After yesterday’s March for Europe in London, some Liberal Democrats repaired to the Two Chairmen pub in Westminster. As I approached, I became aware of a speech taking place. It was Tom Brake MP (right), on the pavement outside the pub, giving an impromptu view of the EU situation, and answering questions. It was, in many ways, a return to old-fashioned democracy. Certainly Tom gave a fascinating commentary on what might happen next.
Thanks to my colleague Joe Otten, who videoed most of the speech, I have been able to transcribe here much of what Tom said. He started by saying how much he was worried about eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, and how they might react to Brexit. He said that Poland’s people are in favour of the EU, broadly, but that their government might use Brexit as a trigger against the EU.
He went on:
We’ve got to fight. Now there’s no guarantees about what we could achieve. The process is that, at some point in the near future, our Prime Minister, whoever he or she is, has got to write to Europe saying we want to leave. Now I don’t think our Prime Minister can sit on his or her hands for very long. I don’t think it’s fair to expect 27 EU countries, who have just been hit – whose economies have just been hit – and who want certainty, to sit and wait for our Prime Minister, our country having unfortunately taken the decision it’s taken, for our Prime Minister to write that letter.
So we’ve got to take that decision quickly, then we embark on this two year negotiation process where we, as a party, we will be pressing for the fundamental principles of the European Union to be retained: single market, freedom of movement. We don’t know what we’ll be able to achieve, but that is what we will push for, and at the end of that process what I hope will happen is that there will be a strong enough demand from the country as a whole – not political parties – not from the so-called elite, the so-called establishment – the demand from the people that that deal, whatever our government has succeeded in securing (and I don’t think it is going to be very much) that that deal will be able to be put to the public again.
So, the public will be able to say ‘do we think that what the government has achieved is good enough or do we want to go back to the status quo?’
So, I am hoping that this is something that can be revisited. What we’ve got to make sure happens in the next couple of years is that the momentum is maintained, that when these negotiations are under way that the government is put under a lot of pressure, and we build up a head of steam so it becomes unthinkable for the government not to give the people another chance to have their say on what that agreement is – what package our government comes back with.
Inaudible passage due to wind noise
Most of the MPs in parliament were in favour of staying in the EU. I hope that many Conservative MPs won’t use this as an opportunity to jump ship. They were in favour of us staying in – I hope they will remain in favour of us staying in.
In Parliament our government is going to have to negotiate with the members of parliament because we have got to agree – after the Article 50 negotiations – whatever comes out in terms of the changes the government has to make from a legislative point of view.
So, there are a number of backstops that should ensure that, even if we don’t manage to get back into the European Union on exactly the same basis, that we get back into the European Union with as strong and similar position as the one we have now, So that’s the fight that we’ve got ahead over the next couple of years. And I think for us as a party, whereas perhaps a couple of weeks ago we were in a tough environment, for us as a party this (new situation) is not something we would have wanted, (but) it has moved the goal posts for us, and has provided a window for us as a party in terms of the party that was united, solid behind this cause – one which 16 million people supported – I think 16 million people are out there looking for leadership on the issue, and I think that is what we can provide. So let’s go for it and fight really hard for it.
When taking questions, Tom made a few points:
- Parliament is not involved in the invocation of Article 50. That is the business of the government.
- He thought it was possible that we will have an October election. Although Theresa May (assuming she leads the Tory party) is saying there won’t be a snap election, she may well call one when she assumes power.
- When asked by me how Theresa May could call such an early election with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in place, Tom said that if Theresa May committed her MPs to voting (or showing hands) for an early election it would be difficult for opposition MPs to not join in voting for such an election. Otherwise they would effectively be saying: “Tories please stay in power”, which seems implausible.