Towards a fork in the road…

Published on December 11, 2019

The torrent of words, inane slogans repeated ad nauseam, exaggerations, blatant mistruths and inventions might soon be behind us, hopes Richard Wassell, Vice-Chair of London4Europe.

This could be the occasion for a deep nationwide sigh of relief – although it does seem more likely to be anything but, with our national trauma just entering a new phase.

It has been the most unedifying and depressing general election campaign I can remember, thinking right back to 1964. The wounds are deep and, whatever the outcome, will not readily heal in the self-evident absence of leadership of the stature, vision, integrity and strength of purpose required. EM president Michael Heseltine, speaking impressively on BBC News Channel as I write, gives an impression of what we are missing.

This debilitating experience did not begin, however, with the calling of the election. It goes back to the outset of the referendum campaign – and, in a measure, to long before that. No need to list the guilty individuals and influences responsible – we know them all too well and public opinion may have a reckoning for them in due course.

I always felt that the European cause could not develop mass appeal in this country until such time as politically active people on our side of the argument gave EM the same commitment as they do to their political parties. Ironically, at any rate for the moment, we may now have reached that point. We can and must build on that – but more precisely how is something to explore once we know where we stand by next weekend.

The EM AGM two weeks ago was a heartening experience – an organisation united in purpose, more coherently and articulately led than often in the past. Our nationwide network of branches is stronger than at any time before. This holds good not least for the remain heartland of London – where London4Europe has carved out a new role, in support of the more locally-based campaigning branches. Even if some reappraisal is required if events on Thursday do not go our way, both L4E in London and EM nationally are committed to continuing our mission long-term. A glance at the map of our continent shows why – and underlines the potential isolation of post-Brexit Britain.

In the event of a Labour or Labour-led government, the People’s Vote objective will (we can presume) have been achieved. Even if the timetable Labour has set itself looks challenging, they will surely through informal contacts have established that a withdrawal option restoring many of the features (eg customs union) discarded under the Johnson proposal can indeed be agreed within the three months – with goodwill and cooperation on both sides, not just from the European side as in the recent past. Agreeing procedural arrangements with the Electoral Commission within a tight timetable may be more difficult – “within six months” may need to be re-defined as within six months of the revised withdrawal agreement rather than within six months of the general election.

A key player in any of the possible scenarios will be Scotland. If Johnson is permitted to drive through his hard Brexit, the wounds will be beyond healing and Scotland will be gone – at any rate once they have agreed a referendum protocol with Whitehall (or maybe even if they cannot) and a formula for division of assets and liabilities… not to mention determining a coherent position on the currency. All this will take several years to work through – so actual separation may not be achieved until the UK electorate has finally come to understand the insanity of Brexit and punished the party responsible. In that scenario – as next week if the Conservatives are not returned – it may be a matter of to what extent a Labour or Labour-led government can demonstrate that, at long last, English/Welsh and Scots electors once again share a vision as to the shape of society they seek to build sufficiently to hold together as one nation.

Meanwhile, we are still being peddled the illusion that a trade deal with the EU will be easy – and achievable within the year. But our goodwill and credibility will be rock bottom – whilst, in this new phase of negotiation, each member state will have a veto. Since UK as a trading partner does not matter equally to all EU-27, why should they all fall meekly into line? And, if there is dissension amongst member states, might not the EU leadership conclude that the imperative of keeping member states on board and united far outweighs the need to reach out to a disruptive ex-member?

Boris Johnson’s handlers would not be averse to this situation – as public opinion again could be manipulated into an even deeper resentment against our European neighbours. Thankfully, this might coincide with the departure from office of a certain US president and his replacement by someone more collegiate. Failing that, though – and with a soon to be truncated Britain having achieved the isolation certain elements seek – the aforementioned handlers will be free to set about unravelling our social cohesion, environmental and food protections, employment rights and so forth. Given those potential circumstances, let us hope this is not our last general election…

Please think through the tactical situation in the constituency where you live – and, so as to help re-establish the stability of our country and for the sake of generations to come…


Richard Wassell
L4E vice-chairman

London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.

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