With each passing week it becomes clearer that the warnings of the Remain camp were wise, while the Leave claims lie in tatters. There is no painless exit where we “have our cake and eat it”. There is no £350 million a week to pump back into the NHS – there never was of course, it was just a lie. Turkey is not about to join the EU, sending millions of migrants into Britain looking for work (again, the Leave camp’s claim that Britain couldn’t veto such a move was utterly dishonest). Moreover, we now hear that can’t actually reduce immigration because we need to bring in the workers to support our economy and our ageing population. Major inward investors like the Japanese car companies are warning that their support for the UK may change if the government continues on its current path. EU nationals who made up 10% of the NHS workforce at the time of the Referendum are departing and not being replaced, making the health service’s staffing crisis even worse. The German car industry, supposedly our saviours who would bludgeon everyone else in the EU into making a UK-friendly deal to save their exports have announced, unsurprisingly, that the preservation of the Single Market matters to them a lot more. While the Leave campaigners told us that in the EU we were “tied to a corpse”, the rest of the EU is seeing rising productivity while our own economy is stuck in a rut and our growth is at half the EU’s level. As for the EU being incapable of doing a trade deal, it is forging ahead with exactly that, with the Japanese, while the UK is left in limbo, with all our potential partners waiting to see what sort of market access the UK will have to the EU before concluding anything with us.
We were, in short, sold a pup. We were hoodwinked. We were deceived.
And more and more of us are coming to realise it.
Of course, we are fully aware of the result and accept that it can’t be overturned or ignored. At the same time, we believe strongly that:
- There was no clarity about the type of Brexit that was envisaged, as the Brexiteers’ own divisions are making very clear; it is up to Parliament to shape Breixt in the country’s best interests.
- The vote set a departure point for the UK but with no idea of where we’d arrive. Parliament and ultimately the British people are allowed a say over their destination, which is no less important a decision.
- Democracy didn’t come to an end on 5th June 1975 (when the UK voted 2:1 to remain in Europe) and nor did it end for ever on 23rd June 2016. The country has a right to change it mind and it is perfectly within the scope of any dynamic democracy to respond to changing circumstances on the ground.
And yet. Among the politicians, there is merely meek acceptance of the path on which Theresa May is setting out. Indeed, for many Conservative voters, the potential sight of Theresa May reaching out to Jeremy Corbyn to co-operate to get Brexit through must be little short of nauseating.
The reaction of educated voters at the 2017 election said it all – as the FT noted, “The higher the share of people with a degree, the better Labour fared relative to the Conservatives”. It is estimated that among AB (managerial and professional) voters, the Conservatives had a lead of only 5% over labour and among C1 (junior managerial and clerical) voters, no lead at all.
The Conservative Party has seen itself transformed from an internationalist, liberal party into a “social nationalist” one, banging the populist drum and losing its core vote along the way.
Yet still none among the sizeable contingent of Remain Tory MPs will speak out and admit openly that the entire Brexit debacle is a disaster that needs to be reconsidered.
We have grown bored with waiting for them, so we have created Citizens for Britain, an avowedly pro-EU group for those of the centre-right of British politics. We are patriotic and proud to be so; but we are also internationalist not isolationist. We believe in Britain running its own continent, not running away from it. We are the descendants of Pitt, Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher, not of Gladstone, Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Enoch Powell.
It is time for sensible Conservatives, small “c” conservatives and others on the centre-right to stand up and be counted, regardless of whether we think it serves our short-term political interests – time for us to be “Citizens for Britain”.
Citizens for Britain – Why do we exist and what do we believe in?
C4B has been founded by a group of people dedicated to saving the UK from the disaster that Brexit would bring. At this stage, we are all people who have been highly active in the Conservative Party over the past years and decades, though some have now resigned – councillors, MEPs, former parliamentary candidates and grassroots supporters. We hope that mix will change and broaden out, because we want to get a new generation of people involved who have not been active in politics or causes up to now; people who have built their own lives, but now see a major wrong being done in their name which will impact them and, for some, their children over the decades to come.
