Why the campaign to ‘rejoin’ the European Union is misconceived – the campaign must make a positive and sustainable case for membership, regardless of Brexit and the past

10th January 2021

For many who were ‘Remainers’ the obvious next step is to become ‘Rejoiners’ with the object of ‘reversing Brexit’.

And in pursuing this object they will understandably point to the many misfortunes and problems that have been – and will be – caused by Brexit.

The hope, if not expectation, seems to be that the sheer accumulation of adverse evidence will mean that a sufficient people will see ‘what we have lost’ and this will lead to political pressure for the United Kingdom to quickly rejoin the European Union.

This approach may work – one lesson from the last five years is just how quickly politics can change, and in any direction.

But.

For the following three reasons, this blog submits that such an approach is misconceived and avers that a different approach should be adopted by those who want the United Kingdom to be a successful applicant for membership of the European Union.

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The first reason is that the emphasis on the ‘re-‘ in ‘rejoining’ – especially if that is based on relying on the adverse consequences of departure – is not a positive case for membership.

There needs to be more than the simple application of the pleasure-pain principle.

One feature of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union was that since at least the completion of the single market in 1992 there was never a positive case made for membership in frontline politics.

Instead, the two biggest political parties competed with each other as to which was the one that secured the more opt-outs, whether it be the Euro, the social chapter, free movement of peoples, justice and home affairs, or so on.

The case, if any, for the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union was that it was ‘less bad’ than any alternative.

This scepticism and often outright hostility was also a feature of much of the news reporting of the same period – and such was the lack of popular understanding of the role and nature of the European Union that it was easily made to blame for things for which it was not responsible.

And after twenty-five or so years of such negativity, it was perhaps more surprising that the 2016 referendum was so close than that the remain side lost.

It was not so much that the leave side won the 2016 referendum that the remain side lost.

This mistake should not be repeated.

The case for European Union should be a positive one – and that means that it should be a case based on the advantages that membership of the European Union will have for the United Kingdom.

What would be the benefits of membership of the European Union, which could not be attained in any other way?

For, as this blog was previously contended, those in favour of membership have a challenge.

Can you, for example, make out the case for the United Kingdom joining the European Union without reference to the fact that the United Kingdom was a member?

If a compelling case cannot be made for the United Kingdom in the here-and-now to become a member of the European Union then it is difficult, if not impossible. to see how sufficient political support can be achieved for a viable application for membership.

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The second reason is the United Kingdom is highly unlikely be able to ‘rejoin’ quickly.

The notion that somehow the European Union will gladly accept a United Kingdom quickly bouncing back and pretending nothing had changed is a fantasy.

Indeed, it is just a new variant form of British (or English) exceptionalism.

The new trade and cooperation agreement is structured for the medium to longer-term.

As I set out in this new Financial Times video, the agreement is a ‘broad…framework’ for discrete supplementary agreements over time, with any more significant shifts (either in the the direction of closeness or otherwise) being on a five-year review cycle.

 

And this accords with the five-year cycle on which the European Union conducts its own business.

We can no longer snap our fingers and demand immediate attention, loudly and in English.

The United Kingdom is now on the outside, looking in.

And as this blog has previously averred, the European Union will understandably want to take time to see if the internal politics of the United Kingdom have settled down in favour of membership of the European Union.

The European Union will not want to let the United Kingdom back in only to have to devote time and effort in dealing with another Brexit, like some geo-political Groundhog Day.

The European Union will also want to see what happens to the United Kingdom itself over the next few years: Irish unification? Scottish (or even Welsh) independence?

What will be the situation of the European Union and of the world in 2026? 2031? 

Therefore there not only needs to be a positive case for United Kingdom membership of the European Union, it has to be a sustainable case too.

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The third reason is that an emphasis on ‘rejoin’ and ‘reversing Brexit’ carries a real risk of campaigners eternally refighting the 2016 referendum.

Like some historical re-enactment society, but for the battle of Brexit rather than the battle of Naseby.

Of course, remainers are right to have grievances about the circumstances of the referendum and the conduct of the campaign(s) for leave.

