Ideas on Europe

Informed analysis, comment and debate

The EU election: Remain blew it

I don’t usually read the Nation.Cymru newspaper, but their analysis of how the Remain side lost in the EU election is spot on.

Writing for the paper, described as, ‘A news service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales’, Ifan Morgan Jones commented:

‘It was Remain that needed to use this election to signal that there had been a sea-change in public opinion, and that the people were turning their backs on Brexit.

‘That didn’t happen. This was a poor election campaign by Remain and raises real questions about whether they would actually win a second referendum if one was ever held.’

Ifan added:

‘After all the talk of lessons being learnt from the EU Referendum and the slick and well-organised campaigning for a People’s Vote, I had expected that the Remain electoral machine would be ready to go.

‘However, unlike Nigel Farage who had seen the election coming from a mile away, and had understood that it would be a de facto second referendum and set up a new Brexit Party, they were caught on the hop.

‘The most obvious first step would have been to set up a cross-party Remain coalition.

‘But not even Plaid Cymru and the Greens, who represent the same party in the EU Parliament, did so.

‘That’s madness (and another consequence, it seems, of a lack of planning for an election that was always likely to happen).

‘And there was no sign that Remain had learnt the lessons of why their message didn’t appeal in 2016, either – in fact, little or no effort was made to actually convince anyone who voted Brexit to change their minds at all.’

My thoughts exactly, and those here who have been following my work, will know I have been saying the same for years.

The EU election on 23 May was the one democratic event in which Remainers could have decisively demonstrated that the country doesn’t want Brexit.

Indeed, this may be the only democratic opportunity that Remainers have on Brexit before we actually leave the EU.

Remain blew it.

If polling is correct (and it looks more than likely) a very low turnout yesterday will have given Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party a landslide victory.

It seems to me that too many Remain supporters regard the anti-Brexit campaign as a spectator sport.

Brexiters want Brexit to happen more than Remainers don’t want Brexit to happen.

That might seem harsh, but the reality speaks louder than words: not enough Remain supporters voted in the 2016 referendum, just as not enough Remain supporters voted yesterday.

I have been campaigning against Brexit since the word was invented back in 2012. It’s been a lonely, debilitating and unrewarding task.

None of the main anti-Brexit groups and parties have been able to work together, let alone to properly embrace, encourage and use the many skills of grassroots Remain campaigners (including mine, as an investigative journalist, campaigner and film maker).

Everyone – People’s Vote, Best for Britain, the five anti-Brexit parties, even Gina Miller and Chuka Umunna, and many other prominent Remainers – all seem to want to go it alone, and not to unite the Remain movement as a powerful, cohesive, single force.

All my efforts to reach out to them to work together miserably failed.

There have been no effective or realistic efforts by the Remain side to raise awareness about the EU; all the efforts were put into getting another vote, rather than winning it.

Well, we had another vote. It was yesterday.

And if the polls were right, not enough Remainers bothered to take part.

(If the polls were wrong, and Remain parties rather than the Brexit Party won yesterday, then I will be happy on Sunday evening – when the results are revealed – to eat my words as well as humble pie. However, my commentary about the state of the Remain movement applies regardless of the results).

On LBC radio, LibDem MEP, Catherine Bearder, was asked to respond with one word what was the answer to resolving Brexit.

She answered, “Education”. That’s true.

But there has been no educational campaign in the UK about how the EU functions as a democracy, democratically run by its members for the benefit of its members.

Worse, millions across Britain believe the exact opposite.

The general level of ignorance about the EU in our country is breathtaking.

Yes, “education” could have fixed it – but that would have taken years, not just the months we have left before we are scheduled to leave the EU.

We had years. It’s been three years since the EU referendum. We also knew for some years before the referendum that there would likely be a referendum.

But there was no ‘education’; no national awareness campaign by the Remain side (and, again, those following my work, will know I have been calling for an EU awareness campaign for many years).

So, if the Brexit Party won the anticipated landslide in yesterday’s EU election, thereby sending a pack of unwanted, trouble-making, recalcitrant British MEPs to represent us in the European Parliament, the message from the UK to the rest of Europe and the world will be clear:

Britain wants Brexit; we deserve Brexit.

Of course, the reality isn’t true. Over 60 polls since the 2017 general election clearly demonstrate that Britain doesn’t want Brexit at all.

But unless Remainers are prepared to unequivocally show that in a democratic event – like the one we had yesterday – then it will make no difference.

Marches make no difference. Petitions make no difference. Only the ballot box makes a difference.

Votes count. Not voting doesn’t.

There seems little point continuing to campaign for the Remain side unless something very dramatic now happens.

Remain must get its act together.

All the Remain parties, politicians and groups should properly and formally unite; cleverly commandeer all the skills and passions between us, and vigorously and professionally campaign, with one lucid and convincing voice, to steer Britain towards a democratic reversal of Brexit.

To be frank, I’m not willing to carry on with my campaign work against Brexit unless this now happens.

Here’s the reality.

  • Theresa May resigned today (good).
  • Vince Cable resigned today (bad – he should have stayed on, just as his profile and likeability were on the rise across the country. There is no potential LibDem leader with the same gravitas and high profile).
  • Boris Johnson is predicted to be the Tory’s new leader and our next Prime Minister. He will undoubtedly immediately call for a general election, because no party can effectively rule with no majority (as Theresa May discovered to her cost).
  • There is a high chance that Johnson will win that general election, especially if he comes to an agreement with the Brexit Party.
  • The EU has made clear that they will not make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. Johnson could not accept that deal, especially as May has just resigned because she couldn’t get that deal passed, and Johnson resigned last year as Foreign Secretary because he opposed that deal.
  • Johnson has made clear that he is willing to take the country out of the EU without any deal. A new Parliament, with a different composition of MPs, might well agree with him.

This is an emergency. If this doesn’t now galvanise the country’s Remainers to put aside all egos and urgently re-organise, then our cause is lost.

If Remain cannot now unite in a way it’s never done before, then it may that (something I have never wanted to write), only a dose of Brexit will bring Britain back to its senses.

  • Related video: Change UK MP, Chuka Umunna, calls for Remain unity



Comments are closed.

  • Subscribe to Newsletter

  • UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.