“Where is the UK going?”
East Kent for Europe invited Dominic Grieve to give a talk after its AGM for 2022. Chris Hammond, the Chair, welcomed him to Canterbury and said we were impressed by the role he had played in Parliament in the Referendum and particularly in the years 2016 to 2019. He had championed the Remain cause, for which we were very grateful.
Dominic was pleased to be in Canterbury again, which he knew from his early days as a barrister. He began by reminding the audience of the origins of the EU. The war ended with half of Europe under democratic governments and the other half under a new dictatorship. In 1947 the European Movement was founded, following Churchill’s speech in Zurich.
European Convention on Human Rights
In 1950 the European Convention on Human Rights, written partly by British lawyers, was set up. The 50s, 60s and 70s were ideal years of growing European cooperation, particularly in the European Economic Community (EEC). Dominic felt that by the turn of the century the Conservative party generally took the benefits from our membership of the EEC for granted, whilst at the same time criticism of Europe grew in parts of the Party.
Dominic quoted the remark by the scientific civil servant Henry Tizard at the end of the War, “If we continue to behave like a great power we shall soon cease to be a great nation.” By 2014, David Cameron had to tell his party that we needed to remain in what had become the European Union (EU). Dominic considered that parts of the Conservative party were unrealistic about our ability to act on our own. He thought he had failed as a politician in not countering this enough.
Consider the evidence
Dominic said that we have great strengths as a nation, our judiciary, our universities and our democratic values, so that we are a beacon to others for a civilised society. He considers there is overwhelming evidence that Brexit has damaged us. Trade works best when it is between neighbours, and our trade with the EU has fallen.
The ending of the Erasmus exchanges has damaged young people in Britain as well as in the EU, which would have a long term adverse effect. His daughter had benefited from living in Spain under the Erasmus scheme. He noticed that the centre of Canterbury is quiet, due to fewer EU school visitors.
The sick man of Brexit
He felt that the depressing spirit and economic problems of the 1970s had reappeared following Brexit. To this is added the problems of climate change, a problem which we cannot tackle on our own. In polls, 53% of British people regretted us leaving the EU and we as a country are angry at our situation and at Brexiters for the lies they told before and during the campaign.
Dominic said we must not despair and, in particular, we must not get angry at the Brexiters, even though it would be very understandable. He said that many people voted to leave the EU for sincere reasons, which we should counter by polite argument.
He mentioned Steve Baker, who has been a key member of the European Research Group, the passionate anti-EU group within the Conservative party. He described him as an honourable person whom he had got to know well in Parliament. Having been a vocal Brexiter, Steve Baker now acknowledges that the recent crisis over the Northern Ireland protocol arose entirely as a result of Brexit. Steve recognised that the recent ‘Windsor’ deal negotiated by the PM was realistic and should be accepted.
Brexit is not yet ‘done’
Dominic welcomed Starmer’s statement that the Labour Party would “make Brexit work” if by that he meant that he would negotiate with the EU to reduce the many damaging aspects of our treaty with the EU. Serious change will occur only when a majority of MPs realise that we need to renegotiate parts of the Brexit deal.
One of the most damaging aspects of our Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU is the absence of services. As services comprise the majority of our economy, this damages us seriously. He said we are still tied to the EU as by an umbilical cord, which is why the members of the European Research Group are so angry with Sunak on his deal on Northern Ireland.
The European Convention on Human Rights underpins our Treaty with the EU, which will be reviewed in 2025. If the Government continues trying to replace the Convention this would create innumerable problems for us with the EU.
Dominic is delighted that Sunak’s deal on Northern Ireland was opposed by only a small number of Conservative MPs. He wonders why Sunak had supported Brexit but he sees Sunak now adopting a realistic approach and moving away from the fantasy politics of some of his party. Dominic considers that the ERG has collapsed and does not represent a significant force.
Anger at former PM’s lies
During his talk, Dominic did not disguise his anger with Boris Johnson and his lies and misrepresentations. These have caused the country immense damage and have poisoned the political atmosphere.
However the growth of enthusiasm amongst the young for internationalism and the inevitable need for close cooperation with Europe means that with the passage of time we will grow closer. At the Q&A session after his talk, Dominic showed his professionalism and knowledge of the subject in answering many points raised by the audience.
The audience gave Dominic warm applause for his clear, professional talk, which showed enthusiasts for the EU that our position outside the EU would not necessarily continue indefinitely.
Nigel Beevor is a member of the Committee of East Kent for Europe