In setting up C4B we have not suddenly ceased to believe in the key tenets of moderate centre-right philosophies – patriotism combined with tolerance, a commitment to the defence of the realm, a preference for capitalism with a human face over socialism with an embittered one, a belief in excellence in education and an insistence on high standards in public life.
In fact, it is those very beliefs which have made us stand up and be counted. We grew up in an era when the Conservative Party believed in:
- engagement with its neighbours;
- the value of free trade and borders open to it;
- an assertive geopolitical posture;
- welcoming immigrants, who could bring human and financial capital into our country;
- low taxes where possible but also as John Major expressed it, in giving people “a hand up not a handout” when they need it;
- preserving the NHS as one of our great national institutions while also recognising the challenges in funding it within the context of an ageing population
- applauding British business, finance and entrepreneurship and giving it every assistance
These were the core beliefs of the Conservative Party from the 1960s up to 2016. They were good for all that time and indeed, each and every one of them was championed by our most successful PM, Margaret Thatcher.
Moreover, engagement in the EU was at the core of the Thatcher governments. Yes, she wielded her famous handbag, but let’s not forget that the Single Market was a British Conservative creation, forced through in the teeth of French opposition, to promote free movement of goods and workers and to remove the endless non-tariff barriers which impeded British exporters. It was a great patriotic victory, opening many sectors in the world’s largest free trade area to our companies. It allowed the qualifications given by British universities and professional bodies to be recognised around the EU. It also helped to recast the European project from a federalist model to a more trade-based one; just what we’d always wanted.
Then, less than a decade later came the second victory for the British agenda, pushing an agenda of widening (as opposed to deepening) the EU by bringing in for former communist countries of Central Europe, locking them into our system of democracy and the rule of law while, at the same time, massively expanding the size of that Single Market (and indirectly, of NATO too).
Britain rode high. We basically ran the EU, successfully pushing our policies at each stage – that’s what power, influence and sovereignty are about; making the things you want to, happen.
Today’s Conservative Party has turned its back on all those things. Yes, it’s true, once we stopped pushing the British agenda and took more of a back seat, the EU made a bit of a mess, especially with the Euro. But it’s much less of a mess than Europe faced in 1940. A chap called Churchill didn’t give up on it then – and no more should we now.
Consequently, C4B’s first priority is to oppose and reverse Brexit. Why?
Throughout our history, the most fundamental tenet of British foreign policy has been to ensure that no country (or combination of countries) could unite our continent against us. It was the policy of Richard the Lionheart, of Queen Elizabeth I, of both the Pitts, of Palmerston and Disraeli and of course of Winston Churchill.
We have sought to maintain the balance of power, supporting weaker powers against whoever threatened that balance. Thus, we fought the Spanish Armada, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler and, almost, the Soviet Union. We did so because Britain simply can’t afford to allow a hostile Europe to pursue policies which hurt us; we can’t afford to because, whether we like it or not, Europe is just 26 miles away across the Channel. We can’t escape from it by putting a cross in a box and so, being part of it, we need to ensure we are running it. Like so many others, my grandfather fought on the Somme for that objective like millions of others – we must not betray their memory.
If we leave the EU, we haven’t “taken back control” – we’ve given it away, to the French and the Germans.
Even those who see foreign policy in less apocalyptic terms realise that what happens in the EU will affect us greatly. Whether it’s rules on the movement of people, on the environment or on technical standards for goods we need to export, the decisions made in Brussels will inevitably be decisions we’re stuck with. As becomes clearer with each passing day, supposed compromise positions like those of Norway and Switzerland leave us with many of the costs of membership, and potentially large parts of the free movement rules, as well as European Court of Justice jurisdiction, while removing our place at the table when those rules are made. That’s not sovereignty, it’s impotence.
