So Harpenden for Europe turned 1 year old this week. It has been quite the roller-coaster year, with things going from bad to worse in Westminster but from strength to strength here in Harpenden. We've signed up close to a thousand local residents, we've marched in our hundreds, written sackfuls of letters, featured many times in the local press and polled thousands of people.
And now, as we approach High Noon for Brexit, we've no intention whatsoever of slowing down. Today we hit the streets of Harpenden again to let people know about the #PutItToThePeople march on 23rd March. The results of our Brexitometers followed the now familiar pattern as local people expressed their deep frustration with Brexit and the tone deafness of our politicians.
We'll also be intensifying our door-to-door leafleting over the next weeks. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help with this huge push. The more boots on the ground, the bigger the impact we'll have during this critical period. If you can't leaflet, spread the word on social media, tell your friends and family, and let's make this a march to break all records!
A large convention was held on Friday 11 January to look at the arguments for a second vote on EU membership, how that might occur and how it fits in the context of the challenge everywhere to liberal, democratic values. Participants ranged from MPs like Caroline Lucas, Dominic Grieve, Stella Creasey to journalists such as Carole Cadwalladr and Nick Cohen, and political campaigners from Femi Oluwole. Our volunteers have written a summary that picks out some of the highlights.
On Friday 4th January, four members of the Harpenden for Europe team met with local MP Bim Afolami.
He started the conversation with his expectation that the Withdrawal Agreement will fail the Meaningful Vote. He is confident that the "No Deal" camp is too small in Parliament and won’t hold sway, assured by the fact that Liam Fox and Michael Gove have come out publicly against No Deal.
As previously reported, his "Plan B" is to append the "Norway+" (EEA / EFTA) option to the Withdrawal Agreement. Bim's belief is that this would negate the need for the Irish Backstop as the ‘+’ in "'Norway+" would involve the UK remaining in the Customs Union. Bim's view is that a "Norway+" deal could be negotiated ‘overnight’ as it has been drafted already by a cross-party group of MPs led by Nick Boles (CON) and Stephen Kinnock (LAB). Bim claims this deal would gain support among MPs and that the ‘majority’ of the Cabinet support it.
Bim's vision is that the UK would form part of an outer tier of the EU. His view is that trade deals aren’t that important, for example we manage to trade with the US without one, and that they vary in importance depending on the amount of trade between each nation.
Bim went on to explain that, should the attempt to get Norway+ through Parliament fail, then other options will open up, including that of a People’s Vote. Bim is not happy about this prospect due to its "divisiveness" and the lack of support from MPs across all parties who are in Leave constituencies. He says Scottish MPs may also resist a another EU referendum as it would strengthen the calls for a second Scottish referendum.
He appeared to agree with an argument that a "silent majority" of non-extremist Leavers exist, who may have changed their mind re Brexit. At this point in the discussion he was more supportive to the idea of a People's Vote.
If the Withdrawal Agreement fails, he seemed to think that Theresa May wouldn’t last long and that the Conservatives would select a Caretaker Prime Minister. The likely candidate would be a senior Conservative with no intention of standing for Leader in the future and who would agree to implement whatever MPs supported. Bim mentioned David Lidington, the current Minister for the Cabinet Office, as a contender.
He seemed confident that a solution will be reached by mid February, unless a General Election is called.
Bim also shared an interesting fact regarding his Brexit mailbag: the proportion of correspondence about Brexit is 2:1 for People's Vote vs No Deal. He spoke to the local Conservative party constituency in December and described them as split 50:50 between support for the Withdrawal Agreement and No Deal (broadly following their initial identity as Remain vs Leave voters).
We are grateful to Bim for the opportunity to meet with him, especially so soon after Christmas. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Government has tested our Constitutional norms to their absolute limit in the past few months, most notably by being the first British Government in modern history to be held in contempt of Parliament, and the shameless deferral of the Meaningful Vote from December to January. Theresa May is clearly "running down the clock" in an authoritarian attempt to force her deal through Parliament.
However, even in light of this unprecedented and widely condemned behaviour by the Government, Bim clings to the increasingly bizarre notion that a People's Vote would be "divisive and damage public confidence in politics". Only if you've been asleep for the past two years perhaps ...
As our local polling shows, Bim's constituents continue in their overwhelming support for the People's Vote. Our Brexitometer polling this weekend of 74% (Hitchin) - 81% (Harpenden) in support of Remaining in the EU, is consistent with Bim's own mailbag showing 66% in support for the People's Vote. And yet, he persists in supporting the doomed Withdrawal Agreement, with Norway as his "Plan B". The question remains: Why?
The challenge of course with Norway is that it satsifies neither Leavers nor Remainers. The UK would still be subject to EU laws and regulations. Norway fails to meet Leaver demands regarding Sovereignty and Immigration Control. Remainers will ask simply "what's the point?" Norway leaves us subject us to most if not all of EU regulation, only now we have no MEPs, no seats on the European Council and no veto. We trade down from our current "Gold Card" full EU member status for "Bronze Card" EEA/EFTA status.
However, on a more positive note, Bim suggested constituents may like to attend the upcoming House of Commons debates on the Withdrawal Agreement. If you are interested in attending these debates, please let us know and we can either organise a group or put you in touch with other local residents who are planning to attend. As ever, you can contact us at email@example.com.
Harpenden for Europe brings you the Brexit news, condensed.
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