Remainers also are right to complain about the process (or lack of process) that followed the referendum and which has resulted in the United Kingdom ceasing first to be a member of the European Union and then having the protection of the transition arrangements.

Nothing in this post should be taken to mean that that the politicians who have made serious misjudgments about law and policy should not be held to account – indeed that is one purpose of this blog.

But pointing out problems and failings, either now or back in 2016, is not going to lead to the United Kingdom becoming (again) a member of the European Union.

This is not only because it is difficult to get a sufficient number of voters engaged, and that government supporters and Brexiters are so deft at evasion and misdirection.

It is because there is a fundamental disconnect between problem and solution.

Whether the United Kingdom becomes (again) a member of the European Union in 2026 – or whenever – will not be a logical consequence of redressing the wrongs and of 2016 or even those emerging in 2021.

Membership of the European Union may be a prize, but it will not be a consolation prize.

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The task ahead for those in favour of the United Kingdom (again) becoming a member of the European Union is immense.

A positive case has to be made over time so that the European Union will seriously consider a fresh application.

But that is not an impossible task.

And at least, unlike the supposedly ‘pro-European’ politicians of the last thirty or forty years, this will be a positive case.

One problem with the politics of the United Kingdom in recent decades is that the positive case for membership of the European Union was rarely made.

Now is the opportunity for that to be put right.

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46 thoughts on “Why the campaign to ‘rejoin’ the European Union is misconceived – the campaign must make a positive and sustainable case for membership, regardless of Brexit and the past”

  1. Totally agree and it will probably take around 20 years to find out what the ”here and now” is. That will be when the finger pointing ( at least most of it ) will have long ceased and the UK ( in whatever form ) will have achieved some kind of normality outside of the EU. The EU itself will have evolved further by then of course and membership may or may not be obviously attractive.

  2. The UK (again) becoming a member of the EU ought not be seen as a panacea for our political/democratic ills. The conditions precedent to Brexit, its conduct and aftermath all occurred while still a Member. In parallel with making the positive case you postulate, there must therefore be a major effort to put our own house in order.

  3. Excellent: As a former course leader for three European Studies degrees at Durham (I retired in 2005!) I could make such a case. Where I think David is spot-on is his analogy of a Battle reenactment society.

    I fear that possibly for a generation any attempt to join the EU would be met with exactly that response, prejudice, and assorted other emotions and reasons like still waters, run deep. We will need a generation in which there is a great deal more dispassion regarding the subject than is presently the case, which as David argues, needs a cool, cold, calculating reason to make it.

    It can be done, I could do it, so could thousands of others, but I fear that making such a case will merely entrench the differences even more than they are currently entrenched.

    Time is a healer if, for no other reason than old people die, there will come a time in a decade is my best guess when this subject could be reopened and genuinely analysed as an alternative to splendid isolation. We have only been outwith the EU for 10 days, hardly long enough to give the isolationist free traders time to get their house in order, it might turn out okay although even though we are only 10 days into our freedom, a lot of people in NI are a bit worried and the Scottish fishermen are dumbfounded as to how leaving the EU and taking back control could leave them with a bigger catch, (well sort of) and nowhere to sell it. Minds can change but they can also become bloody-minded and ask a Scottish fisherman whose fault his predicament is and I warrant that the answer will be that the EU are to blame.

  4. David

    I agree. Although I see this Brexit as the result of manipulation, misrepresentation, outright mythology, and opportunism, I’ve been arguing for a long time the ONLY way to now bring ANY kind of consensus on the issue is to let Brexit play out.

    All the speculation and protestations in the world cannot beat the impact of experiencing the reality.

    Personally, I shall continue to call out the lies and misperceptions on both sides, but only to do my little bit to prevent either becoming unchallenged truths, rather than to make a case to rejoin, until and if, circumstances so dictate.

    1. Remainers are defending an indefensible 2016 position. As the writer points out the UK had so many opt outs it was barely membership at all. Cameron thought he could continue thus untenable situation and was plainly wrong.