The Leavers will argue that we don’t need the EU so it doesn’t matter – we can throw off the shackles and do so with no ill effects. Unfortunately, that option isn’t there. As almost every independent economist and geopolitical strategist is making clear, and as the negotiations are bringing into stark relief, any deal outside the EU will leave us both poorer and weaker than we were within it.
For people who were prepared to sacrifice some personal wealth in order to “keep us independent” and voted Leave as part of that selflessness, it must come as a bitter blow to realise that Britain will have less say over its destiny outside the EU than if we’d remained one of its key guiding powers.
Being a strong, independent country relies on having enough money to keep that independence. The Ukraine was proud in throwing off its dependence on Russia – but soon found that it lacked the resources to take on the Red Army when it chopped off chunks of the country.
So even in patriotic terms, being poorer is a bad idea. But of course for the millions of people who aren’t motivated by geopolitical concerns, being poorer is bad enough just on its own.
Are we sure that leaving will make us poorer? During the Referendum, we saw a battle of forecasts which is never entirely convincing. True, almost every credible commentator predicted that Brexit would hurt the UK economy, but the Leave spin-doctors were able to create a mood in which “experts” were taunted, not listed to.
Then, with the collapse of the pound, more easing from the Bank of England and the softening of the government’s austerity programme, the country got a breathing space. The pound collapsed but anyone not travelling abroad or importing from abroad was OK. Perhaps the Leavers had been right after all?
Only now, in 2017, are we realising that the Remain warnings weren’t Project Fear, they were Project Seer – their crystal ball predications are all coming true:
- The 20% drop in sterling has pushed up import prices, making components far more expensive for our manufacturers and food much costlier for our citizens
- The weaker pound should have led to a big rise in exports – instead, they are starting to fall! Goods export volumes fell 4.9 per cent in June, the biggest monthly fall since June 2016, while imports were up 1.5 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
- The UK’s GDP growth in the last quarter, at 0.3%, was half of the Eurozone’s – so much for being “tied to a corpse”!
- Productivity, already low, is falling
- Inward investment hasn’t yet started to fall off, but a survey by accountants Ernst and Young shows that “Since March 2016 the share of investors with a negative view of the UK’s medium term prospects for FDI (foreign direct investment) have almost doubled” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-remains-top-foreign-investment-destination-signs-brexit-impact-grow-ey-steve-varley-a7750031.html
And we haven’t even left yet!
It’s hardly surprising is it? The EU is the world’s most valuable single market. Bigger than America. Bigger than China. And it’s 26 miles away. It takes 44% of our exports. And we’ve decided to turn our backs on it. A greater act of self-harm is hard to imagine.
One of the great Leave Lies was “they need us more than we need them”. Really? Depending on how it’s measured, between 8% and 17% of EU exports go to the UK, compared to the 44% of our exports we send them.
As fullfact.org notes: The £230 billion exports of goods and services to other EU countries were worth about 12% of the value of the British economy in 2015. It’s been at around 13-15% over the past decade.
Exports from the rest of the EU to the UK were worth about 3-4% of the size of the remaining EU’s economy in 2015.
So, in a negotiation, who do you think has the stronger position? It certainly isn’t us.
Never mind, we’re told, nothing to worry about – we’ll be saved by a good trade deal with Donald Trump. This is, of course, the same Donald Trump whose first acts in power included tearing up the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership and demanding a renegotiation of the terms of NAFTA. The same Donald Trump who believes the US has been hard-done-by in the vast majority of its deals and demands better terms for the USA at every stage. Will DT be willing to do a deal with the UK? Sure he will. Will it be a good and balanced deal from the UK’s perspective? Certainly not. Will it be quick?
