Letter to Mr Bim Afolami MP

for Europe
North Herts
for Europe

29th March 2019

Dear Bim,

Thank you for your open letter of 27th March, in which you explained your position on Brexit and your reasons for voting as you did on the indicative votes of the same evening.

The People’s Vote Campaign in Hitchin and Harpenden

North Herts for Europe (which includes Hitchin) and Harpenden for Europe were formed in late 2017 and early 2018 respectively, as branches of the European Movement, and are now also affiliated to the People’s Vote campaign.

Each group was founded by local constituents from all political backgrounds who were deeply concerned at the results of the 2016 Referendum. The majority in our two groups have never been politically active before. However, every one of us has serious doubts regarding the Government’s interpretation of the result, and its approach to negotiations with the European Union. We share a common belief that our country has made a very grave error in voting to Leave the European Union, and that our nation is being deeply and permanently damaged as a result.

Together our two groups now comprise over 1,000 local supporters and activists from across the constituency. We do not claim to speak for the 64% [1] of constituents who wish to Remain in the European Union, nor the 16,000 who have signed the Revoke Article 50 petition [2], nor even the 1,000 who travelled from across our constituency to join the People’s Vote March in London on the 23rd March. However, we do exist to serve those in our constituency who share our deeply and sincerely-held concerns regarding Brexit, and to provide them with support and information to help them make their voices heard.

Your open letter on Brexit

You make many points in your letter of 27th March, and we appreciate the time and care you have taken to compose these messages. Many of your points are fair and reasonable. For example, we agree that, when faced with difficult challenges and differing viewpoints, respectful dialogue, listening and compromise are essential. We also agree that, across your constituency there are many different, reasonable and sincerely-held views on Brexit.

However there are many serious flaws and omissions in your letter, and we respectfully and resolutely take this opportunity to convey our response, and invite you to change course and put the interests of your country and your constituents first.

The 2016 Referendum

We believe that it is important to recall why the 2016 Referendum was called in the first place.

In 2015, our relationship with the European Union was not even considered a priority by the British People, when compared with immigration, the NHS or the economy [3]. The fact is, that the 2016 Referendum was called primarily because David Cameron, then Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, was concerned at the loss of electoral support to UKIP. The inclusion of a commitment to an EU Referendum in the 2015 Conservative General Election manifesto was not made in the national interest, but rather solely for the purposes of maintaining internal cohesion within the Conservative Party; the now infamous “Conservative psychodrama”.

The Referendum campaign itself was plagued by poor information, lacklustre campaigning from the major parties and outright lies, primarily by the Leave campaign. It is fair to say that George Osborne went too far in his “Project Fear” statements, but his (not unfounded) concerns regarding the impact of Brexit on the economy were dwarfed by the blatant lies of the Leave campaign, most notably that we would be able to spend an extra £350m a week on the NHS, that Turkey was on the verge of joining the EU and that we would be able to remain in the Single Market [4].

Furthermore, the Vote Leave campaign has been found guilty of breaking electoral law and fined by the Electoral Commision, with the findings referred to the Metropolitan Police for criminal investigation. Vote Leave were found guilty of breaking electoral law through false declarations of campaign spending, exceeding spending limits and funnelling funds through separate Leave campaign groups [5].

Reversing Brexit and the “threat to democracy”

You begin your argument by claiming that “if Parliament were to try to frustrate or overturn the result it would trigger an even more serious political crisis, and public anger”. These points do not hold up to examination.

We are already in the midst of an unprecedented peacetime crisis. Our country, our Government and our Parliament, once admired throughout the world for its stability, wisdom and pragmatism, is now widely acknowledged as a global laughing stock. The cause of this humiliation and anger is evident: the “low grade political gamesmanship” has emanated primarily from the Government, the first in British political history to be found in contempt of Parliament.

Investment, jobs and business confidence are draining out of our economy. Our most successful and important industries are being hollowed out as automotive, life sciences and financial services companies move operations elsewhere. Moreover, to continue with a policy that, on the basis of the Government’s own analysis, will permanently damage our economy [6], because of the implied threat of “public anger” is a shameful and completely unacceptable democratic surrender to mob rule.  

You go on to state that “we all promised to abide by the result”. Again, you are mistaken. No we didn’t. The 2015 European Union Referendum Act is very explicit in stating that the Referendum was advisory, and not binding on Parliament. The fact that the David Cameron then decided to make his “we will do what you say” commitment was his error, made for short-term political advantage. Just as no Parliament has the right to bind its successor, no British Prime Minister has the right to bind his successors or indeed the British people.

