I attended a dinner last night where Hugo Dixon (founder of infacts and previously of the lex column in the FT) and Lord David Hannay (one of the leaders of the House of Lords campaign, who helped negotiate entry into the EU and was ambassador to the EU) gave a very enlightening talk and an interesting discussion ensued.
I feel I was already well informed about the key variables and stages in the Brexit process - very much with the help of all your posts in this group - but wanted to share the new insights I gained from last night with you all.
Sorry if this post is long and seems disjointed, I’ll just jot down what I remember! Overall, it’s pretty depressing to realise just how unlikely it is to stop Brexit and how few routes there are to stopping this disaster for our children 😢😢😢. Equally, it’s clear the only real hope is to get involved now before it’s too late in less than six months time.
So here goes:
STOPPING BREXIT IS STILL ONLY A POSSIBILITY AND NOT A PROBABLITY: We are definitely the underdogs here which at least in the public perception sense may be a good thing. Before last night, I wasn’t really convinced that having a people’s vote was the only way forward but hearing more from lord Hannay about the political processes and realities have convinced me that this is the only way and has to take place before March 19. However, even this will ONLY take place with a further shift in public opinion and most importantly, a shift in Labour’s position (more on both of these specific points later).
A BAD BREXIT OUTCOME WILL INEVITABLY LEAD TO AN EMBOLDENED CORBYN GOVERNMENT: this was a key new insight for me from last night. Anecdotally, and also from comments last night, it seems to me that business leaders and affluent people generally are more afraid of a Corbyn government than Brexit. This has always seemed crazy to me as even Corbyn at his most radical is not forever but BREXIT unfortunately is. However, to persuade the business community and wealthier people generally, we should be making the argument that a bad Brexit deal (which seems inevitable at this point) will lead to so much immediate economic pain that it in itself will be instrumental in delivering the next election to Corbyn in ‘22. He will then have a very strong mandate for an extreme left wing vision, which would give us a double whammy economically the like of which we haven’t seen in our lifetimes 😢😢. I have been bitterly disappointed by labour for going against their own membership in not opposing Brexit but if you see things in this light, then maybe this is what Corbyn is thinking? In any case, let’s link the two outcomes for business people!
SURVEYS AND RECENT LOCAL ELECTIONS STILL NOT SHOWING ENOUGH SHIFT IN SENTIMENT:
I voiced my disappointment and incredulity that we have not seen the seachange in public opinion that I would have expected given how badly things are going. Hugo made the point that the media has given very little airtime or newsprint to anti Brexit arguments and Labour also really haven’t sought to campaign against the government’s position so to see even a slight change in the polls in our favour (when the economic pain hasn’t yet really happened) is amazing. More positively, the vast majority of people think the negotiations are going badly, they now think they will be worse off after and most importantly of all, attitudes to the most often cited reason for the Brexit vote (immigration) have changed materially in our favour from 2016. So there is reason to hope.
KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE NEW PEOPLE’S VOTE AND THE REFERENDUM: what really struck a cord with me last night was the point that any new vote would happen after May comes back with the best deal she can strike (you’d have to be an idiot to imagine it will be better than we have today!). So unlike last time where people were asked to compare their own often miserable status quo with a bright new utopia where everything was possible and we didn’t have to pay for anything 🙄🙄🙄, Now it will be a concrete comparison between what we have now and what we will have. 🙏🙏
OUR ‘SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP’ with the US and other large non-EU countries is a DIRECT RESULT OF MEMBERSHIP OF THE EU. Lord Hannay explained that the reason we have been seen favourably by America is precisely because they feel we have influence in Brussels. Obviously this is going to disappear if we leave! Again: not really what the brexiteers are selling at all! This has very real impact not just economically but geopolitically in a very uncertain world.
FINDINGS OF LEAVE VOTING FOCUS GROUPS: it is an absolute no no to seek to persuade these people that they made a mistake. They stop listening. Much better to frame the argument in terms of what was unknown versus what we know is on the table today. The other learning point is not to assume you know the profile of the leave voters likely to change their minds. Their findings suggest for example that some older people may be more likely to look again at things, contrary perhaps to what I would expect. Finally, human stories and emotion have far more impact for a lot of these people than the straight facts and figures that we like. Witness when the courier company small business owner called in to talk to JRM about the reality of current wait times at non-eu borders in direct response to JRM’s breezy assertion that it will all be ‘easy with technology’. Even if every business leader had stood up and said that, most leave voters wouldn’t have listened! The same goes for immigration. Talking of nurses, fruit pickers etc etc and getting people to tell their own story humanises the debate.