It won’t and it can’t – and nor will trade deals with anyone else. Why? For a number of compelling reasons:
- Trade deals are, by their nature, slow and complex – they can take decades to negotiate
- Nobody can sign a trade deal with the UK while we’re in the EU
- And nobody will seriously begin to negotiate one until the terms of our relationship with the EU are clear, because access to EU markets and the extent of EU regulations will play a vital part in any relationship
- Moreover, we will quickly have to put in place replacements for the 759 treaties including 295 trade deals which will, according to the FT, lapse the day we leave the EU (see https://www.ft.com/content/f1435a8e-372b-11e7-bce4-9023f8c0fd2e)
- Oh yes – and we don’t have any of our own trade negotiators because the EU has been doing this for us for decades; indeed, we are busy hiring Aussies and Kiwis to negotiate our new trade deals with…Australia and New Zealand. That’s “sovereignty” for you!
And even when all these deals come, will they be any good? Issues to consider include:
- The UK won’t be part of a trade block of 500 million people any more, but will represent 60 million. Up against India and China, we may not look too clever!
- Successful negotiation is a matter of the balance of power. Unfortunately, with all our existing trade treaties having fallen away, all our negotiating counterparties will know that we are desperate to conclude something quickly; and that’s not a great place to start
- Trade deals are not only about trade. India, for example insists that any comprehensive deal must include easier access to student and other visas – not exactly what the Brexiteers offered in their promises.
So, less investment, worse terms of trade – but at least we’ll be saving the £350 mm a week we’ve been sending to Brussels. Except that, as we all now know, we aren’t. We are sending roughly half that number and in the latest year (up to March 2017) it fell to £156 mm per week.
Let’s contrast that £8 billion per annum with the £40-50 billion we may need to pay to leave; which of course is only the direct payment to be made to the EU. It doesn’t include the costs of lost trade and nor does it include the administrative cost of effecting Brexit, which even The Sun set at £1.5 billion for the two relevant departments (https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3048237/the-1-5bn-cost-of-delivering-brexit-was-hidden-deep-in-budget-small-print-by-the-chancellor/) and other sources put as high as £5 billion – and that’s only a fraction of the true cost, leaving aside extra training and hiring, more customs officers, physical construction of customs buildings, new passports etc.
It is likely that the cost of leaving the EU could easily take up all the net contributions we’d be paying for the next 5 – 10 years; a massive outflow to back up a policy which will make us poorer!
One of the key Leaver arguments was that the 3 million EU citizens put an intolerable burden on the NHS and there’s no question that the UK’s surging population has been a major factor in the NHS’s budgetary difficulties. What they forgot to mention, however, is that 5.5% of the NHS’s staff are EU nationals – and for staff joining the NHS in 2016, the figure was 9%. Moreover, 10,500 NHS doctors or 9.9% of the total are from the EU – double the % of EU nationals in the UK’s population.
We need them! Unfortunately, post the Brexit vote, their interest is waning – the Guardian reported on 3th March 2017 that “A total of 17,197 EU staff, including nurses and doctors, left their posts in 2016, compared with 13,321 in 2015 and 11,222 for 11 months in 2014.”
If only we really had that £350 million to put into the NHS that the Leave Liars claimed – but of course, it was never there.
Immigration was “wot won” it for Leave – the lurid posters of Syrian refugees (nothing to do with the EU of course) and the adverts and leaflets implying that 7 million Turks were about to descend on the UK. It was disgraceful, dishonest stuff and low politics. But it worked! Unfortunately, since then, there has been complete confusion about how the government plans to reduce immigration – if it even can. There are a whole raft of problems and they include:
- It is highly likely that the 3 million EU citizens will be given the right to Remain and potentially to bring family members to join them into the future
- It’s not clear anyway that EU migration is the real problem. Over half of legal immigration is from outside the EU and on top of those, there is a sizeable population of illegal immigrants in the UK (estimated by Migration Watch UK in 2010 at 1.1 million) who, by definition are not EU citizens
- UK businesses need employees, not only in high-skill sectors but also in lower-skill ones like catering and hotels where British citizens aren’t keen to take up the positions. If salary levels rise to a point where they are attractive to domestic labour, many of their employers will be forced out of business. As a result, we’ll need to keep getting foreign workers from somewhere – and if not Europe, where else? It’s quite possible that Brexit will replace Poles and Romanians with economic migrants from the most troubled parts of Africa and Asia – perhaps not the outcome Leave voters had in mind?
