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Update on EU Referendum from Nick Bowen, 31 May 2016

The latest developments on which I can report are listed and explained below; they do not include the points made by Alex Mayer when she spoke at the CLP meeting on Thursday 26th.

 Kathy Condon and I participated in the Hertford EU Remain campaign’s stall on Saturday 21 May. The responses from the public ran the normal range from “we’re Out” through “we’re with you” to the (scarcely believable) “what’s this all about?” The experience of contributing to this leads us to the view that we should do the same in Hoddesdon and Waltham Cross at least once each.

On Monday 16 May, both Alex Mayer and I participated in the regional phone-in with Richard Howitt and Pat Glass (MP for North West Durham and Shadow Europe Minister). The main points from this were:

  1. the vote is the most important for a generation
  2. the further north people are in the UK/England, the more likely they are to be for REMAIN
  3. younger people are more in favour of REMAIN
  4. women are generally more persuadable with arguments about the impact on children and grand-children
  5. the importance of the European Arrest Warrant rather than former extradition treaties; over the last 5 years, 7,000 foreign criminals have been sent back to their own countries
  6. for women, British black, Asian minority and ethnic (BAME) and LGBT communities, what sort of policies can you expect from Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson?
  7. in addition to the economic/industrial/commercial case, there is the contribution of the EU (as well as NATO) to 70 years of peace in Europe

 

In answer to some of the questions from participants, Pat Glass made a key point in relation to media coverage. Despite the fact that she and other Labour leaders are regularly out on the campaign trail, the media are more interested in and fascinated by “Blue on Blue action”. Splits in the Conservative Party, especially Dave versus Boris, are deemed to be more newsworthy – see, for example, the ITV programme on Tuesday 24 May on Boris and Dave.

 

Summary of Key Points

 

  1. Think of the values of the EU (and possibly a more Socialist EU) in contrast to what we may be left with if the people in charge of the UK are Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. This concern must surely apply to people from the BAME communities.
  2. For many women and members of the LGBT community, the same concern above must also be very important and relevant.
  3. III.           International and European values, as reflected in EU membership, must be more important than the Little Englander views of the majority of the LEAVE campaign.
  4. In matters of security, whether foreign and defence policy or border control, we should remember that the attempt to say that peace in Europe has been gained by NATO rather than the EU ignores the fact that there are 22 member-states in common between the two organisations.** The peace and security of Europe has been guaranteed by these two organisations, as well as (among others) the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

 

Some personal background on EU issues and the Referendum is that I was in Brussels at the time of the murder of people at the airport and the metro on Tuesday 22 March. Indeed on that morning, I was chairing a session of the European Government Business Relations Council (the Ad Hoc Council) at which Richard Corbett (MEP for Yorkshire & Humber; Deputy Leader of Labour MEPs) was speaking; Mr Corbett, of course, knows our MEP, Richard Howitt, very well. His topics were the changing role of the European Parliament and the UK’s referendum on the EU. The session started at 0930 when we had heard the initial news of the bombs at the airport and, as time passed over the next hour, it became clear that the whole conference would not last beyond the 1030 coffee break. To me, the events in Brussels brought home the imperatives of remaining within the EU so as to face together the threats to our way of life.

 

At the Ad Hoc Council conference (Monday 21-Tuesday 22 March), we were fortunate to have other eminent speakers, including the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth & Sport [Hungary]; a senior member of the European External Action Service [Sweden]; a senior director of Mitsui & Co [Japan]; the American ambassador to the EU [USA]; and Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Council [Belgium]. The curtailment of the conference meant that we were denied further talks from another Commissioner [France] and ambassador [Russian Federation].

 

Fortunately, the majority of the conference was NOT taken up with the UK referendum and it is clear that many of the other 27 members combine a wish for us to stay with a hope that we will not continue to take up the EU’s time with yet more instances of British exceptionalism. A few highlights from the talks and Q&A sessions that we had:

            *the EU is facing many simultaneous crises that threaten social cohesion, solidarity, free movement of people, & security of borders

            *populism (e.g. distrust of ruling elites and social anxieties) was on the rise even before the banking & financial crisis

            *member-states of the EU may need less individual national sovereignty, not more, in order to secure long-term investments

            *some successes of the EU’s foreign and security policy have been in the Balkans, the Iranian negotiations, and on sustainable development and climate change

            *the complications of Brexit would include the dismantling of 43 years of the UK having become more intertwined with the rest of the EU, the lengthy period of at least 2 years of negotiating ‘out’, the need to replace all/most of the EU legislation and regulations with UK ones, the reliance of the UK on about 50% of its trade being within the EU

           

Beyond these reflections from the expert views expressed in Brussels on 21-22 March, it seems to me that the key developments directly related to the UK’s referendum are:

  1. the clear need for Labour to follow Conference decisions and focus on getting out our own voters, as well as engaging with the trade unions which are key advocates of REMAIN
  2. although there is some business support for LEAVE, the overwhelming stance of business is for REMAIN
  3. the vast majority of economic and financial experts (IMF, Bank of England, OECD, IFS, WTO, CBI, HM Treasury, etc.) are in support of REMAIN
  4. the lengthy campaigning period for the EU referendum is not normal for British voters who are more used to 3-4 weeks of electioneering
  5. in addition, there will have been two voting activities over a few months: the local council elections/votes for police & crime commissioners on 5 May, followed 7 weeks later by the referendum
  6. indeed, the Labour posters that we all received are reversible – we should have turned them round on Friday 6 May!!
  7. the Conservatives are clearly very divided (again!) on the EU issue, whereas the Labour leadership is committed in support of the EU.

 

To me, these issues appear to be the key ones.

 

 

Nick Bowen

31 May 2016

 

 

**

NATO members not in the EU: Canada, USA, Albania, Norway

 EU members not in NATO:         Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, Sweden

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