Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The case against withdrawal from the EU

Stephen Barclay, the Minister for Exiting the EU, speaking in the Commons on Monday, queried the length of time it would take to mount a confirmatory referendum. Leaving aside the fact that it would be a third referendum, not a second as the government and BBC have collaborated in naming it, a general election would be simpler to arrange (having first ensured that we do not crash out of the EU in the mean time), but simpler still would be to retract the Article 50 letter.

It is worth recalling what Ann Coffey MP said in the Westminster Hall debate on the Revoke A50 Petition:

I voted to stay in Europe in 1975, partly for economic reasons. The economy — as probably no one present will recall — was in a very bad state, but my overriding reason was that as a young person I saw belonging to Europe as a break from the past, with the possibility of a better future. As a child, I was brought up in the shadow of the war because of the traumatic experiences of my parents and grandparents. Peace in Europe was an overwhelming prize for our generation. I wanted us to be a nation that took our place alongside other countries and contributed to the responsibility that the international community has to resolve some very challenging issues, such as climate change and migration.

Clearly, it was always going to be difficult to get support for the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any deal that could win overwhelming support, because we all want very different outcomes. It is not very satisfactory for any option to be the majority view of the House by a handful of votes, which is why I believe that having another vote by the public on whatever option the House supports, together with the option to remain, is the only way forward. I do not think that another public ​vote will settle the issue of what our relationship with Europe should be; communities and generations will continue to be divided.

I believe that the younger generation will, in time, have a more settled view of what its relationship with Europe should be. It is only when that happens that this issue will be resolved. The only long-term solution to the issue of identity is time. However, in a public vote, people would be voting this time on proper, detailed options for the way forward, with the full knowledge of what a deal with the EU would look like, and with the option of voting to remain in the EU if that appeared a better option. Perhaps that could put back into the debate a space for rational consideration, which would be welcomed by many members of the public.

It is regrettable that few if any MPs in the debates which have been held in the main chamber have made these points.

To my mind, the manoeuvrings of Arron Banks, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson et al. are a betrayal of the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill, Edward Heath, Denis Healey and innumerable fighters against fascism and Nazism who wanted to see after World War 2 a free, fair, prosperous Europe which would never again be at war with itself. The last surviving prominent advocate of the 1975 campaign for remaining, David Steel, must be shaking his head in despair.

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