- How much better it would have been to press the EU harder on the fact that “free movement” under the Treaties is not an unlimited right but applies to workers not all citizens – and then enforced it properly. Even the European Parliament is clear on this: For stays of over three months: “EU citizens and their family members — if not working — must have sufficient resourcesand sickness insurance to ensure that they do not become a burden on the social services of the host Member State during their stay” (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/en/displayFtu.html?ftuId=FTU_2.1.3.html)
We didn’t need to leave the EU to stop benefits scroungers or people taking a punt on getting a job – we just had to enforce its own rules.
Under EU rules, our citizens have the same rights to work, retire and travel freely within the Union as do their citizens to come here. 1.2 million Britons have taken advantage of this and many more would plan to do so, as students, qualified professionals, casual labourers or retirees. All of those rights could be lost if we leave the EU.
Worse still, if the UK is not generous to EU citizens in our negotiations, it could lead to unwelcome restrictions being placed on British citizens abroad – including the 400,000 registered pensioners who live in the EU. Imagine the burden on the NHS if significant numbers of them decided to return home.
At the other end of the scale over 200,000 UK students had studied or worked in Europe under the EU’s Erasmus programme between 1987 and 2013, broadening their horizons and making them more employable. Leaving the EU could and probably would deprive us of those benefits.
The Leavers seem to believe that the UK’s security and ability to project global power will not be impacted by Brexit. They are wrong, in a host of ways.
The UK’s special relationship with the USA has been dependent, for a long time now, on our ability to act as the key link between the US and Europe. Indeed, from the end of the Second World War, Churchill saw the UK as the essential cog in a system linking Europe, the Commonwealth and America. Brexit would end that at one fell swoop.
This can manifest itself in specific ways, like the European countries challenging Britain’s ability to appoint the Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Forces in Europe; or in more general ways like the EU determining whether to keep up the pressure on Vladimir Putin by extending sanctions on Russia without Britain at the table.
Threats don’t only come from foreign armies but also from foreign terrorists and a big weapon in the UK’s armoury – and one until recently supported by Theresa May – is the European Arrest Warrant which allows terror suspects to be transferred to and from the UK. If we reject the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as the government is trying to do, this may weaken (or even put an end to) our ability to use such warrants, as well as potentially reduce our access to shared terror databases.
A key plank in the Leave arguments was that the EU was run by “unelected bureaucrats” and that by leaving we would regain our ability to hold our servants to account. Neither of these claims really bears up to scrutiny.
Firstly, while it is true that the European Commission, it’s civil service, is the only EU body which can propose new laws, (i) it’s only in policy areas where the member states, including Britain, have already agreed to allow it to do so, (ii) a Commission proposal can only become law when approved by the EU Council (i.e. the Member State governments) and the European Parliament; the appointment of the Commissioners themselves is also subject to democratic scrutiny, with the (elected) governments proposing the head of the Commission and both that “President” and the individual Commissioners subject to approval by the (elected) European Parliament.
Thus, no EU proposal can become law without the approval of two groups of people who have been elected democratically, none of whom are “bureaucrats”.
Moreover, as soon as the Referendum was over, the British government has seemed to rush away from the scrutiny required by democratic accountability, trying for force through Article 50 without a parliamentary vote and suggesting that much of the multitude of new regulations that Brexit creates can be imposed by the government acting without the consent of parliament. Add to that the ugly populism which the government supported when faced with judges who didn’t agree with it and it appears that the so-called “democratic deficit” is worse over here than in Brussels!
To make matters even worse, the Leave camp is now acting as if the democratic rights of the British people came to an end on 23rd June 2016. Any suggestion that either Parliament, or the voters in a third referendum of Europe (following 1975 and 2016) might have the option to reconsider is portrayed as some “great betrayal”. Actually, just as the fanatical Brexiteers forced a second Referendum in 2016, there is no reason why, in a sovereign democracy, the people (or their elected representatives in Parliament) can’t demand a rethink.