WILL LABOUR CHANGE THEIR POSITION: the key million dollar question. The answer seems to be it all depends on a further shift in public opinion and pressure on Corbyn from his own party in Hugo’s opinion. As I said, they feel there is no chance of stopping Brexit without Labour and without Corbyn it would have been a nobrainer for any opposition party to take this stance. In his defence, Corbyn may see the opportunity I have highlighted above and is a natural eurosceptic anyway so we have to hope that with enough pressure he sees it as expedient to change his position. 🙏🙏🙏
THE MOST DEPRESSING INSIGHTS FROM LAST NIGHT SUMMARISED HERE: my plan b was that in a few years with the inevitable demographic change and economic pain, a new party would stand on the platform of joining again backed by many of the young people angered by the loss of their rights and opportunities by the actions of a group of entitled older people. Lord Hannay pointed out that there are three important concessions that makes our membership of the EU now so much better than many of the other members have (no to Shengen, a sizeable rebate and not joining the Euro - this is what is baffling to other member states that we would think the deal is ‘still not good enough’!). These special concessions will obviously not be offered if we applied again and it would be such a huge political gamble for anyone to put forward a worse scenario than what Britain enjoyed in the past that it’s not likely. This is why Johnson and JRM are so keen that we leave on time as they know we can never realistically come back. Secondly, the 27 members have proved very united in the negotiation so far with the UK and that is likely to continue which will mean a continuation of our weak negotiating position. Thirdly, I really enjoyed the debate last night but what struck me was that we are again adopting a very much fact based approach which seems the only rational approach to me but I fear it is inadequate to persuade huge numbers of leave voters ....I wish we had a new charismatic figurehead with a message of hope and a better future to help in this Herculean task 😢😢
Overall, There still is a one time opportunity to influence the course of the Brexit process and the window for this is short. We should look to help in a practical way as discussing amongst ourselves unfortunately won’t make a difference. In order to get their message out more broadly and get better traction, Hugo and David need support. So please join me in contacting them directly with a view to providing whatever practical support you can to them in the next few months so we give stopping Brexit every chance 🙏🙏🙏
Update 1 June 2018:
Sorry just remembered! A slightly more positive addendum to my very depressing post: the fact that May now doesn’t have a majority without the DUP is actually very good. Apparently there are a number of hard right Tory mp’s that would rather sell Northern Ireland down the river to preserve Brexit and solve this issue. Luckily now that the government needs the DUP, that option is off the table and the intransigence of the Irish border question remains as an obstacle 👍👍💪💪🤞
Second Update 1 June 2018 by a different contributor:
This was reposted in Manchester For Europe where I added this comment:
Couple of other points.
- The recent Northern Ireland poll showing a significant decrease in support for Brexit. This was because, form almost the first time, Brexit had definite and unpopular implications (return of a hard border). As Ian Dunt has pointed out, once the actual effects and outcome of Brexit become clear, people don’t want it. However this hasn’t really happened in the rest of the country yet thanks to May’s prevarication - Brexit Means Brexit still. Once May is forced to make some decisions (and by implication Labour too) I think we will see more action in the polls.
- Jo Maugham has a date in court for June 19 to attempt to get a declaratory judgement that Vote Leave overspent and flouted Electoral law by setting up the puppet entity BeLeave. The evidence for this is almost overwhelming and it implicates several senior figures in the May government - Gove, Johnson and Steve Baker for starters. Should this succeed then I can imagine political scandals in addition to the obvious effect on the credibility of the referendum.
- Labour pressure on Corbyn. I don’t consider it outside the bounds of possibility for there to be a further leadership challenge if Corbyn continues to ignore the wishes of the vast majority of Labour members and MPs. Notice even Momentum are getting restless.
- A longer shot but the Article 50 Challenge lawsuit. If this succeeds in proving that May illegally invoked Article 50 then the consequences could be far ranging. On paper this case looks very strong and the government’s defence to it has been very weak but I am slightly concerned that there will be a massive amount of pressure to justify the government’s actions and avoid upsetting the apple cart. It is possible but I doubt, that Parliament could retrospectively authorise leaving the EU as the controversy over the referendum and its after effects continues to build.
This article was written for the 48% Group on Facebook. The author wishes to remain anonymous.