A supporter writes to his MP

Dear xxxx

When people voted in the EU referendum last year, little was known about what a future deal with the European Union would look like.

Sixteen months on, it is now very unlikely that any deal will be able to provide the same easy terms of trade and commerce with our most prosperous neighbours as we currently have.

This is why I believe you, as my MP, should have a meaningful vote on the deal struck with the EU – and why everyone in the country should also then be entitled to a vote on the deal.

I urge you, by November 9th, to add your name to four amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

• Amendment 7: ensures that Parliament has a vote on the Deal. This is an amendment tabled by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve. It has cross-party support.

• Amendment 120: provides for a referendum on the Deal before we leave the EU.

• Amendment 124: ensures that any deal negotiated by the Government must keep Britain in the Single Market.

• Amendment 131: preserves the rights of EU Citizens after Brexit.

I also want the Government to provide a guarantee that, whatever happens, EU citizens in the UK will be protected after Brexit and that we will stay in the Single Market. This is why I want you to also sign amendment 124 and 131.

I look forward to receiving confirmation that you have signed these amendments or your explanation if you are unable to or unwilling to.

Yours sincerely

Clutching at straws – or straws in the wind? Are the polls shifting?

We can’t reverse the Brexit vote unless public opinion shifts decisively against it. That would give MPs the courage to resist the current disastrous course of events. So what do the latest opinion polls tell us about the public mood?

Until very recently, there has been little movement in the polling data for 15 months since June 2016, with results running roughly 50/50 on a range of questions designed to test public attitudes. But answers to some questions asked by YouGov on 10 and 11 October suggest that the anti-Brexit arguments may be getting traction at last.
They asked: in hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?
Right: 42%
Wrong: 47%
This the highest “wrong” figure, and the lowest “right” figure, since June 2016.
They asked: Do you think leaving the EU will have a good or bad effect on British jobs?
Good: 22%
Bad: 39%
These too were the gloomiest figures since the referendum.
The survey revealed growing pessimism about the UK’s standing in the world following the Brexit vote. And respondents had a poor view of the Government’s handling of the negotiations: 2% (sic) thought they were going very well; 64% said badly or very badly.
One poll and small trends as yet. The question mark should stay in the title for the time being. But in a few weeks we should know if this is the beginning of a change in public attitudes. If it is, it means we are winning the arguments.



Should we have another referendum?

I don’t like the use of referendums for major national constitutional issues, but am reluctantly coming round to the view that they are now an established part of our (unwritten) constitution.  There have been three UK-wide referendums (in 1975 and 2016 on EU membership; in 2011 on the Alternative Vote system).  They have also been used a number of  times on constitutional issues in Wales, Scotland and N Ireland, and widely used on regional and local matters, such as on directly elected mayors in parts of England or Sunday drink laws in Wales, as well as on local neighbourhood plans.

But in the context of Brexit, there is one particularly relevant precedent from 1998.  In May that year electors in Northern Ireland were asked to approve, in a referendum, the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. On a turnout of 81% it was approved by 71% to 29%.  So 59% of the electorate voted Yes. There was a parallel referendum in the Republic of Ireland which also voted Yes. It was a critical matter for the future of Ireland, and the final decision was put to the electorate.

In my view there is good argument, using that Northern Ireland precedent, for the terms of any Brexit Agreement (including leaving with no deal) to be put to the electors of the UK to approve or reject.   There isn’t room in this Blog to discuss what the rules for such a referendum might be, such as who could vote, what majority would be needed etc. However, and learning the lesson from the 2016 referendum, it would be vital that the consequences of each of the two possible outcomes were made clear to voters in advance.  A majority in favour would mean approval of the Agreement.  A majority rejecting the Agreement would mean that Brexit is itself rejected and that the UK would consequently withdraw its Article 50 application and remain a member of the EU.

What do others think?


Julie Girling loses the whip

The Conservatives have removed the whip from two of their MEPs, Julie Girling and their former Leader in the European Parliament Richard Ashworth, for voting in favour of a non-binding European Parliament resolution which noted that “sufficient progress has not yet been made” in the Brexit talks to move to the second phase, but also called for concrete proposals “to speed up work”. Go HERE for more details.

Julie Girling is an ardent Remainer who spoke to Cheltenham for Europe earlier in the year. We wrote to her:

“You may recall that you came and spoke to us in Cheltenham earlier this year. You impressed our group with your frank view of the Brexit process and your thorough explanation of the role of the European Parliament and of MEPs.

“Thank you for voting as you did last week. However frustrating it may be for the government here, it is plain for all to see that there has been very little progress in the negotiations – your vote was therefore no more than a reflection of that truth. So it is truly dreadful that the whip should now be withdrawn from you.: indeed it is shameful, when the extreme rantings of Jacob Rees-Mogg etc. go unchecked.

“We continue to fight against what millions see as the worst self inflicted wound in modem British history. The nearer Brexit comes, the more dreadful it looks. Thank you for reminding us that we have not been abandoned by all politicians.”

