May 2020
Should Pro-EU groups focus now on a campaign to extend the Brexit transition period? – An essay by Colin Gordon
Thinks Euronews 20th April: Germany begins to reopen
17 April 2020
BBC News 17th April: Firms ‘won’t be ready for EU customs exit’
14th April 2020
Sky News 14th April:
Germany’s foreign minister is calling for a single smartphone app to be used across the EU to help tackle the outbreak.
Heiko Mass has said it would be best for the EU 27 to use one programme to “co-ordinate as best as possible”.
Mr Mass believes this would help roll back travel restrictions and border closures the bloc has had to impose to stop the spread of COVID-19.
13 April 2020:
Faces of Europe.
This is a new initiative aimed at EU nationals living in the Region. Full details of the idea and how to become involved can be found at https://emoxfordregion.org/faces-of-europe-2/. And the email address to write to is email@example.com.
30 March 2020:
Please support this petition:
European Covid-19 Management: “French patients are now being treated in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg. High-speed TGV trains have been converted into mobile hospitals, with a single patient in each carriage.
Military planes have moved some people, as well as the continent’s ambulances. “
The scale of the coronavirus crisis exposes how pointless the Brexit cause is
Rafael Behr (Copyright Rafael Behr / The Guardian – 1st April 2020).
“Suppose for a moment that Britain had not already committed to quitting the single market. Then imagine the government choosing the peak of a pandemic to plan new obstructions for goods flowing between the UK and Europe. Picture Rishi Sunak, wunderkind chancellor, explaining why supply chains must be disrupted and friction added at Channel ports. Ponder ministers selling the idea of a customs border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland – sand in the wheels of recovery, plus salt in the wounds of history. Pitched that way, as a post-viral convalescence strategy, the UK’s Brexit trajectory is absurd. Johnson’s best-case scenario – a “Canada-style” deal – promises only shock to a debilitated system.”
24 February 2020:
A letter from the Chair of Oxford for Europe, Peter Burke, to the MP for Henley, John Howell
First of all would like to congratulate you for your reappointment to the Council of Europe, and to the various roles with which you have been entrusted within that august body. I’m sure that you will carry them out with your usual skill and enthusiasm.
As a member of the Council of Europe, and as an MP on the more moderate wing of your party, you must, I imagine, in common with many of your constituents including myself, be concerned to read the details of this Government’s new points-based immigration system. I fully accept that it had been signalled by previous announcements and in the party manifesto – however I have to say that the more optimistic among us had hoped that we would see something more fit for purpose than has now emerged.
As I understand it, the motive behind the new proposals is to limit migration while leaving the door open for those who are deemed to be essential workers. In this it appears to have signally failed, and that is not just my opinion but a view which is shared by both the CBI and the TUC. I think you will agree that when a government succeeds in uniting these two organisations in opposition to it, it really has cause to reflect on the reasons why .
Firstly, the choice of designated occupations is almost arbitrary. While it includes healthcare it excludes social care, a sector in which there is a shortfall of something approaching 100,000 people, so almost certainly many vulnerable patients would be left uncared for.
Equally striking is that there is no provision for workers in the hospitality industry, which has traditionally relied upon heavy heavily upon European migrants, whose language skills are often indispensable, and when incomes are frequently low. Many employers in this domain are already wondering whether their businesses will be viable if the proposals go ahead unamended.
The government may argue that the list of chosen occupations can be adjusted at a later stage, but if due consideration had been given at this point that would not have been necessary, and as you will be aware, the clock is ticking.
Migrants will in effect need to speak English and this plus the 10,000 threshold will severely hit seasonal agriculture (where English is not needed) – we are informed that the actual requirement is 70,000, so fruit and vegetables will rot in the fields.
Even the fishing industry, much vaunted by the Government, will be fatally hit as there is no point in catching (more?) fish if the processing industry, heavily dependent on EU migrants, cannot function.
A further problem is of course the income threshold. Although this is lower, at (normally) £26,000, than the figure originally implemented in regard to non-European migrants, it still excludes many in the care sector and other essential services. People in those sectors are understandably deeply offended by the implication that because they are low earning they do not matter. To equate skill with earning power is naïve at best – many people choose to take a drop in income in favour of more useful and rewarding work. Furthermore an income threshold creates difficulties for many young people whose starting salary will be low but was long-term potential is higher.
On top of that of course, the EU 27 will respond in kind making it more difficult for British people to work abroad. And if that were not enough, the end of freedom of movement will complicate trade negotiations enormously, given that the EU 27 have said the four freedoms are sacrosanct. It is appalling that the Government can bring in such changes, knowing the harm they will do, justifying it solely by saying it is “the will of the people“. What happened to leadership? And what about the 50% of the UK population who never wanted this in the first place?
We frequently hear it argued from government circles that it would be possible to train up British workers to fill the shot shortfall, and that there are over 8 million adults in the country who are economically inactive. This fails to take account of the fact that the vast majority of this number are inactive for a reason, e.g. as a result of illness, childcare responsibility, care of dependent relatives et cetera. The belief that they can in some way be forced back to work is misguided at best and uncaring at worst. The true number available for work may be 1-2 million, and even these are, as you well know, not geographically distributed to solve the already existing workforce shortage. You own constituency, for example, currently has near-full employment.
One of the arguments put forward in defence of the points based system is that it works in Australia. I find it difficult to believe that Australia can be put forward as a model of how to restrict migration. Net migration into Australia is far higher than in the UK, about 9 compared with about 5 per thousand. This reflects an understanding in Australia that overall migration is in fact good for the economy and that efforts to keep down numbers merely for the sake of keeping down numbers are unwise.
I do realise the new policy will be defended on the basis that it is not really a matter of pulling up the drawbridge, more of equalising opportunities for non-European vis-a-vis EU citizens. However, if this is the case, then one of the unforeseen effects will be to deprive the populations of developing countries of many of their trained professionals. Is it right that the government of, for example, the Philippines, spends vast sums of money educating healthcare professionals to migrate to the UK? Particularly at a time when their European colleagues are making the decision not to come because of the hurdles that have been erected in their way. Surely this is totally against the spirit of helping those less fortunate than ourselves?
You will be as aware as I that many of this Government’s proposals, including those on migration, are causing major friction with senior civil servants, not least in the Home Office. Though loyal to the government, these officials, with huge experience of policy implementation, are making clear the problems which they foresee, and ministers, rather than listening to their very sensible advice, are threatening instead to replace them. Surely this fact alone should give rise to deep concern.
As a moderate Conservative you must sometimes reflect what previous leaders of your party would think, in particular Churchill, the joint founder of the European movement, Heath, who led us into the EU, Thatcher, who helped to establish the European Single Market. I submit that they would be turning in their graves over this continuing act of national self-harm. Yes, Brexit is now a reality, a fact which I’m sure both of us deeply regret. However, it remains within our grasp to work to mitigate the damage, and to see to it that better counsel prevails, and that steps are not taken which go way beyond anything mandated in the referendum. I therefore very much hope that you will feel able to speak out in Parliament on behalf of the many of your constituents who will suffer if these proposals go ahead.