  5. One of the things about civil war re-enactment societies is that it’s famously difficult to find people who want to play the part of the boring, efficient winners. They want to be the “romantic but wrong” side. I think that makes the re-enactment metaphor a very useful one.

    In the end, surely, what would win a campaign to join the EU is a feeling among the public that they’re missing out; that they want to be in a club that they’re excluded from. That seems to me to have been the big driver of accession to the EU, with the exception of the rush of formerly-communist states in the 1990s who had different drivers. Even in the 1970s, British accession was an eventual triumph after a series of setbacks.

    I don’t see a problem with a future in which there’s a pro-joining campaign running alongside a more official lobbying effort to try to get us to move closer via the CU, freedom of movement, then the Single Market and eventually even Schengen. None of those require membership but all would make the eventual jump easier and less disruptive.

    I think the key thing pro-EU campaigners should do is learn a lesson from the Euro-sceptics; focus on shifting the terms of the debate rather than trying to get everything at once. Get politicians campaigning for some of the benefits of the EU, without necessarily demanding immediate membership. Once the momentum got going, the shift from Leave being a pipe-dream to a reality happened very quickly, but I think only because the ground had been prepared by giving the public the idea that the EU was a negative.

    As a thought, the best thing that could happen for a re-join campaign might be for the UK to seek to move closer and then France to be seen to be resisting that. Make it something we’d be achieving against the odds.

      1. “Wrong but Wromantic” (1066 and All That). Yes, Remainers are now the mourning Cavaliers, Catholics, Jacobites, Left-Footers. “By which we know Remainers/Were of the old Profession/Their song was ‘An die Freude’/And their dances were Accession.”

        This may work to their advantage in the medium to long term, as Brexit becomes stale, the province of embittered old men endlessly reenacting the Battle of Britain and hanging out their washing on the Siegfried Line. The sheer intellectual and cultural barrenness of Brexit, the remorseless lies, its vindictive and persecuting spirit, will all surely tell against it in time, as of course will the economic damage of erecting barriers to trade with our neighbours.

        But this may take a long time, and by then it may be that UK membership of the EU, like the Stuart claim, is no longer a live option. To paraphrase Sellars & Yeatman again, we may find that the Europeans have changed the question, or that there is no longer a United Kingdom to answer it.

  6. Excellent post.

    One obstacle that (re)joiners will face is the requirement under the Maastricht Treaty to commit to joining the Euro.

    Not all those who were Remainers before Brexit happened would be willing to rejoin, given this requirement.

    And the potential loss of the pound would turbocharge the ‘sovereignty’ argument that has been deployed so effectively by Brexiters.

    In my view, rejoin campaigners will need to think very carefully about this . It probably will not be enough to say “Yes, we lose our monetary policy and the pound, but this will be outweighed by other benefits”. While that is a coherent position, it is not a positive one.

    1. Yup, this is the big one. I voted Remain and was deeply conscious of the fact that I was not making a very positive case for membership, but of one thing I was sure. Our ‘deal’ as members would never be replicated, and I wanted to keep the advantages of membership (considerable) without the Euro (which I have always seen as a folly and is still only 20 year’s old so any judgment as to its long-term wisdom is premature). As I see things now, joining the Euro is not something I could support. A ‘rejoin’ campaign without years of hard miles spent making a positive case would be a fool’s errand. Best start on years of Swiss-style tinkering, which us ‘pragmatic’ Brits should be good at, eh?

    2. This is a key point, but there’s more as the UK would need to show “the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”

      https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/conditions-membership_en

      The UK would need a succession of governments over a 15-20 year period sufficiently committed to the “European project” to stay the course of making and sustaining the required alignments.
      Neither of the major parties is going into the next election on a platform of “Aligning with the EU”, so it’s likely to be at least 10 years before the UK can start the process

      One might also ponder what additional (internal) criteria French governments might apply to determine if the UK was suitable for membership.

      1. One might need to consider exactly what the EU would require such a sustained period of stability to look like.

        The EU generally works on a government-to-government basis, but given the specific memory of Brexit would there be a demand (either formally or informally) for evidence of a settled and determined position among the citizenry, and not just within government? The spectre of a repeat won’t be an enticing one. Or alternatively, would there be a demand for reassurance from the UK that the question be absolutely kept away from the hands of the electorate next time?

