ANDREW ADONIS: Sorry Financial Times, but I’m no traitor

Robert Shrimsley, editorial director of the Financial Times. Photo: Getty

Robert Shrimsley, editorial director of the Financial Times. Photo: Getty - Credit: Archant

ANDREW ADONIS on ignoring the Financial Times and why we should march for a People's Vote

It turns out that I am personally responsible for the Brexit chaos. In the opinion of no less an organ than the Financial Times, it is my activities, and those of fellow campaigners for a People's Vote, which are plunging the country into chaos.

I am not joking. After writing a column last week condemning the people's vote as destabilising, and calling on the government simply to get on and agree the best deal going (whatever that is), Robert Shrimsley, the editorial director of the FT, turned his attention to me. 'He is fighting to ensure as chaotic and hopeless a Brexit as possible to bolster the chance of a second referendum. That's playing chicken with people's lives every bit as much as the hard Brexiters,' he wrote.

Shrimsley, a campaigning journalist by FT standards, returned to the charge a day later to accuse me of undermining the government's position because I have called for the 'backstop' to avoid a new border in Ireland to be as robust as necessary. 'Peer of the realm encourages other EU governments to make it harder for UK to get a Brexit deal,' he tweeted.

I refute these charges, particularly the claim of virtual treason in the last one. The suggestion that, as the price of a Brexit deal, the UK should create a harder border in Ireland, is not just untrue but dangerous. Just ask the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who has said precisely that.

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The point is that all Theresa May's current Brexit options, from Chequers to Canada+++, necessitate a harder border in Ireland because they require new and onerous border and immigration controls at the new external border of the EU – ie the Northern Irish border.

Indeed, the UK's post-Brexit immigration policy recently announced by May, banning lower wage immigrants from the EU, means the existing Irish backstop is itself not strong enough. It requires Northern Ireland to stay in the customs union and parts of the single market. But unless it also includes a continuing legal guarantee of freedom of movement throughout Ireland for all EU citizens, the Irish border will rapidly become a source of massive illegal immigration into the UK. This will necessitate new border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland, a further crisis issue coming to be appreciated in Dublin and Brussels.

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Shrimsley's claims are contemptuous. But more significant is what underlies them – a mixture of selfishness and defeatism which characterises the British Establishment at its very worst, when treating with other people's jobs and lives. Ironically, it is London's liberal metropolitan elite who will survive Brexit best, since they have the most secure jobs and greatest prosperity to start with.

The fear of a large part of the Establishment – led by the FT and the CBI, which has been pathetically weak on Brexit – is of continuing political argument over Brexit, and the possibility of serious uncertainty caused by a new referendum. They would rather cut and run and do the best they can to save their own skins.

This defeatism is heightened by the fact that most journalists and staff at the FT and the CBI, and their like, barely know or understand most of the country in which they live, particularly the farther reaches from London. And they are deeply afraid of them. Ask any of them when they last visited Northern Ireland, and whether they have travelled the Irish border – something I hadn't done either until Brexit, and which transformed my understanding of the imperative to resist Brexit in the interests of Ireland alone. And that's before we get anywhere near the equally critical issues of trade and European security.

The key point isn't that I either want, or have the power to bring about, a 'chaotic and hopeless' Brexit' – rather that any of the Brexit deals on offer would be 'chaotic and hopeless.'

Faced with this crisis, what is the right thing to do? To find a way out, and to put that before parliament and the people. Which is precisely what I and so many others are doing. None of us are traitors, so far as I am aware.

So ignore the FT and its defeatism, which smacks of appeasement in the 1930s. Stand up for the right. Help to save the country from Brexit. And turn out this Saturday and march for a People's Vote!

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