Imagine reading this situations vacant advert:
“Wanted: A leader for the British European Party”.
Yes, reader, you are right, there is no such party. But should there be one and, If so, what should it look like?
As conference season draws to a close, we have confirmation that none of the three major UK-wide political parties is willing to debate the consequences of Brexit or articulate and promote a credible global vision for the UK, let alone one that incorporates its return to the European mainstream.
To the controlling elements of the Conservative government this would be anathema. To the Labour Party, “there is no case” for rejoining the customs union or the single market, let alone the EU itself – a formulation all the more extraordinary in having emanated from its leader, a distinguished lawyer for whom the weighing up and prosecution of evidence is second nature. For the Lib Dems, the supposedly pro-Europe party, near-silence on this subject is justified by its Leader’s belief that “voters aren’t talking about Brexit”.
The consequence of these attitudes is that around 60% of the electorate, and a far higher percentage of young people, who would all prefer a reversal of Brexit, are unrepresented in parliament on this critical issue.
And critical it most certainly is. To give the lie to Ed Davey’s “justification”, the UK’s relations with Europe impact profoundly on all the policy areas uppermost in the minds of the public.
Cost-of-living and the condition of public services are directly affected by Brexit’s damage to trade and the wider economy. Security and defence are undermined by the reduction in structured dialogue and cooperation with our European neighbours.
Finding solutions to the massive issue of migration – the ever-growing human tide flowing towards Europe – is an impossibility without pan-European collaboration. Similar connections can self-evidently be made in other most important areas of public concern, including climate change, health, science, the digital revolution, education, culture and the arts.
Momentum for a comprehensive re-think of the UK’s relations with Europe is growing apace, as data on Brexit’s damage to the UK compound on all fronts. Membership of the European Movement UK has increased by around 20% over the past nine months. Other cross-party, pro-European groupings such as Best for Britain, Grassroots for Europe, the Rejoin March and Where Next Following Brexit? are also expanding their impact on public opinion.
Against this background, the time seems right to begin a debate on whether there is a need for a new political party to fill the huge gap between public opinion and political inertia on this fundamental subject. A party for everyone who is at ease with being both British and European: say, The British European Party (BEP). To begin this debate here are a few broad brush ideas on what BEP might look like:
Core mission: To secure the UK’s future within a union of European nations.
Core beliefs: To enable the UK to play a far more significant role in both European and global affairs. The world, for the foreseeable future, will be dominated by regional blocs and the UK will suffer from exclusion.
Tone: A combination of patriotism and collaboration. The new BEP would be patriotic in striving for the best outcomes for the UK, while seeking to contribute substantially to the shaping of our continent. BEP would believe in the limited pooling of sovereignty for the common good, as both a productive and noble cause. It would also believe in the special importance of the historical, geographical and cultural connections between European countries, as well as in the EU’s fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
Political stance: Centrist and Diverse: BEP would seek support and candidates from across all political parties, especially those who feel unrepresented because of their pro-Europeanism. Dynamic: BEP would seek to increase public understanding of the European Union and to shape as well as respond to public opinion. Optimistic: BEP would make it clear that a politically renewed UK, reflecting settled and substantial pro-European public opinion, would be warmly welcomed into a new European union, most of all as a huge endorsement of the noble cause and corresponding disincentive to any other country ever contemplating exit.
Policy: To start negotiations with the EU, after and in the light of the 2024 UK and EU elections, for a special and new UK/EU relationship, which over an agreed timetable would include the UK rejoining both the Single Market and the Customs Union, as well as enhancing collaboration in all the policy areas mentioned above. To achieve the core mission by 2030/35.
Timing: The greatest care would be needed in judging the optimum timing for the launch of BEP.
Leader: Please make yourself known.