LETTER TO EM-HKCF SUPPORTERS
When we started on the Brexit journey, none of us imagined how it would play out. We still don’t know, but what we do know is that in the past week we’ve seen a contest which inspires both pride and shame.
Pride that the highest court in the land Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament unlawful. The historic decision reaffirms the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, and sets a precedent that will protect Parliament from an over-reaching Executive in the future. The Supreme Court dispelled any doubt that Parliament is, in practice as well as principle, sovereign.
Shame at the behaviour of the Prime Minister and his closest allies. Instead of an apology, the House of Commons witnessed a calculated rant, pitting people against parliament, dubbing the so-called Benn Act to block a No Deal Brexit ‘the surrender act’, and dismissing as ‘humbug’ a woman MPs’ plea to stop stoking further anger, backed by her own and others’ experience of death threats.
The Prime Minister may well have further brushes with the law. First, he is being assessed to see if he should face a criminal investigation for his preferential treatment when Mayor of London of the tech company Acor, run by former model Jennifer Arcuri: he gave Ms Arcuri privileged access to three foreign trade missions and, earlier, her company had won a substantial grant of public money meant only for British firms. Second, if suspicions were to prove true that he intends to invoke the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, in order to override the Benn Act, any victory in the Commons would immediately be challenged in the courts.
To cap this litany of shame, the shadow chancellor has asked the cabinet secretary (the most senior civil servant) to investigate whether there is a conflict of interest between Johnson’s willingness to crash out and the interest of financial backers who stand to profit from a No Deal Brexit by betting against the pound.
At the Tory Party conference, Johnson’s ‘take it or leave it’ offer on the Northern Irish backstop was intended principally for the Party faithful, and seemed to have been unacceptable to the EU negotiators even before its contents were fully revealed.
In the face of an Executive determined to defy all the values we hold dear, what can ordinary citizens do? The answer is quite a lot.
Parliament, thanks to the Supreme Court, is back in business.
The outcome of the Brexit battle will be decided by MPs. All MPs care about what their constituents tell them, for good reasons and bad. Many are good public servants who want to put country before party. None wants to lose their seat.
“Write to your MP’ has become the trope of the Remain campaign, and Remainers are forgiven for groaning, ‘Oh No, not again!’ But it works. I have it from the horse’s mouth (several horses’ mouths in fact) that a pile of papers facing you on the desk demands attention in a way that emails do not. Not only do letters have to be answered but they also have to be dealt with physically. They are not subject to the Delete button. (Having said that, emails do register and do get read. An email and a hard copy in the post is the best combination.)
Even better, arrange a personal meeting with your MP. Local surgeries are held once a week, normally on Friday or Saturday. (Details on your MP’s website.) Flannelling by a Brexiter or a sit-on-the-fencer is much harder when looking a constituent in the eye. (It is also telling to see your parliamentary representative in person.)
What, in the current confusion, do you ask for? We cannot know whether MPs will decide to call a vote of no confidence in the immediate future. though it does seem highly likely that a General Election will be upon us soon. (I’ll come back to that.) Many in the political leadership of the Remain movement think this risky, given the disunited state of the opposition parties, and the fact that, even with a delay to Brexit, there are scant signs that any deal can be agreed in a further three months, let alone passed in the House of Commons, or ratified by the 27 other EU states and the European Parliament.
A fresh referendum, therefore, is not only a sensible option. It may prove the only option. It would give a definitive opportunity for the country to decide whether or not it wants to remain in the EU, based on verifiable facts and a concerted effort to consult and listen, maybe through citizens’ assemblies. The Republic of Ireland’s referendum on abortion in 2018 was a text-book example of how to do it, from which we have much to learn. A second referendum, whether it upheld or overturned the first, would lend legitimacy to the result, and it should be binding, under new rules which need to be worked out.
So, in a letter to your MP, the request is straightforward: please support a second referendum.
The request is, in fact, essential, given that the only choice now on offer is a No Deal Brexit, or remaining in the EU.
A simple link for finding your MP is:
You will know about the march in London on Saturday, the 19thOctober, under the title:
‘LET US BE HEARD! Peoples’ Vote March.’
A lot of people still do not know. This is why EM-HKCF is supporting efforts to make turnout over one Million. Volunteers are publicising the march by handing out at least 30,000 leaflets in our three constituencies.
