Why don’t Remainers campaign for a reformed EU?

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Why don’t Remainers campaign for a reformed EU?

Bruce Newsome argues that in place of their current narrative of a ‘blameless EU versus stupid voters’, the Remain campaign would be more effective championing the virtues of the UK within a reformed European Union. 

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis, started the week airing his idea to employ multiple groups of civil servants to negotiate different issues with the EU (50 was a number reported as the upper range). He seems to have been genuine – a request for volunteers had been circulated around the civil service already. However, officials in the European Council and European Commission have claimed anonymously that the British government has yet to discuss the idea with them and that they would reject the idea anyway. Perhaps that’s why Davis had not bothered to discuss it with them first – get the idea into the public domain first, call the EU’s bluff, make the EU look contrary if it rejects the idea.

So, the EU proves itself contrary again. Why on earth would the EU reject the idea of parallel working groups, if it wants to clarify the final deal – as its chief negotiator and other principals have repeatedly claimed? The only explanation is that the EU prefers to ridicule than to cooperate with the British government, to make the process of separation as difficult as possible, to deter other potential separators, to refuse to reform in response to rejection.

The EU is the villain in this piece. Tony Blair, of all people, admitted as much, in unprepared answers to students after his speech at a university: he admitted that as prime minister he had struggled to defend “parts” of the EU and that the EU needs to “reform.” Before you think Blair has converted to honesty and sensibility, his remarks went on to accept no responsibility for the anti-EU feeling that built up to Brexit in 2016, even though he dated his realization sometime before he rotated as EU President in 2005, when he said nothing in public about reform! He still had another two years as prime minister, more than ten years in total, during which he signed up Britain to yet more ridiculously disinterested deals – the most infamous of which was to allow the free movement of peoples from new EU members where practically no Britons seek jobs or benefits. In other words, Blair expects us to believe that he heroically wanted reform at least eleven years before a majority of voters elected to leave the EU, he failed to achieve reform, he understands why popular feeling turned against the EU, but that he is not responsible for the sentiments that drove the choice for Brexit.

If that is not sufficient to make him barmy Brexit-basher of the week, he went on to blame Brexit on “those who put the referendum in place and those who voted for it.” There he goes again – blaming the voters for doing what he told them not to do, and blaming his successors for giving the voters a choice on their sovereignty. Blair is a democrat in name only; and an illogical, contradictory, hypocritical master of spin: this week, he was spinning his own political record, talking out of both sides of his face so that he could claim at once to share the sentiments of Brexiteers while still condemning them as too stupid to be trusted with Britain’s choices.

Should the villains in this narrative be obvious? Surely they are the EU and its apologists – dancing on the head of a pin, such as Blair? Apparently not – the sympathies for the EU and the EU’s apologists just keep growing, such that the weekend was the time to launch yet another anti-Brexit campaign group (People’s Vote). How could we possibly need another? Three legacy groups (Open Britain; Britain for Europe; European Movement) came together on the same weekend to proclaim a “National Day of Action” – the title is sufficiently emblematic of Brexit-bashing today: unspecified “action,” not engagement with the issues.

Thus, Remainers are debasing the debate, ignoring the real need for EU reform, refusing engagement with the real reasons for Brexit, demanding “action”, protesting, the triumph of the loudest rather than the more informed or reasoned – protest in favour of the indefensibly contrary and un-reforming EU, a triumph of hypocrisy, contradiction, contrariness, and wilful blindness.

This is the legacy of Blair’s politics and of the EU’s politics, which Remainers are defending. They would have more credibility if they campaigned for Britain to stay in a reformed EU, but instead, they continue to campaign in favour of a faultless EU of their own imagination, a narrative of blameless EU versus stupid voters.

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    Bruce Newsome
    Bruce Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of California Berkeley
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