Julie replied thanking us for our email and saying that “your kind words of support are very much appreciated” 

Party conferences and the elephant in the room

After the Party conferences, it is time to reflect on what really happened. And where we go from here.

The LibDems, the Greens and SNP support remaining in the EU. But the two biggest parties are in crisis over Brexit.  Labour responds by denial, stifling any meaningful debate; the Tories by doing what they do best – stabbing each other in the back.

Negotiations appear to be grinding to a halt thanks to the amateurism of David Davis and the failure of the May government to realise that meaningful negotiations depend on meaningful proposals. So far the UK has little to offer in its dealings with the 27 other EU states since the cabinet can’t agree on anything of substance. Instead it falls back on the bland claim that it is “seeking the best deal for Britain” (well, one would hope so!). Meanwhile, another key issue in British politics – the need for, and consequences, of austerity – blights all our lives.

Many Tories actively conspire to bring about the failure of the EU negotiations. They seem to want to see the UK economy driven off a cliff so that they can create the UK equivalent of the Trump offer: a low tax, low regulation economy that benefits no-one but the rich.

For their part, the Corbynistas claim that the EU is a capitalist plot. Yet it is the EU – not the UK government – that has done most to promote workers’ and consumers’ rights and environmental protection – all of which are Labour demands. Those who know the EU say that the Labour party’s social programme, set out in its 2017 General Election manifesto, can be delivered within EU rules.  Mr Corbyn should understand that, if he is elected, Brexit will consume the parliamentary time he needs to introduce his programme – and that Brexit itself will leave the UK so much poorer that he won’t have the resources to pay for it. And, if he really wants to win the next election, he should remember that most Labour voters are Remainers – particularly his new, young followers

The trumpet call of the elephant in the room must be heeded: UK voters must stand up and make their voices heard. Brexit is a disaster coming at us fast. It must be resisted. And the way to do this is to pile the pressure on our local MPs and MEPs. Tell them: enough is enough – we don’t want to impoverish ourselves.

This is our call to MPs and MEPs:

  • The people should be allowed to vote on the deal with the EU – if one can be negotiated – with the status quo as an option
  • And, if negotiations break down, Parliament must step in and let the people decide if we want to stay in the EU

Don’t wait for your children and grandchildren to ask why you did nothing to safeguard their futures. Act now!

Open letter to Alex Chalk MP

Dear Alex Chalk

We write as a group of concerned constituents.

Brexit poses the most serious challenge that Britain has faced since 1945.  Decisions taken in the next few months will shape our country for years to come.  There are many issues at stake but the questions we ask below are of such importance to voters in Cheltenham that we invite you to make an open reply.

  1. You have told the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, that you want a “pragmatic, jobs-first Brexit, which puts the UK economy first”. So why support the Government in leaving the Single Market, which gives us tariff-free access to the world’s largest free market area and buys 45% of our exports? And why support them in leaving the Customs Union that gives us the frictionless borders the Government says it wants with the EU? Isn’t the pragmatic thing to do to stay in the SM and the CU rather than offering the fantasy that we can have our cake and eat it?
  2. The Repeal Bill, now before Parliament, is a threat to Parliamentary sovereignty as it greatly extends the power of Ministers at the expense of Parliament. How can that be reconciled with “take back control”? Also the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly may withhold consent. Along with the unresolved question of the Irish border, does not that dangerously threaten the already frayed threads that bind the UK together?
  3. Businesses, industry, farmers, universities, the NHS and millions of people are now waking up to the reality of Brexit: people are becoming poorer, investment is falling, Britain is being left behind by the other European economies – and our salvation seems to lie in Donald Trump’s promises. How much damage to the economy, to Britain’s standing in the world and to our reputation as a sensible – indeed pragmatic – nation do we have to suffer before people of goodwill say ‘that’s enough: it’s time to think again about Brexit?’

Alex, as an MP you have a “duty of care” towards this country. Only 37% of the electorate supported Brexit, itself sold on a false prospectus. As our future looks ever darker and more uncertain, what will it take for you to have the courage to say what you must believe – that Brexit is a disaster that has to be avoided?

Yours sincerely

Philip Cole (Chairman of Cheltenham for Europe), and committee members  Pamela Armstrong, Mike Farmer, Rod Gay,  Serena Gay, Martin Kimber,  Jane Malone, Adrian Phillips and Jonathan Sindall

What could our students and young people lose if we leave the EU?

The EU commits €2.1 billion annually to supporting and developing young people through the Erasmus+ programme by:

  • Helping undergraduates study at other European universities
  • Promoting voluntary work opportunities through EVS
  • Facilitating work placements and internships, helped by our EU Twin Town connections
  • Involving young people in Youth Exchanges, with emphasis given to those with fewer opportunities in their lives.

Gloucestershire’s young people have participated in EU supported exchange programmes with Germany, France, Poland, Estonia, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary and others.

Teachers and youth workers meet their European counterparts to share best practice, learn new approaches and make new contacts.