        Either option would throw up extra issues to navigate.

  7. There may be an alternative for the UK. Like a person who steps back from a high powered job to get more work life balance. Of course, they will be poorer but hopefully happier. UK could build a much more just country, that in time the EU might even admire.

  8. As usual, a very thoughtful and helpful analysis.
    It seems to me that in the medium term we must focus on improving our relationship with the EU within the mechanisms of the new framework. If we can start to rebuild some areas of mutual cooperation that we have just abandoned, and also reduce some of the new non-tariff barriers to trade that we have just erected, we might gradually build a more positive climate that could lead towards eventual readmission. But in the immediate future we must also brace ourselves for another blast of Euroscepticism, because all the hidden disadvantages of non-membership that will emerge over the coming months are likely to be blamed on the wicked EU rather than confessed to by the Brexiteers and their cheerleaders.

  9. True enough. Before presenting any such request, the UK needs to want to get back in. A period of rapprochement would therefore seem a sensible pre-requisite. And before that a period of learning just what the EU is about- (consumers rather than political subjects as Perry Anderson suggests?).

    But, apart from Thatcher’s Single Market initiative, for which she had a limited & singular aim, what evidence is there that before leaving We tried to change the Aim, the direction or processes of the EU? Were we only ever present as the smoking sixteen year olds sniggering at the back of the bus? If so, then why did we not jump at the chance of leading the second tier of a two tier Europe?

  10. Excellent points. The irony is indeed that before we can think about (re)joining the EU, we need to accept and get over that we’ve left. Asides from the EU perspective, I don’t think the British public, even many of those who voted Remain, look to kindly on Continuity Remain arguments and refighting battles from 2016.

    When the post-Brexit and post-COVID landscape solidifies, many of the arguments from 2016 will no longer be relevant although some may become reinforced. Making a positive case for being a member is no bad thing. It’s a shame (for me) that it took leaving for that to happen.

  11. Brexit was always a distraction from more important issues. Brejoin would be a further distraction. Let’s see how we get on dealing with some of the important issues before we expend more time and energy on ‘the Europe issue’. (I believe dealing with some of those issues will be more difficult because of Brexit, but there you are.)

    Probably we will only rejoin when the difference between being in and being out seems inconsequential and there is broad consensus to do so. In that time Britain (whatever that becomes) and the EU will probably both have to change. I am guessing rejoining is 20 or 30 years away.

  12. Another aspect (or rather barrier) for the re-join campaign it that any new membership would be nowhere near the previous basis with all the opt outs. I think this alone makes it much harder to make a success of the re-join campaign.

  13. There will be no UK to join anything in 5 years.

    Scotland will be an independent country and member of the EU within 3 years.

    Northern Ireland will have combined/joined/entered mutual pact with Ireland within 18 months and therefore be a member of the EU by default.

    Wales will have had its referendum and voted for independence and made an application to the EU to join.

    England – who will remember or care about England.

    1. I don’t expect Wales will be independent. It might be that England having a border directly with the EU, between Berwick and Gretna, might focus the mind more than the current UK border with the EU in Ireland has done. I will never forget the ignorami leaders of the Brexiteers downplaying this as an issue before and after the referendum – Johnson for instance saying the Irish border was no different to that between the London Boroughs of Westminster and Kensington, or David Davies talking about the “internal border” in Ireland.

  14. I agree that we should not seek to quickly return to the EU, even if it were possible, but what should we do instead? The country is split in two, and that’s not going away anytime soon, despite the exhortations of those politicians responsible for splitting it. We are not heading for the healing, balmy atmosphere of the sunlit uplands, but for never-ending rounds of negotiation & renegotiation with the EU.
    My fears are twofold: that we will not aim for the most rational path (whatever that is), but for a politics driven by resentment & confrontation. My second fear is that we will fail to put our own house in order: whatever your views on Europe, the past four years of politics have been an unholy mess. Our voting system, and our infinitely malleable and corruptible constitution are long overdue for reform. The likelyhood, though, is that reform will not happen (because reform is hard), and we are set for a long, slow decline.

