On a balmy May evening, European Movement members were invited to an event introducing Lord Heseltine as the new President of European Movement UK, the parent organisation of St Albans for Europe. It took place at Church House just behind Westminster Abbey. Although our group was only set up in 2017, European Movement has been going since 1949, advocating all that time for Britain’s future at the heart of a united Europe. As the Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell, Chair of European Movement explained, Lord Heseltine is in illustrious company – the first President was Sir Winston Churchill and a number of former Prime Ministers from Harold MacMillan to Ted Heath followed.
We at St Albans for Europe were delighted that Helen Campbell, our Secretary, was invited to open the evening –a well-deserved accolade – after all, European Movement is a grassroots organisation, and who better than one of the leading lights of one of its most active branches? Sitting alongside the giants of the pro-European cause on stage, Stephen Dorrell, Lord Heseltine and recently-appointed Vice Chair, Lord Adonis, we could not have been prouder of Helen.
Helen was asked to tell the room a bit about herself and our group. She explained that the nucleus of St Albans for Europe was formed in a pub at some point in late summer 2016, a coming together of people from various backgrounds to pour out our despair at what had happened. She said “It felt like a defence and an attack both at the same time – a defence that said “I did not vote to leave, and I will not be part of this horror,” and an attack that said “I am so disturbed by what has happened, I have to be part of the fight against it.””
Helen ended up taking on the role of Secretary, not, she said, because of her excellent shorthand skills, but because someone needed to. It wasn’t so much ‘Why me?’ but rather ‘Why not me’.
She felt that that attitude is “the very essence of the grassroots fight for a People’s Vote and to stop Brexit. It’s because thousands of us stood up and said we would not let others take all the responsibility, we would not let others take all the load, we would not stand back and let others fight it for us… in short, that we would not sit down and we would not shut up.”
Thanks to that ‘Why not me’ response by Remainers up and down to the country “the defence against Brexit did become an attack on Brexit, and we turned the tide. It’s why the UK now has the largest pro-European organisation in Europe, it’s why a million of us marched in London two months ago, and it’s why we are all here now. The growth and effectiveness of the movement was evident last week with the fantastic European Election results when more people voted for a People’s Vote party than the ‘party’ that shall not be named. It is also the reason why I think we are closer than ever before to securing that People’s Vote.”
Stephen Dorrell then spoke about past Presidents and the vital role of the European Movement in the People’s Vote campaign, describing us as the “grand army of the People’s Vote campaign” and the power behind the People’s Vote march which put a million people on the streets of London.
The main speaker of the evening was Lord Heseltine. He is one of the most powerful and persistent advocates for Britain’s future in the European Union. He spoke about why the European Union came into being and affirmed that he would never “vote to risk, prejudice or undo the most civilised, constructive, peaceful initiation in the history of our continent.”
He exposed the fallacies of the Brexit argument “The Brexit case is a slickly packaged manifesto targeted at the most dangerous of human emotions. Nationalism and racialism. It is articulated with skilfully woven images of foreigners, immigrants and bureaucrats. Its critics are all dismissed contemptuously as out of touch elites. The speeches are easy, the priorities simple. The reality is very different.”
He highlighted that the contribution that immigrants make to our society and that most immigrants come from outside the EU. “Our public services depend on immigrants. Visit a doctor’s surgery, a hospital, a University, an old peoples’ home and start counting. Today most immigrants come from outside the European Union. We are grateful for the immense contribution they make to our country.”
He said that nationalism must never be confused with patriotism. “I am a European because I want this country to stride the corridors of World power, sit at the top tables, be there where the action is. I am a European because I am a patriot.”
He spoke powerfully about the need for both a People’s Vote and a European Movement that sustains our voice for decades to come.
“… in the midst of a crisis about Britain leaving the European Union, Britain’s pro-Europeans have finally found their voice again. The pro-Europeans I marched with two months ago are the most powerful voice in favour of Europe anywhere in Europe. We now belong to a great army covering every region and nation of our great country. We can now genuinely be described as a European Movement, and today I’d like to invite you to join us.”
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