The Observer (12 February 2023) reported a secret cross-party summit at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. The aim apparently was “to confront the failings of Brexit”. We know nothing of outcomes of this event, nor what might be its ramifications?
‘Remoaners’ should own the title with pride, for there is much complain about. The rightist label likely took its cue from the ‘Moaning Minnies’ once targeted by Margaret Thatcher. The slight was directed at the north of England when, in 1985, protestors had the audacity to complain about the impact of her policies. As the present generation pays the price for much of Thatcher’s policies, so Brexit seems to be heading the same way, and much faster. “We told you so!”
We are contemplating nothing less than the futures of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and their relations with each other, and with the European Union. The summit meeting so far has generated few political ripples and no declared outcomes, but it should not be allowed to pass, and it is foolish to speculate. What is significant is that this ‘mysterious’ event took place at all!
Around the time of the Referendum of 23 June 2016, we Remoaners took cues from august bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, HM Treasury, the Bank of England, the Big Four Accounting Firms, EU bodies themselves, the Financial Times and more. Such bodies, not known for radical leftie opinions, understand global economics well enough to express informed opinions. Brexit would be problematic or worse, and they proved to be right.
We ‘Traitors of England’ were well-informed, for we quoted economic forecasts warning the populace of impending problems. Campaigning online, or in person, to avoid exiting the EU was seldom smooth. Many of us were faced with anger for expressing an internationalist agenda. We have been shouted at, spat at and experienced serious and unacceptable abuse. This could be particularly unpleasant if the recipient was female. Even when detractors could string a sentence together, it was often sheer, unfounded prejudice against the ‘experts’ for not knowing what they were about.
Moaning might be indulgent at times, but not in this case when the impact on people and their livelihoods is so damaging. Lord Heseltine uses articles from the Daily Telegraph to attack stubborn Leavers such as Richard Tice and Isobel Oakshot; the Tory ‘house journal’ sent a salvo of warning shots. Probably the best-known revelation is from none other than the Bank of England, namely that households are £1,000 of per year worse off because of Brexit.
So, is the Observer and its sister daily the Guardian reporting a bombshell from within an Oxfordshire mansion – or a damp squib? The summit aimed “to confront the failings of Brexit” and is asked “How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?” Amongst the attendees, readers will recognise both seasoned Leavers and Remainers: David Lammy, Michael Howard, Norman Lamont, Gisela Stewart, John Healy, Lord Mandelson, representatives of GlaxoSmithKline, Goldman Sachs, the Treasury, NATO, and Michael Gove.
The last-named Michael Gove of course cannot be trusted; has he really changed his position or is it a volte face just to favour his own interests? Remember the ‘backstabbing’ claim in one notorious Tory party leadership contest?Is it conceivable that he may yet work to return us to the EU in some way? There is no suggestion of this, but we live in interesting times.
‘Fixers’ since Liam Fox have boasted of new trade deals, yet most ’deals’ claimed on behalf of recent Tory governments were copies of what UK already had as an EU member. Excluding energy costs, Covid and the Ukraine war, UK still underperforms against comparable countries.
Friction-free trade with the bloc was the great trading benefit of EU Membership. Rishi Sunak can claim that the recently brokered Irish Border deal will not only solve a serious political problem, but will yield an economic dividend? Time will tell.
Ultimately it is people’s economic circumstances that condition their viewpoint, whether they realise it or choose to ignore it. After all, US President Bill Clinton popularised the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” as a mantra. UK plc is in a dire situation and may yet go into official recession. Opinion polls seem to suggest that a referendum to rejoin the EU has majority support, as the economy looks like tanking.
In any case, the big ideas of the political right have landed us in trouble and their attempts at attacks on democratically placed public institutions are failing. Readers will be familiar with their plots. They tried to prorogue (shut down) Parliament when it suited. In one newspaper, senior judges were called “Enemies of the People”. The BBC was attacked and accused of left-wing bias. Rights to peaceful protest may be reduced and trades union activity curtailed. The government tried to get away with these, but fixing Brexit will mean preventing much of this!
The United Kingdom has flirted with narrow nationalism and the result is hitting people in their pockets. It is important that many in the main political parties are at least acknowledging that Brexit has been a catastrophe.
At some point soon the UK, or its component parts, will re-align to re-join the most successful economic bloc in history, enjoying again the pax Europa. Creating a forward looking, progressive state locked into a Union that seeks to look after all its citizens and uphold human rights and liberties is the best we can bequeath to future generations.
As if all this is not enough, the meeting was reported in The Tatler, of all things. Something is going on, and there is much to moan about! It would help if you and I knew something more of this secret meeting.