  15. This is good – and makes sense. I say that as someone who once considered himself a mild ‘eurosceptic’ (wary of concentrations of power) but who voted Remain because there was no coherent plan for Leaving.

    After we left – and before May imposed her disastrous red lines without parliamentary consultation – I argued for something like EEA/EFTA. My understanding from experts was that those structures may not be entirely suitable. One such expert, Andrew Duff, called for a close association agreement.

    I am glad we avoided no deal (that would have been a catastrophe). I am glad also that we have a thin association agreement instead because it will make it easier for people to see what we have thrown away. Now we need to do what should have been done four years ago – before recklessly triggering Article 50 with no coherent plan.

    We need to work out not just what we want from our relationship with the EU but what we need.

    What is in our strategic interest? What structure do we want the UK to have in 20-30 years time? What do the industries that deliver real value to our economy need to continue to function effectively? How do we raise productivity – how do we ‘level up’ – how do we tackle the social ills that afflict the UK and (honestly) how can our relationship with the EU affect our ambitions to tackle any of these issues.

    I don’t have the answers – but I think the consultation processes in the TCA will act as a long slow ratchet to a form of closer integration. However, I can’t see how we can ‘rejoin’ (and can’t make a case for it) – not least since for a true ‘rejoining’ to happen both parties would need to have ‘remained’ the same – but that it not the case. Brexit has fundamentally changed the economic, social and political dynamics of the UK – and has done something similar within the EU. “You can’t step in the same stream twice.”

    At some point – 20-30 years from now – we might join something EU-ish – but before then we are more likely to co-create something EEA/EFTA-ish. I don’t have the answers – I don’t know what that will involve – but I hope it means restoring our children’s Freedom of Movement rights while strengthening the economy, democracy and the rule of law across the UK and the EU in the process.

    @HuwSayer

  16. David, your essential thesis is as sound as always – never fight the next war by the rules or doctrines of the previous one and don’t expect to win hearts and minds by saying what you’re against – rather what you are FOR.
    It’s almost impossible to set out a detailed case for (re)joing the EU at the moment, let alone one that was likely to be successful for the excellent reasons you present, that we have little idea of what the overall environment is likely to be in five or ten years time.
    However, based on recent observations and post-1945 history, here are some things we can reasonably expect:

    1) The UK as currently constituted will no longer exist. Most likely, the people of Northern Ireland will have voted for closer political union with the Republic and highly likely the people of Scotland will have voted fairly decisively for independence.
    2) The UK will continue to struggle with basic productivity with loss of competititiveness exacerbated by the higher trade barriers and extra structural costs imposed by Brexit.
    3) There will be greater realisation that the reasons why the UK has suffered so badly from the coronavirus pandemic are largely the same that explain reversing life expectancy trends here almost uniquely in Western Europe – basic shortcomings in the Anglo-Saxon capitalist model with its emphases on shareholder value and short-term returns on investment.
    4) The emergence of a ‘brain drain’ similar to that witnessed during the 1960s and early 1970s, with those that can fleeing the UK to work under much better social and employment conditions in Europe.
    5) Long term declines in inward investment, the balances of trade and an ever widening current account deficit leading to higher taxation, atrophying public services and increased general poverty.
    6) A worldwide trend away from unfettered globalisation and towards greater localism and protectionism, principally driven by increasing resentment and distrust between China and the West, as well as environmental pressures.

    Against such a background, how might Brexit play out in practice and how might the UK’s relationship with the EU evolve?

    My own belief is that it will be shaped most vigorously by the imperatives to confront the growing climate emergency and the ever more painful challenges imposed by an insurgent Russia and an increasingly threatening China. All of these will demand multilateral action and the EU forms our nearest, strongest and most available ally. To that extent, we will find ourselves seeking ‘ever closer union’.

