Time for a fresh entente cordiale says Andrew Adonis
PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 January 2018
With Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson conceding Brexit is no longer inevitable, politics are catching up with reality, says Andrew Adonis, and we need allies.
This week, Emmanuel Macron met our Prime Minister for a tour of Sandhurst and a discussion about the future of UK-French military co-operation.
Our elite military academy – genuinely the envy of the world – is a smart choice of venue. It remains a symbol of British excellence and of the enduring, unique benefits that we bring to our global alliances. Despite the recent furore over branding and marketing, the British Army’s motto – ‘Be the Best’ – remains entirely apt.
For advocates of Britain’s place in Europe, however, the hope is that President Macron will leave our shores with more than a renewed sense of our military prowess.
A firm and ardent believer in a strong, united Europe – as a counter-weight to the threats of Russia and of Islamic fundamentalism, both of which France has painful recent experience of – Macron must use this visit to see and to understand that the tragedy of Brexit is not a ‘done deal’ and that the fight has not gone out of the movement for a Britain in Europe.
That is not to say that this country will suffer the status-quo gladly. Britain faces a social crisis, afflicting the poorer cities and regions of our country, which clinched the referendum result for Brexit as millions protested their neglect by the elite in London.
As the son of a poor Cypriot immigrant into Britain, I understand this profound sense of alienation. Having become a parliamentarian, and therefore part of the ‘Establishment’, I admit our collective failure to understand the plight of those in this country who didn’t go to university and get well-paid jobs, and whose children are faced with declining living standards. We have let them bear the brunt of the rebalancing act between the West and the developing world which we call ‘globalisation’.
It is a big mistake to patronise those who voted for Brexit as if they were ignorant or misinformed.
Today’s social crisis is ours to own, with humility. But resolving the justified anger of disenfranchised British people does not require Brexit, in fact Brexit will get in the way of the reform that we need and create opportunity costs along the way.
Theresa May’s Farageist ‘hard Brexit’ is alienating not only the British business community but swathes of moderate voters and a majority of young people. It is also leading to a crisis on the island of Ireland because of the near universal determination, in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to avoid a ‘hard border’. Meanwhile, millions who voted to Leave are growing worried that their needs and expectations are being ignored in favour of a Brexit pursued in the interests of speculators and spivs.
The politics are catching up with this reality. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – the two politicians who can most claim the referendum result as their own and who both have a rare insight into the public’s psyche – now concede that Brexit is not inevitable.
Whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been reluctant to commit to a firm, pro-Remain position it increasingly speaks tentatively but warmly about the possibility of a fresh and final vote to let the British people decide on whatever deal Theresa May brings back from Brussels – with the option for us to stay back on the table.
Meanwhile, opinion polls have for months now shown a majority against Brexit and there has been a surge of support for continued EU membership among young and middle-aged people.
What Britain needs now is a radically reforming government in the tradition of Clement Attlee, Britain’s great post-war social democratic leader, and indeed in the spirit of President Macron. As in France, we have a crisis of epic proportions in housing, education, healthcare, employment, and the incessant rise of social and regional inequalities. All this is feeding populism and undermining the fabric of our nation at its very core.
President Macron’s victory over nationalism in the French elections – alongside the Labour Party’s stunning successes in our recent General Election – show that while our people demand change, they can be persuaded of positive reform over pessimistic retreat, of solidarity over cynicism.
With colleagues across parties, I am working to develop a blueprint for the kinds of radical reform which – within the EU – can help our country to overcome the alienation and anger that led to the referendum result.
Real action and real answers will be crucial if we hope ever to change people’s minds.
As the president reviews our troops and considers his great country’s future relationship with Britain today, pro-Europeans like me ask him simply to keep an open mind.
Do not write us off just yet. As he has done in France, so we seek to do here; to deliver the change that people need and to show that the EU can be the friend of opportunity and fairness. This is a time for humility, purpose, imagination and courage – all attributes that President Macron has demonstrated in his domestic agenda.
We need him – and all our European friends and allies – to take that approach now. To show sensitivity and understanding, yes, but also to persevere.
This fight is not over yet and we advocates of Britain in Europe need President Macron to be ready and willing to join us in the trenches soon.