Change UK, the new ragtag group of rebels formed from centrists in the Labour and Conservative parties, had one of their monthly launches yesterday. This time, to unveil their candidates for the upcoming EU elections which Britain will, for some reason, be taking part in. Their new logo? A website navigation menu icon. Their message? Beyond all the normal “people’s vote” guff, something strikingly constant: remain and reform.
It’s very easy to mock Change UK who, let’s be polite, haven’t given the best masterclass in launching a political movement. So let’s stick with the message itself: “remain and reform”. Remain is pretty clear, but what about reform? When you ask the rest of Europe about reform needed within the EU, it almost always includes closer integration (with a few exceptions). Could that be the ”reform” CHUK are after? Their spokesperson, Chuka Umunna, quite openly called for an end to free movement after the referendum so I think it’s safe to assume they won’t be going after an EU Army or a United States of Europe anytime soon.
The truth is that even the most hard-line Remainer politicians in the UK want to trash the very essence of what makes the European Union the European Union. When a moderate in the UK says “remain and reform”, we know exactly what they mean: “end freedom of movement”. They may mean other things too, but those can all be abstracted to a desire to have less involvement in the Union, not more. They may wave their EU flags at rallies, but they’re more bothered about quietly enjoying the economic benefits than they are making Europe a success.
When Remainer politicians speak to voters, they don’t communicate in terms of what good the EU does for them, they derive the usefulness of membership on the things they can stop. “But we lose our veto if we leave!”, features far more often than: “Immigrants are an asset to this country, not a liability, and if you want a staffed-NHS you’ll support them”. Indeed, when Cameron used his surprise veto in 2011, Britain was largely delighted. If a Remaining Britain is going to use their veto every time the ERG threaten a no-confidence vote, at a time where the EU needs to be more united than ever, maybe we should get our say as to whether we want the UK to Remain. After all, it looks like the UK will get two opportunities. Why don’t we get at least one chance to say “auf wiedersehen”? Maybe this is that “democratic deficit” we keep hearing about.
Lots of Europe may still be deeply excited about the prospect of Brexit being cancelled. Even I, to this day, cannot understand why they have so much patience for Brits, but it’s probably rooted in the fact that no matter how unmutual the feeling, they’re considered fellow members of the European family. However, there is a distinct sense of impatience and frustration brewing following the multiple attempts to get the withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons. The more forward-looking European politicos are starting to realise that this political paralysis they’re watching on BBC Parliament might be amusing and endearingly cute, but would be less so if transferred to the EU itself.
Remainers are very fond of pointing out that after this whole process, Brits now know more than they did on 23rd June 2016 and can make a more informed decision. Considering these things were all warned prior to that and dismissed as “Project Fear”, I’m dubious, but let’s apply it the other way around. Since 23 June 2016 the EU27 have been privy to more information too. Specifically, that Britain itself is not the wondrous nation of endlessly-polite individuals, characterised by its stability and worldwide influence; and is instead an isolated tiny island enduring its post-empire hangover and going through a deep identity crisis. Why should any of us give you the power of veto when you’d bring your deep divisions to our Union and prevent the progress the overwhelming majority of us want to see? I think we should get a vote on that. “People have the right to change their minds”, after all.
As entertaining as it is to see people previously deeply hostile to the EU now behave as if they were wrapped in the flag at birth whilst their mother rocked them to the tune of Ode to Joy, it is plainly clear that if Remain did happen, we’d see a return to a situation where Britain’s politicians would spend more time obstructing than contributing. The EU would once again be blamed for the faults of the UK government and those now demanding a People’s Vote will revert to form, refusing to tackle the damaging lies about migration and nodding along on the doorstep when a voter tells them the EU has banned cats. Do we really want that in our European Union?
Being a Remainer does not make you pro-EU. And if, after a revoked Article 50, your main goal is to end the freedoms which bring Europeans together simply because you or your voters don’t like the sound of Polish people speaking on the bus, can we kindly suggest that you go ahead and leave on 31st October. We will do just fine without you.