This time, the Police have told us we are not allowed to gather in Hyde Park. So we will rendezvous with Liverpool for Europe, EM Ealing, West London for Europe and others in NORTH ROW, London W1K, (it runs south of and parallel to Oxford Stree, between Park Street and Park Lane), at 12.00.
On Saturday, 12thOctober, there will be an opportunity to join together with the HKCF Committee, activists and other members in making our own placards for the big march.
10.00 to 12.30 at the Irish Cultural Centre, 5 Black’s Road, Hammersmith, W6 9DT.
Blank placards, wooden sticks, paint, felt-tip pens all provided. Be prepared to get creative. (and maybe a little messy). CHILDREN FRIENDLY.
Returning to the question of a General Election:
As things stand, the likelihood is we’ll get a General Election very soon after October 31st, long before any referendum. So we’ve been making preparations At our last committee meeting we decided we would not duck the issue of endorsing specific candidates, though who we endorse depends on meeting candidates, some of whom have yet to be announced.
We decided on three criteria: the candidate should be pro Remain, he or she should be pro a ‘Peoples’ Vote (second referendum), and he or she should have a good chance of winning.
So far, Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, is the only one whose known track record meets these conditions. We have requested meetings with Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington (by a wafer-thin majority), with Matt Oberoi, Labour candidate for Chelsea and Fulham, and with Lib-Dem candidates, when they are declared.
We have not asked to meet Greg Hands, Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham. His position is not one compatible with our conviction that Brexit would be very bad for the country, and a No Deal Brexit very bad indeed. He voted to remain in the Referendum, as did his constituency. But he decided to swing behind the referendum result and voted for Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement on two occasions. He has backed Boris Johnson’s assertion that Brexit will go ahead on the 31st, stating at the time the Benn Bill was passed that it ‘will not prevent ‘No deal’.
The Tory candidate for Kensington, Felicity Buchan, is more conciliatory in tone, tweeting that the sensible thing to do is ‘to leave party politics and division behind and do everything we can to achieve a good deal in October.’ She adds, ‘Every plot in Parliament is a distraction. That means uniting behind the Prime Minister to get the best deal.’
The use of the word ‘plot’ indicates an affinity with Boris Johnson’s line. The insistence that a deal will be reached, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, shows she too goes along with the Tory Party slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’. We are unlikely to seek a meeting with Ms Buchan, but are open to persuasion if her position were to change.
It is important to stress that our endorsement is a working guideline. Tactical voting may not be for everyone. Ultimately every individual makes up their own mind.
Whenever we get an election and/or a second referendum we will need troops on the ground to talk to people, listen to people and, if appropriate, try to change minds. This is not something anyone wants to embark on without training. So far, our branch has held two training sessions for activists. They have been led by Councillor Steve Cowan of Hammersmith who himself learnt the art of non-confrontational persuasion which played a significant role in winning the first Obama presidential election. (We hope to be able to make a training video available for those who can’t attend Saturday sessions.)
One of our committee members, Christabel Cooper a data analyst, has presented her research which demonstrates the importance of targeting. If anything, positions have hardened, on both sides. The groups that will make the difference are those in the middle, the ‘waverers’. The fact that at present we have on offer only a No Deal Brexit may make it easier to argue in favour of remaining in the EU, and it certainly strengthens the case for a second public vote.
Christabel Cooper’s research also highlights the importance of another key group: those who did not vote last time. Either they abstained, or – most significantly – they were not old enough to vote. Since June 2016 a new cohort of young voters have joined the register. Too many young voters last time did not turn out. We must get them out this time. The first step will be to facilitate their registration to vote. This applies, of course, for a general election too. So it is urgent. Once the push for the October 19thmarch is over, we will be able to concentrate on voter-registration (as we did before the European Parliamentary elections in May).
But our resources are very limited, depending mainly on the subscriptions of members. So please encourage friends, relatives and colleagues to join up. (Details on how)
A factor not much publicised is that the active pro-EU movement in the UK is the biggest in Europe. When grassroots representatives visited newly elected EU parliamentarians, the MEPs were surprised to learn this was the case. Countless anti-Brexit groups have sprung up in the last three years. The European Movement, founded just after the war to promote unity and peace, is the oldest and biggest. EM branches have multiplied from 25 to 125. This is a network of civic society which is at the forefront of saving us from Brexit and starting the long haul to mending a fractured society.
Jennifer Monahan (EM-HKCF Chair) 2.10.2019
If you would like to help fund our fellow supporters from Liverpool to come and help demonstrate here is the link