Gloucestershire University and other local institutions benefit from EU funded research projects.

These opportunities won’t exist if we leave the EU.


How many Tiers can the EU accommodate?


The top Tier of the Eurozone, along with the Schengen area, has the greatest integration. The current German and French governments want this to deepen, with an “ever-greater union”, even incorporating closer military cooperation.

A second Tier is where the UK sits by choice. Always reluctant to be wholehearted about commitment to the European ideal. Is this where we “Remainers” want to remain?

A third Tier might be construed as the EEA and EFTA groupings: access without any representation in decision making. It was this level that many Leavers aspired to.

Of course, neither the current government nor the Labour opposition want any of these. They want to be out of the single market and the customs union but still have access – a sort of fantasy fourth Tier.

But what of we Remainers? Are we going to insist on the status quo – Tier two? Will we accept the compromise of Tier three? A negotiated deal with the EU that might satisfy Leavers too.

How about the ultra-Remain position: full commitment to joining the Euro, accepting Schengen and being right up there at the top of the EU tree.

I just don’t think that Remain is as simple anymore. The debate is complex, the fantasists are in charge and the whole thing may well end in Tiers.



When thinking about the personal relationship between Remainers and Leavers, I remember how very determined Professor Mike Dougan (Constitutional Law, Liverpool), was that we Remainers hold Leavers responsible for the depredations they have generated – it is our job to take Leavers to task for the damage they have (already) done. Leavers are responsible for it and must be held to account.

His is a different message to those asking us to Love a Leaver and persuade them of the Error of Their Ways. I’ve heard this admonition from Clare Moody MEP, A C Grayling, Molly Cato MEP and Jolyon Maugham QC.

Personally, I’m with Prof. Dougan. Though what I have learnt to say to Leavers (through gritted teeth), is the rather anodyne, “We were all lied to weren’t we?”

My hunch is that people have not been changing their minds on the issue of our membership, or not, of the EU, because it is a decision led by emotion, not fact.

We Remainers can, as current affairs unravel around us, marshal an array of reasons that justify our position on Europe. But my intuition is that we ‘feel’ those facts because we are inclusive citizens with a fluid notion of what constitutes a border, which sense of fluidity does not bring us alarm. We do not feel unnerved by the process of change which being part of a larger, evolving entity inevitably entails. We are not threatened by incomers. Leavers are the obverse. Leavers need surety, dependability and for things to stay the same. This means they do not like foreigners because incomers only ever create change. Sometimes this is expressed as plain racism, sometimes their arguments cluster around ‘economic’ issues.

The Leave state of mind generates an approach to life which favours exclusion and rejection of change in order to maintain stasis. It is a mindset, a state of being, which finds comfort within a tightly enclosed space that only contains PLU (People Like Us – thanks to a Leave voter for introducing me to that ‘keep out the rest of you’ abbreviation).

Moving on – we need ask ourselves about the likelihood of winning the next referendum (the possibility of which looms ever larger). Given I don’t think people will/are changing their minds, it might be that Remain will only win if enough Leavers have died since last year, and enough new voters, and young people who did not vote in the last referendum, now do vote – and vote Remain.

In the Lie Fest that we call the June 2016 Referendum 17,410,742 voted Leave and 16,141,241 voted Remain. All that’s required is a swing of just 635,000.

It’s going to be close. But is absolutely do-able. The thing is, we really do need to know if we can persuade Leavers. Because if we can’t, our limited resources would be best spent elsewhere, encouraging the young to register to vote and then encouraging them to use that vote at the next referendum. Younger voters significantly contributed to the swing in the recent general election. Here’s hoping they do so again.



The Centre Party

There’s a lot of talk about the creation of a new centre party (The Democrats?) which, apparently, has finance waiting for it as well as serious political backers – Blair & Major have been mentioned. Maybe it’s much to be desired – but will it work?

I should state my position – I’m a disappointed Tory. It’s becoming harder and harder to give them my vote and a new centre party could work for me. And, I suspect, thousands like me on both sides of the aisle.

So, will a new centre party work? I wonder. Historically, new parties have a problem – our First Past The Post (FPTP) system being a major one. Then there’s the Single Issue issue – because at least initially that’s what the new party would be. ‘What’, the media would ask, ‘is your policy on x, y and z?’ And as, for the new party to work, it would have to be joined and supported by MPs from all parties, answering that question might be difficult.

However, one upside to it being joined by sitting MPs is that it might beat the FPTP system – local constituencies can show a remarkable loyalty to sitting MPs – vide Carswell.

Whatever, it will take time – and we only have 18 months to defeat Brexit. We need a short-term fix and I believe there is only one: all pro-Eu MPs, of whatever party, need to create a voting bloc that will work together to kill Brexit and ensure we Remain. For all other matters they can go back to their tribes and follow their leaders – on this matter it’s country first. One or two MPs can be labelled ‘traitors’ and denied their party whip – but dozens?

So, MP Remainers, it’s time to fess up and to behave in the principled manner your electorate expects. And we Remainers must encourage them.