European Movement Fringe Event at Lib Dem Party Conference

Published on September 19, 2017

Synopsis of speech and answers to Q&As by Michael Young, interim CEO of the European Movement, at EMUK fringe event - Liberal Democrat Party conference, Sunday 17 September 2017:


A Growing Movement

The European Movement was founded in 1948 by Winston Churchill after the second of two world wars which had their epicentre here in Europe. The movement was established to promote peace and cooperation between European countries. The European Movement UK is a member of the European Movement International which links an international pro-European network, active in more than 40 countries - and we are resisting the monumental act of self-harm which removing our country from membership of the European Union represents.

Let me be clear that we are not interested in any form of soft Brexit or any derivation thereof. Our purpose is to campaign to keep the UK in the EU as a full and active member of the European Union. Our strategy to bring this about is two-fold: to increase our capacity and create the space for all pro-European groups to come together, whilst simultaneously growing our branch structure. The aim is to create a mass grassroots movement designed to re-energise those who want to remain, and to persuade those who are now beginning to see the cost of leaving as prohibitive and dangerous for themselves and for our country. We now know the cost benefits as set out by the Brexiteers are unreal and undeliverable.

To deliver the strategy we have enlarged our staff and increased our skill range and capacity. At the start of the year, only Tim Verboven and Alex Wilks were permanent staff. From March, we recruited James MacCleary as our Campaigns Director, Hilary Arrowsmith as our Communications Manager, Hugo Mann as our Field Campaigns specialist and we are currently seeking a full-time fundraising expert to bolster our money-raising capacity.

We have overhauled our management systems by investing in NationBuilder to better fuse our web activity with that of our day-to-day management and membership procedures and have moved into a new office which not only accommodates our increased staff numbers and volunteers, but provides a home for those organisations with whom we have built strategic relations: Britain for Europe, Healthier IN and Scientists for EU. These strategic relations are further enhanced by our capacity to create sub-nations in NationBuilder for partners and branches and so prosecute our combined capacity more effectively.

Currently, we are working with Open Britain to forge a relationship which better enables us all to maximise our collective potential - although at branch level our two organisations are already campaigning effectively together around the country.

This year our membership has doubled as have the number of our branches and we expect to double this figure again in the first quarter of next year. Using this new capacity, we are have embarked upon a rolling series of action days around the country - the last of which, with our partners, saw 2,000 supporters engaged in campaign activities from Aberdeen to Cornwall.

Further dates in September and October have been identified for street action as well as rallies to celebrate Europe and to coincide with the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. My presence here tonight is our contribution to the debate the Liberal Democrats are holding about Europe and our future relationship.

Our Challenge for the Lib Dems

Just as we are seeking to move from our respective pro-European silos and come together to better prosecute the cause, so too do I appeal for political parties to come together where they can to better protect our national interest.

We believe that the British party political structure is made up of five tribes. On the right, you have the zealots of the Conservative party whose life’s work is to bring about Britain’s removal from Europe and who currently control the Tory Party and, sadly, our current Government. Alongside them are individuals who are deeply anxious about the direction the extreme Brexiteers are taking. These I would call Mainstream Conservative Party supporters.

Equally, on the left, we have a Labour party leadership which is caught between what it sees as an obligation to uphold the decision made by the nation in the referendum and its role in holding the Government to account over the Brexit process. The rest of the Party - the Mainstream element, as I would call it - are anxious about their leadership’s chosen path on Europe and are hostile to the position of the hard Brexiteers within the Tory Party.

And, in the Centre, we have a Liberal Democrat party committed to international values and continued membership of the European Union.

My challenge to the Liberal Democrats is to create the space for these two mainstream elements to come together in common cause as the Repeal Legislation moves through Parliament. We all need to construct the biggest tent to help all of us - irrespective of political party allegiance - to come together and defeat this deeply dangerous policy of hard Brexit which Mrs May and her Cabinet seem to have adopted.

I say ‘seem’ because it is not yet clear if the Government has a settled view as to what it seeks from our European friends. Boris Johnson seems to believe something different, if his recent opus in the Telegraph newspaper is to be taken at face value. This compounds the difficulty for those who need to understand the settled position of the British Government, if negotiations are to proceed in any sort of rational and ordered manner.

Let the Liberal Democrats help create space for those mainstream elements of all parties and none who wish to come together and build a full and lasting relationship with our closest trading partners and those with whom we share common cultural values and history. All of this at a time when the world around us appears to be at its most turbulent and dangerous and where nationalist introspection threatens the values of tolerance and freedom under the law. We live in an interdependent world where environmental challenges, terrorism, collective defence and liberty of the individual can only be effectively addressed if we act together.

The European Union and its predecessors, established after World War II, have done much to protect the peace and provide economic and political stability. Let us not destroy that which, although not perfect, is our best and safest harbour for tolerance and freedom, in a world at present characterised by volatility and uncertainty.

Help us put Europe on the political agenda before the general election