    There will also be daily comparisons to be made. The UK outside the EU has been more nimble in approving vaccines and securing initial stocks but it remains to be seen whether our long term deployment campaign will be more successful than theirs. We can already say with some confidence that the UK economy will be worse hit by COVID than any in the EU.

    In the end, the motives to join the EU will be much the same as they were in 1962 – that a proud and independent England will be shown to have neither the competitiveness nor the scale to succeed as a stand-alone economic power and needs to be part of a trading bloc, trading sovereingny for efficiencies and economies of scale.

    So, the putative bare bones of a positive campaign to join the EU might be based on preferring co-operation with European neighbours to confrontation, on once again having the rights to travel, live, work and love across the beautiful continent of Europe, on shaping a greener society together and on seeking mutual protection and support in an increasingly threatening and unfriendly world.

    Incidentally, I’m interested to see that you seem to have been on something of a journey here. My understanding was always that you came from a deeply Eurosceptic background, as a former colleague of Daniel Hannan as research assistants to Bill Cash MP. Is that incorrect?

  17. DAG – your argument is good, but it is predicated on the UK remaining a Union and thus applying to rejoin as the UK. This may well not be certain. I believe the EU would look kindly on the Scots making an application. NI may be subsumed into an all island Ireland with a “dowry” over a decade from London and subsidies from the EU as happened with Germany. England and its unfortunate Principality of Wales would take a generation of economic decline and slow realisation of its true standing in the world before applying to rejoin the bloc which it left in arrogance and hubris.

    1. No, it is not predicated on this – I expressly refer to the union issue.

      Please do read the post before commenting!

  18. There is a clear case to be made for EU membership, for a similar variety of reasons that drove our frustrated desire to join in the 1960s and our successful accession in the 1970s – trade, travel, work, levering political power as a big player in a larger unit, solidarity, peace. The Euro is a distraction – there is little prospect that EU states such as Denmark (who have an opt out) or Sweden, Poland, Hungary, etc (who don’t) will join the EU any time soon.

    However, I recognise the fact that the UK will be outside the EU for at least a decade and probably two. We will be joining afresh, and that probably means no new opt outs. As you say, the politics in the UK and the EU will require us to see how things work out, and for a positive desire for EU membership to emerge in the UK. And then accession talks might take several years. Five to ten years after applying might be realistic.

    (To pick an example helpfully provided by Wikipedia, Estonia left the USSR in 1991, reached a free trade agreement with the EU in 1994, applied for membership in 1995, started accession talks in 1998 which concluded in 2002, and joined in 2004. They only adopted the Euro in 2011. But for example, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been in accession talks for over a decade; Turkey since 1987.)

    I spent almost my entire life with the UK in the EEC and then the EU, but I will probably be retired, and my children will probably spend most of their twenties and thirties outside the EU, and I deeply regret they will miss many of the opportunities I had to travel and work elsewhere in Europe.

  19. Very helpful, thanks.
    It seems to me that the key point is that time is needed to see if the dire predictions that we Remainers made turn out to be correct. That’s likely to take a minimum of five years.

  20. I think at present it’s too hard to predict. In the immediate future : what will the effect of a Biden Presidency be on a Government which is now desperately trying to pretend that it didn’t cosy up to Trump? This may help to show that Britain really isn’t the big power that it is kidding itself it still is.

    What further moves will there be towards Scottish Independence?This will I think come to a head within the next four years.

    It took 15 years from the Berlin Wall coming down to some E European states joining, so perhaps this could be taken as a realistic time scale?

  21. After initial difficulties, businesses will adapt to life outside the single market and customs union. There may be queues at Dover and Calais in the way there are at the Turkey/Bulgaria border, but life will go on for many people without much disruption. The UK will be a bit poorer and the pound a bit weaker than if the UK had stayed in the EU, but once the COVID crisis is over economic growth will resume. The argument that people would have been better off had the UK remained in the EU, no matter how true, will struggle to make headway given that the likes of The Sun, The Daily Mail and Daily Express will continue in their Europhobic vein. Brexit will make us poorer than we would otherwise have been, rather than poorer than we are now. As the polls show, while a majority of voters probably think Brexit was a mistake, that would not translate into a vote to rejoin were a referendum to be held.

