This week has been full of turmoil. Boris Johnson and his special adviser, the unelected Dominic Cummings have engaged in a war of attrition against Johnson’s own party and summarily chucked out 21 MPs for voting against their plan.
They have pretended that the British Government is busy negotiating some kind of deal whilst the EU have confirmed that in fact nothing new has been put to them at all, in fact I don’t think anything has been put to them at all. As per the last 3 years the Tory government seeks only to negotiate with its own party and by extension the Brexit Party, in this, May and Johnson are the same though Johnson remarkably has been somewhat less successful having now fired his majority. There is something deliciously absurdly brexity about that particular act of foot shooting isn’t there?
As campaigners, we in the Remain Grassroots have been busy fighting the spectre of no deal. We must continue to do that. Although Parliament has successfully flexed its sovereignty muscles and pushed through the Benn Bill, there are still many holes in the road that we can fall through. It’s not inconceivable with a certain chain of events we could be back to facing another cliff edge. It all depends on the order of play.
Ideally we need Brexit to be settled first before we go into any multi issue general election. After all, if we are to have a general election just about brexit why not just have a referendum specifically addressing it? If we do go into a general election with Brexit as the central question we cannot stop debunking no-deal in the starkest and toughest way. So this aspect of our work, informing of the calamity of no-deal must be kept up regardless of the Benn Bill unless and until we know we are truly safe from it.
Having said all that on strategy, I have been reminded too, this week, of all the core reasons I started to campaign and they have not changed. I hate to quote Theresa but let me be clear, let there be no confusion. I reject all types of Brexit. The opportunity for bringing remainers along to a compromise passed 2 years ago. There has been no respect shown from Leave proponents for the lives and realities that people face. If within the first few weeks, months even, some attempt had been made to firstly immediately secure the rights of EU27 in the UK and British in Europe and secondly create a cross party commission to investigate and thrash out a workable approach which got broad agreement , our remain movement would never really have grown, Thats on the May Government and the No-dealers.
To turn the oft quoted phrase thrown at Remain back to the fence sitters and deal makers. We are where we are. You didn’t manage that, you did not successfully get parliamentary agreement on any deal. Three and a half years on and we are no closer to defining Brexit beyond the catastrophe of no-deal. We have wasted billions on fridges and lorry parks and ferry companies, we have neglected the domestic agenda and still nobody can better the terms of our current EU membership in any way whatsoever. Remember they said it would be better. Not worse.
But the contradictions of Brexit aside, the real cost of the last 3 years has been entirely emotional. Let’s start with the 5 million excluded from a referendum, the result of which was to impact their lives in the most personal and egregious way. As the promises on their security made pre referendum by the Leave campaigners who now sit in government where shredded on the floor of the House of Commons, their initial bafflement and mild concern has turned into fear and fury blistering fury and rightly so. They have been insulted and demonised and discriminated against. The settled status scheme is throwing out stupid decisions to people who have been here for decades. We see fresh new insane stories of filing cabinets full of ancient paperwork demanded so people can finally feel secure. I feel extremely worried of there being a scandal similar to windrush perpetrated on our EU27 friends. The hostile environment in the Home office is still alive and kicking as our friends from outside the EU will attest.
More fundamentally than the procedures imposed though, the enactment of the referendum result reduced the status of the 3 million. As EU members we are all equals under UK law. We were the same. The Leave voted turned EU27 citizens into people who are NO LONGER EQUAL. Their rights have been removed. They or their parents came here exercising treaty rights or came before that with indefinite leave to remain. They have now been told they must justify their presence in the UK. Their history by our sides in the UK has been downgraded in importance. Imagine having to justify your life?
The British in Europe face similar problems. In a way their issues are even worse because the removal of FOM also removes their right to move easily from their current residence to another EU27 country. For some this is already creating business and or employment problems. Whilst some individual governments have laid down laws to protect their British residents, others are looking to confirm reciprocal arrangements and cannot guarantee what will happen without a deal.
So many British are not clear exactly on their continuing rights to healthcare arrangements, pensions, exporting of benefits etc Nothing is certain. But again at the core the argument for me is that these rights have been removed by the British Government against their will. They are now less than equal to their neighbours in their country of residence. The EU can no longer protect them.
Remember in the early days the EU proposed in a document protections for the 5 million with reciprocity but the British refused to sign up to this and preferred to use their lives as chips in their political gaming.
What of the rest of us? Yes, we too are being stripped of rights to work and study and move around freely on the journey our lives may take us. Of course we will be able to try and jump through the immigration hoops that will be imposed on us instead of Free movement but we will be a third country. That means less experimentation, less access to opportunity. Why would an EU company hire a Brit as a member of a third country and mess about with visas and work permits when they are getting qualified applicants for the same job from 26 other countries. The best of the best (and the rich) will always get opportunities but the rest will just have another barrier to get over keeping them from their desired future.
Aha, but what about opportunity elsewhere in the world, I hear you ask. Well I don’t know about you but I haven’t exactly seen any countries coming along offering free movement to the British people in the last 3 years. You would think we would remember that.
We have stripped ourselves of rights and freedoms we previously had, it doesn’t matter if some individuals never exercised or benefited from those rights. I have never been arrested but I wouldn’t want to strip people of their right to a fair trial on the basis I never benefited from that. The point is I might one day, or my family or my friends or my children or my grandchildren. The Leave Vote has diminished our rights and so diminished the individual.
Which finally brings me to some of the minority of Labour people who still think there is something feasible about some kind of Brexit. What are you doing? You are supporting a policy which removes rights. This seems to me something totally alien to your movement? When did you stop supporting progressive enhancement of rights and start supporting removing rights? Get off the fence!
Brexit has divided families, communities neighbours at the deepest emotional level. Loss of rights and the real life consequences of that is felt so deeply by so many people that the anger and determination continues to build every day. This week we have seen the pressure that can be brought to bear with teamwork to stop no-deal. Forget fantasy deals. We are where we are, the public is moving to remain, the time for unicorns whether blue or red has passed. Imagine what can be done when our oppositions parties unite to fight the wrongs of 2016 and take the right steps to stop Brexit.