About 70 people came to the meeting at the Newington Green Unitarian Church on 7 July. People were asked to form smaller discussion groups of about 8 people and appoint one member (in each case a woman) to report back to the group on their conclusions.
With the help of Nick Fisher of Hook Research, I asked people to discuss and identify their main priority as to what aspect of EU membership they would like to retain in the negotiations. There was a wide range of priorities identified, including:
- retaining freedom of movement;
- retaining EEA membership roughly along the free-trade “Norway model”;
- continued protection of the environment,
- promoting understanding between people in the UK and understanding why they voted leave or remain;
- preserving the economy;
- the importance of facts and information in politics;
- international engagement and cooperation; and
- avoiding war or violence in Europe, particularly Northern Ireland
I also asked people what they thought should be the campaign strategies and priorities and the groups again identified a wide range of priorities including:
- More consultation of the country before negotiation of terms of a Brexit deal:
- Referendum or election on terms of Exit deal;
- No Article 50 trigger without mandate for shape of leaving;
- Dissolve Parliament/ General Election
- Talking outside our bubbles; grassroots movement and Coordination of all Progressive voices
- Targeting young people
- Cross Party cooperation for progress/ Progressive Alliance
It was clear that many people have not really put their minds to the detail of what leaving Europe might involve. This is hardly surprising since it had never been on the political agenda prior to the referendum, and the debate during the referendum was not on the whole particularly focused on the task of what the new deal with Europe might involve. Few people have any idea what to do about the array of complex but important decisions which now face Britain about free trade and free movement, common agricultural and fisheries policies; environmental law; social policy; banking regulation etc. A lot of people seem to have engaged with questions of immigration, but on this opinion is sharply divided.
There was very little agreement as to political or campaign priorities even within a meeting in which most people were local to the venue, and in which ordinarily there might have been some political consensus.
As to the next steps, it seems to me that the county is at risk of being torn apart with division. We need to work out a deal which fails to please most of the people of Britain (or Europe) but with which most can accept.
My thinking at the moment is that a form of leaving needs to be designed which puts a pause on most aspects of EU membership pending votes by Parliament. It would involve leaving the EU (and thus depriving nationals of voting rights in the Parliament etc.), but retain EEA membership; retain the rights of resident EU nationals; preserve free movement perhaps with some sort of potential modification such as the emergency brake which Cameron failed to negotiate earlier this year. On every other matter EU law would continue to have effect unless and until amended by Act of Parliament. The UK would continue to respect the legal principles of direct and indirect effect of EU Directives on environment; health and safety; regulation of work and immigration etc. EU law would cease to be supreme however, and would be capable of amendment by Act of Parliament. That kind of deal achieves the primary demands of the “leave” camp while preserving the status quo until the sovereign British parliament decides on the mass of components of leaving. It avoids the ill of a government opportunistically legislating by the back door of Brexit negotiations and without parliamentary oversight- which would offend against the case for taking back control.
All of this needs a democratic mandate. That is not going to happen while the negotiations remain in the grip of a new government which has no mandate for any form of deal.
The next meeting will hopefully look at this idea- or other ideas around forming a deal, compromise and conciliation.