    In any event, the next general election, barring unforeseen events, won’t take place until 2024 and Labour won’t be campaigning to rejoin. The Liberal Democrats support renewed UK membership in the long term, but even a good result for them in 2024 would only be a small step in the campaign to rejoin. It is also easier to make the case not to leave the EU than to join it. If Scotland had voted in 2014 to leave the UK, it would be very difficult now to argue that Scotland should rejoin it. However, that doesn’t mean that a vote for independence in any future referendum is a foregone conclusion.

    As rejoining in the short term is politically impossible, then it is very much a case in the long term of putting forward ‘a positive and sustainable case for membership, regardless of Brexit and the past’, as you suggest, and to build on the possibilities that TCA the provides for a closer relationship, though the current government is more likely to pursue divergence. It will be noticed by some UK citizens that their friends and colleagues with Irish passports or EU settled status retain free movement in the EU/EEA and so can do things that those who only hold a UK passport cannot. Whether there are enough of such people to make an impact remains to be seen, but the negative effect on UK citizens of the loss of free movement rights is significant. So there will be some pressure to move towards a closer relationship with the EU, but I fear that we shall need a change of government for that to happen.

  22. As a rule of life, it is generally a bad idea to look, or go, back. Consider what happened to Orpheus and Eurydice.

  23. I do not believe that attempts to reverse Brexit in the shorter term can or should be made, for all the very cogent reasons advanced.

    But I was a bit concerned to read a piece in the Telegraph on 9 January 21 by Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope (Operation Bleach, 9 January 2021, 21:30). This stated that Boris Johnson has “secretly ordered civil servants to strip references to the European Union from thousands of laws to stop Labour reversing Brexit after the next general election in a plan known as “Operation Bleach”.

    Officials have been tasked with leafing through regulations and statutory instruments covering the UK’s 40 year membership of the EU so that Brexit is cemented in UK law and cannot be easily unwound by a future government.”

    Not being a legal expert, and therefore unable to judge whether such a process really could tie the hands of an incoming government, should I be worried?

  24. The Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph will continue in their Europhobic vein, but how much purchase will it retain? The easy excuses of ‘The EU won’t let us’, or ‘The EU makes us’ are now gone. Johnson has his deal, which was all that mattered in the Brexit mind. Although the EU will still be blamed for long queues when going on holiday.

    1. Not to mention the shock horror if we ditch EU-developed employment and consumer law. If my very Brexiteer postman loses his job, or his washing machine warranty proves unenforceable, who will he blame?

  25. I agree strongly with all of this. It is worth adding, however, that the strength of pro-European sentiment displayed between 2016 and 2020 – most obviously in the size and character of the London marches, but in plenty of other ways, suggests that there is a much larger and firmer reservoir of pro-European conviction, and sense of European identity, than most political assessments, including yours here, allow for. Probably rightly, in that it has not proved easy to translate it into effective political action, and that is unlikely to change soon. But it does suggest that those who share it might be a great deal more positive than they have been in the past about the political and cultural case for being in Europe instead of just banging on about trade – which is hardly going to be necessary for some time. And suggests that we should be able to make a case, both domestically and to the EU, that “ever closer union” can and should be pursued on many fronts without any presumption as to the point at which it would necessarily entail membership of the EU.

    1. I think the pro European movement masked alot of anti Tory/Farage/Johnson/Murdoch sentiment. The EU was in many ways a totem of the division in society. In reality I have come to terms with not belonging to the EU political project but not quite the pointless practical problems leaving the EU will continue to cause.

  26. I agree generally.

    The substance of the campaign to join should be:

    (1) the core values of EU membership: peace, freedom, democracy, solidarity, working together (pooling sovereignty) to solve common problems – based on a recognition of shared values across member states; and

    (2) lots of cool benefits that come to individuals from membership, like freedom of movement, the Euro, Erasmus, European Youth orchestra &c (those campaigners who do not see these as benefits should perhaps question how far they are pro-EU campaigners, as opposed to seeking some form of association agreement, a respectable but different position).