Let’s face it, there was a substantial majority for Remaining in the EU for most of the 41 years from 1975 to 2016 and there is a majority for Remaining in public opinion polls again. The Referendum result came at the end of a crescendoing campaign of lies and distortions which hoodwinked 37% of the British electorate – it wasn’t the “will of the people” but their poison pill.
The line from politicians of all parties and both sides of the referendum debate, ever since 23rd June 2016, is that the Referendum was the greatest democratic exercise the country has ever experienced. Many citizens disagree. The problem with the Leave campaign is not that the odd inaccuracy slipped out by accident; in fact lying was front and central to its message. Whether it was the campaign bus with the £350 million falsehood, or the adverts and leaflets threatening the imminent arrival of seven million Turks and our inability to veto it, or the continual refrains that the EU is undemocratic, or the promise that we can “have our cake and eat it” because “they need us more than we need them” the Leavers ran the most fraudulent campaign in British political history.
The Electoral Commission, supposedly the guardian of integrity of our voting processes, has no power to stop people lying in these campaigns; equally, unlike a general election, there is no comeback for voters – no ability to “throw out the scoundrels next time”.
As a result, the political class thinks it can get away with the kind of deceit which would put financiers or industrialists in prison. It’s time to tell them that they can’t. That a victory based on lies isn’t a great victory for democracy but a complete travesty of it. That the Conservative Party doesn’t serve this country by embracing this fraud but needs, before it’s too late for Britain and for itself, to wake up and stop our disastrous rush to a poorer, weaker and less independent future.
Brexit is bad, fundamental and almost upon us which is why C4B is so focused on it. But there’s a lot else wrong with British politics in general and the current Conservative Party leadership which also needs urgent attention.
When Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, we all had a pretty good idea of what was coming. We expected attacks on businessmen and “experts” and especially on the banking sector, along with its “lackeys” at the IMF, Treasury and the Bank of England. We expected significant pressure to end the policy of balancing the national budget (so-called “austerity”). We expected the preservation of the UK’s territorial integrity to be a low priority; and the EU to be seen as a foreign imposition which served international business at the expense of ordinary British citizens. We expected our judges to be called biased and harangued as enemies of the people. We expected excuses to be made for the aggression of Vladimir Putin. We expected lies and distortions of basic facts.
And indeed, we got all of that. But not (just) from Labour. All of this came from ministers in a Conservative government.
- A government that attacks business in general and derides the success of businessmen and women and is pursuing trade, migration and economic policies that are opposed by the vast majority of every wealth-creating section of the British population – entrepreneurs, scientists, executives, teachers, financiers and technicians.
- A government that failed even to comment when Putin’s thugs blinded the leader of the Russian opposition (Maggie must be turning in her grave)
- A government that is allowing our armed forces to shrink and fall into disrepair
- A government which has abandoned the idea of balancing the budget for the foreseeable future, but seems to have little idea of how to invest usefully for the long-term by locking in low interest rates to boost our crumbling infrastructure
- A government which seems to be largely indifferent to preserving the Union with Scotland or keeping the peace in Ireland
- A government which treats Parliament as an unavoidable nuisance rather than the core of our democracy
- A government which sees immigration only as a threat and not a potential opportunity and seems to spend more time focused on how to stop legal EU immigrants than illegal ones from elsewhere, while winking at the more unpleasant racism of the far right.
That’s not a real Conservative government. It’s a quasi-socialist government with nasty nationalist overtones – a party that has fallen into the hands of the Social Nationalists. It needs to be challenged and it needs to be stopped and no group is better placed to do that than disgruntled current and former Conservatives. Whether voters, activists or sensible MPs, we can put pressure on the current party leadership. It’s our only chance. Don’t sit back and leave it to someone else to hope someone else to campaign to Exit Brexit – they may be sitting back and leaving it to you.