I attended the Grassroots for Europe webinar held on 27th January with both Will Hutton and Gina Miller, and I have to say, it was quite inspiring and has made me feel more confident about our future, and that the cause we are supporting is the right one.
As an aside, it’s been about 1 year since me and Steve (our Chairman) travelled to London to go to the first grassroots for Europe event, which was a sad time, as our exit from the EU had just been secured, a scary time as there were far-right mobs on most street corners berating us “blue-berets”, however it was also inspiring because of how many people came to the conference, but also the clear strength of their conviction.
So below are my notes from Will’s speech. It was getting quite long, so I’ll do Gina’s half in another post!
So, first up was Will Hutton, who started by saying that not only is our task to get the UK to rejoin the EU, but also it will be our natural destination: our current status is unstable and we cannot float between the great powers forever. Considering this we will most likely end up drifting closer to the people we are nearest to, geographically, culturally, socio-politically and economically.
Grassroots for Europe: Grassroots for Europe is committed to providing a body and a voice for those working through local campaign groups towards restoring the UK’s rightful place in the European family of nations (https://grassrootsforeurope.org/)
Will Hutton: 1980s economics correspondent for Newsnight, Observer editor and Guardian Columnist. Authored “Saving Britain: How we must change to prosper in Europe” along with Andrew Adonis. Also Principal of Hertford College, Oxford. He’s a pretty hardcore, centre-left Remainer.
However, we need to be agile and try and direct this process to ensure it happens as quickly as possible: he suggested it would likely be at least in the 2030s, though with luck and effort the wheels could be turning sooner than that.
He then led onto what we all, already know: a key factor in eventually retaking our place at the heart of Europe will be building a very broad coalition that more or less shares our aims. Pro-Europeans of all stripes need to pull together, but in addition to this, we can get people who are just pro-economy and pro-social justice-involved, because the alternative is economic irrelevance and the potential for a bonfire of rights.
Will then embarked upon a barrage of reasoning about why it is important that we end up with a far closer relationship with Europe (and eventually rejoining the EU):
- our political system is weak an disfunctional,
- economically we are struggling and we will continue to be exposed,
- and finally, that a European social-market model provides the answers the many of the problems we know exist in our economy and society (as opposed to Thatcherism – which will not be accepted by the youth of today).
So firstly, we need to be more integrated with our European friends because our political system is currently costly and inept. Our govt has few solid ideals or clear goals and yet they hold incredible power with little oversight. Additionally, and gravely, they are afraid of the hard-right fringe of their own party, and it is this fear which has lead to dithering during the pandemic and resulted in our terrible death rate. This has also lead to our economy being crippled, with GDP down hard and borrowing sky-high with amongst the weakest economic performance in the world, barring Argentina (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/dec/01/government-covid-oecd-uk-growth-forecast). Working closer with Europe would curb the worst excesses of our politics and prevent the hard-right fringe from having as much control because their ideas would not be possible to implement.
Secondly, our economy is currently getting hammered, and after this we will continue to be exposed with extra red tape and bureaucracy harming our recovery. Worse, despite the huge costs of brexit, the govt doesn’t really have a plan for what do with these new “freedoms”. To highlight how grave this is, currently, almost a million small businesses are near bankruptcy due to insufficient govt help (https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-9191843/2-5MILLION-British-jobs-risk-lost.html), whilst the ongoing mayhem at the ports and borders (with people being advised to set up subsidiaries on the continent https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-55786974) isn’t going to help things. We also have a “first order” financial crisis approaching, because our service sector now no secure way of operating outside the UK market. If there is a shift away from, for example the city of London, even to a modest degree, it could cost us an incredible amount. The alternative is certainty, security and cooperation as part of the European family of nations.
Finally, and considering the previous two points, many of the solutions to the problems we face can be found already being deployed in Europe. No-where is perfect, and things aren’t always well deployed, but the European social market economy model answers many of our societal and economic problems. We can look to, and emulate the best elements of our German, Dutch, French, Italian (to name a few…) friends. He went into some examples here that I didn’t have time to note down, but rather than pining to be like the USA, maybe we should look at what Germany is doing, or a have a bit of Sweden, or think about the Italian education system. We can learn from all of them.
In-fact, one of the reasons our vaccine roll-out has been so successful is we followed a classically European model: Generous support for research and business combined with robust private sector involvement – a partnership which is common in Germany and elsewhere, but totally the opposite of Thatcherism.
With the evidence gathered, Will then moved on to discuss the choices we have to proceed. Clearly, many of us want to have our seat back in Brussels as fast as you can say “Europe Day”, and there is a lot of desire and necessity to getting back into a much closer arrangement with Europe (even rejoining) as soon as possible (which will be appearing more in Gina’s part of the talk which I will describe next). However, there is a major advantage in a more gradualist approach to rejoining – it gives us time to prepare and build a solid coalition.
In the coming months and years, we have to remember a few things. We shouldn’t talk the UK down, but we also need to be clear in pointing out the problems brexit is causing and how being closer to Europe would be the solution. We shouldn’t be shy about this. We also really have to make friends with those who were worst affected. In the case of Swindon, this means trying to befriend the migrant communities, the factory workers, the farmers: we need to bring them all together, because it’s all in our interest to have a stable and prosperous UK, and that will be most securely achieved with a much closer relationship with Europe.
The British won’t enjoy seeing us marginalised, and the solution to this is to club up with people who we agree with, and who are in it with us – our neighbours.
The May elections give us the first chance to make an impact, but what is really critical is that during the next election (potentially 2024, but could be sooner as I will explain when writing the notes from Gina), at least the left end of the political spectrum is calling for a closer relationship with Europe.
Finally, Will finished off with a rousing reminder: We will win because our future is European – that’s certain. Our current position is unstable, cannot hold, and our cause is noble and just!
Hope you guys found this useful, let me know on the facebook page!
Sam (Swindon for Europe)