    Do not mention trade and the economy. This is an argument with a proven record of failure. Further, if it did succeed in persuading anyone then it would set up a basis for half-hearted membership that wished it had joined something else.

    To get there will of course need a – 30 year – campaign about the EU, both positive in itself and fighting misinformation. A sort of UKIP in reverse, though without the dishonesty.

    But it will also need a sustained reckoning with British exceptionalism that holds that we are above other countries.

    So that means rethinking the British Empire as a shameful period, seeing World War II primarily as a failure of international relations, addressing the history of Northern Ireland as a failure of statecraft that led to Europe’s longest and deadliest terrorist insurgency, fixing the constitution and so on.

    The Germans call it Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Dealing with the past.

    We cannot be a whole-hearted member of the club until we have sorted out our own psyche.

  27. I think it’s misguided to attempt to rejoin. People need to think what they want out of the relationship to the EU and push for that. I think many resent the removal of freedom of movement and are irked by the political victory of charlatans like Farage and Johnson. We can defeat the charlatans and look towards an association that fulfills single market, fom benefits. Are people really wedded to the EU as a political entity? I’m not sure, I’m not sure many Europeans are but there are clear benefits to it’s existence.

  28. It’s definitely true that many, wrongly in my view, assume that it is simply up to the UK and if it wanted to join the EU it would simply ask. So much damage has been done by the current UK government to EU/UK relations it seems unlikely that such a request would be met with open arms at least until such a time as the current leading lights in the conservative party are no longer serious contenders for government.

    Personally I don’t expect the UK in it’s current form will ever join the EU. More likely is Irish reunification, Scottish independence, greater devolved powers for Wales & English regions. This will then lead ultimately to the smaller nations of Scotland, (Wales/England) joining the EU. It’s a 20-30 year goal in my view, much more upset for the UK to come in the intervening years.

  29. We are now on the outside – very much so.

    I think we should consider the question ‘are there any circumstances in which the EU would accept the UK back?’. I think the answer is no, not for 10 or 20 or 40 years. We have shot our bolt and will have to live outside, effectively forever. The EU is unlikely ever to find itself wanting us back – at least for a century or more.

    The reason is the slow shift of global power. Currently this seems moving toward the East as the West settles into becoming passive consumers and more services and industry moves east. The EU as a bloc may be able to hold off the worst effects for a long time. Seeing a competitor emasculate itself must be a considerable pleasure for EU strategists, something to be savoured for a long time.

    Some in UK politics have long sought an alliance with the USA. Somehow I don’t think this will now work. The US has the same shift eastwards problem and lining up with a little island with diminished links with Europe does not look much of a bargain. That moment has passed. Our more vigorous business types will of course make the most of business opportunities eastwards – but the UK will see little of the profits.

  30. Thank you, good article.
    It is the first British article acknowledging rejoining involves 2 parties, UK and EU.

    What I still miss, but maybe I didn’t read carefully enough, is as the UK has to make a ‘business case’ for rejoining, the EU will (need to) make one as well.
    In other words rejoining is not a decision solely in British hands no matter how good the UK’s business case might be.

  31. My first comment I believe, but David’s thoughts are always valid and I have valued his input throughout the whole sorry adventure.
    This one hits the nail on the head and should be read by every pro EU citizen in the UK.

  32. > “The third reason is that an emphasis on ‘rejoin’ and ‘reversing Brexit’ carries a real risk of campaigners eternally refighting the 2016 referendum.”

    We won’t be eternally refighting the 2016 referendum, we’ll be eternally refighting the 1975 referendum.

    All the remainers talking about a 2nd referendum made a hideous framing error (or fell into the trap of brexiters), and it should always have been referred to as the 3rd referendum. We’ve reached one-all, best out of three. By failing to get the framing right, Farage was allowed to endlessly repeat, “what are we just going to have another, and then another?” when of course that is exactly what the europhobes were allowed to do!

    So no we won’t be eternally refighting 2016, we will be refighting 1975, after the the scab was forced open.

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