Can MEPs play a role in recasting the politics of Brexit in Britain, asks Denis MacShane
Other than far-out anti-European obsessives there is not a single British MEP who seems to appear in the UK media on Brexit, says former Europe minister.
Denis MacShane | Photo credit: PA images
The politics of Brexit get messier by the day. Pity poor Michel Barnier and Sabine Weyand and the T50 team at the Berlaymont as they try and work out the mixed messages from the political elites in Britain.
What is curious are the dogs that are not barking. Other than far-out anti-European obsessives like Daniel Hannam there is not a single [British] MEP who seems to appear in the UK media on Brexit, even if MEPs by definition are the most expert of the all the UK elected political class on the subject of Europe.
Political scientist Professor Matthew Goodwin predicted in his recent book ‘Brexit; Why Britain Voted to Leave the EU’, that at a general election “Ukip could benefit from the failure of [British] Labour MPs in the North and Midlands to heed the existence of substantial pro-Brexit support in their constituencies.” Labour MPs Frank Field and Dan Jarvis also warned earlier this year that UKIP would win northern working class seat from Labour.
The Ukip vote was 1.8 per cent and like the Poujadiste movement in France in the 1950’s, Ukip is now consigned to the dustbin of history even if the BBC continues to treat with fawning reverence the party strongman and demagogue-in-chief, Nigel Farage.
The other dogs that are not barking are the office-holders of British business. They watch with concern as City firms softly, softly relocate out of London. Three major Japanese finance houses have opened in Frankfurt and Barclays says Dublin, not London will now be its hub. The CBI and British Chambers of Commerce gratefully accept meetings with ministers but refuse to lobby and campaign to get Tory MPs – other than hard-line Leavers – to soften their position.
UK Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit Secretary, David Davis, openly contradict each other on how full an amputation with the Single Market and Customs Union is desirable.
Meanwhile Theresa May renders homage to Helmut Kohl at the first EU state funeral in Strasbourg but then her briefers tell the off-shore owned Sunday Telegraph she is ready to walk out in September over the size of the divorce bill leading to the nightmare, off-the-cliff-edge Brexit train crash every business fears.
A former senior Tory aide to David Davis, James Chapman, says Mrs May’s obsession against the European Court of Justice shrinks to zero the Brexit secretary’s negotiating space. Yet May’s election manifesto said the UK should stay under the rule of the European Court of Human Rights which interferes far more in British policy and judicial decisions than the ECJ.
If the Tory message is full of conflicting signals The UK’s Labour Party’s is no better. Labour’s election manifesto claimed it wanted to retain “the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.” But it also insisted that Labour wanted to start imposing visas and work permits on European citizens which runs contrary to Single Market membership.
Now Labour says it wants a deal that “delivers the exact same benefits the UK has as a member of the Single Market and the Customs Union.”
But when a number of Labour MPs voted on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech in favour of the Single Market, there was a brutal display of whips’ power as three shadow ministers were dismissed. In the Lords, the popular Tory peer, Patrick Cormack, was abruptly dismissed from a committee because he voted in favour of the Single Market.
"If the Tory message is full of conflicting signals The UK’s Labour Party’s is no better. Labour’s election manifesto claimed it wanted to retain “the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.” But it also insisted that Labour wanted to start imposing visas and work permits on European citizens which runs contrary to Single Market membership"
Yet one of the latest polls showed that 60 per cent of Brits want to keep EU citizenship rights which cannot happen if we leave the Single Market. Among 18-24 year-olds – the category that cheered and chanted Corbyn’s name at the recent Glastonbury music festival- the pro-EU citizenship figure is 85 per cent.
The weekend before, a Mail on Sunday poll showed 69 per cent supporting staying in the Customs Union and nearly all polls show a small but clear majority of people saying the Leave decision of last year was a mistake. Labour voters now overwhelming say the plebiscite vote was wrong.
Yet so far, the political class and main party leaders have found no spokespersons to reflect this clear change in mood. May lost her election bid to win more Tory seats on the basis of her ultra-hard Brexit manifesto not far from Ukip positions.
Yet Ukip won 1.8 per cent of the vote and in London anti-Brexit Labour and Lib Dem candidates did very well.
But both main parties in the sense of their leadership and most MPs are stuck in a groove that was carved out this time last year and seem unable to move forward.
Once again politics is not on the same wave length as the nation especially its younger half.
Meanwhile MEPs remain duly elected national representatives.
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