The first of the Prime Minister’s three Brexit Secretaries, David Davis, made this point far better than we ever could when he said:

“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy” [7]

The Withdrawal Agreement

The Withdrawal Agreement is not a “good deal”, as you claim. It is, in fact, a terrible deal. It is riddled with many serious flaws, in particular the Backstop, which is as you know, an inevitable consequence of the Government’s self-imposed red lines in the Brexit negotiations. Contrary to what your former colleagues in the ERG claim, the Backstop is not a punishment inflicted on the UK by the EU, but rather an inevitable consequence of Theresa May’s own ‘Red Lines’ in her negotiating approach. There remains no solution, despite decades of campaigning and “Research” by the European Research Group, for exiting the Customs Union without imposing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In particular, there is one flaw, at the heart of the Deal itself, that you fail to mention. The transition period within the Withdrawal Agreement explicitly provides for a minimum 21 month period where the United Kingdom will remain subject to European Union laws and regulations, both existing and new, and also the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. However, we will be stripped of our democratic representation in the European Parliament (73 MEPs), our appointed judges in the ECJ and our voting rights in the European Council.

We will be a colony of a foreign power for the first time in our country’s history.

Your failure to mention this critical fact in your letter is a breathtaking omission. How can it possibly be acceptable, even for a single day, for this country, and your own constituents, to be subject to unaccountable foreign rule? This in itself should be reason for all British citizens, regardless of whether they voted Leave or Remain in 2016, to immediately reject the Withdrawal Agreement. Nobody voted in 2016 for less democracy for the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, the “end to free movement” that you imply as a benefit of the Withdrawal Agreement, is in reality a cruel removal of valuable rights enjoyed by your constituents and their families. Currently, as citizens of the European Union, we are able to live, study, work and retire in 27 neighbouring countries. The European Union even enables reciprocal cross-border healthcare across all 28 nations. The ability of younger people in particular to pursue their studies and develop their careers will be severely curtailed if we leave the European Union. How is this in any way a benefit to your constituents, in particular children and young peopl with their lives ahead of them ?

Your hyperbole regarding the “vast budget payments” to the EU is also wholly misleading. In 2017 the UK made net payments (after accounting for receipts and rebates) to the EU of £8.9bn [8]. This is approximately 1% of UK government expenditure, £135 per person. These costs are dwarfed by the benefits of our EU membership, which are estimated at between £62bn – £78bn per annum [9].  Why do you propose we give up so much for so little ?

You also place great confidence in the Political Declaration, describing it as “a unique deal”. You are confusing the present with the future or imagined future; because this deal does not exist. It has not been agreed. You claim it will promote trade in goods, but fail to mention that it will provide no benefit for trade in services, which make up the majority of our economy, our exports and many of our leading industries. You are asking your constituents to take a leap of faith with a “Blind Brexit”, that is to leave a proven, successful economic relationship with our closest friends and neighbours and the world’s largest free trade zone, for what is no more than a wish list.

You make the case that the UK will be able to negotiate its own international trade deals from the start of the implementation period. Unfortunately, the person currently leading these negotiations for the UK is Dr Liam Fox. Upon leaving the EU we will of course lose access to the 70 EU trade deals currently in place with 40 countries, including the most recently agreed EU deal with Japan.

You may recall that Dr Fox once claimed that the trade deal with the EU “should be the easiest in human history” [10]. You may also recall his commitment that, upon the point of our departure from the EU, he would immediately roll over the existing EU trade deals [11]. As of this week he currently has 8 signed trade deals, including major economies such as the Palestinian Authority and the Faroe Islands [12]. In addition, under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, whilst new trade deals can be negotiated after our exit from the EU, none can actually start until the end of the transition period.

Even if Dr Fox was replaced with a credible international trade negotiator, this would not change the fact that, outside of the EU, the UK would be negotiating alone with larger, more powerful and highly protectionist trading partners such as the United States, China, India and Japan. Not to mention the EU itself. The notion that, with our bargaining power and expertise no longer allied with that of Germany, France, the Netherlands and 24 other EU countries, we could negotiate equivalent terms as those we enjoy as a full member state of the EU is simply absurd.

The Indicative Votes

You have taken the time to explain your reasons for casting your Indicative Votes on the 27th March, and we would like to provide our response. It is worth remembering that the entire intent of these votes were to identify not what Parliament wanted to happen, but rather what would Parliament consider acceptable.

No Deal

You rightly state that a No Deal outcome “is not desirable”. On this point we agree. However you understate the case by claiming it “is not the best outcome”. Well, quite.

Common Market 2.0 and EEA / EFTA

You described your support for the Common Market 2.0 and EFTA / EEA amendments. Both are highly flawed in that, as with the Withdrawal Agreement, they leave us subject to EU law without democratic representation. Why would we relegate ourselves from rule maker to rule taker? These options do not satisfy Leaver demands regardimg free movement either. Additionally, EFTA / EEA offers no solution to the Northern Ireland Backstop dilemma.

Both arrangements are inferior in every way to our current full EU membership. They are not a compromise; they are a downgrade.

Revoking Article 50

You voted against the Cherry amendment, providing the Government with the instruction to revoke our Article 50 notice to the European Union, should the Government be unable to pass the Withdrawal Agreement one day before the leaving date AND Parliament had voted against No Deal.

Is this really an unacceptable option to you? What you also do not make clear is whether you would support revocation if the only alternative were No Deal. This is an entirely plausible and by no means hypothetical scenario. We would ask that you make your position clear on this point.

The People’s Vote

You have consistently opposed putting the Withdrawal Agreement to the British people and your constituents for ratification.

You have failed to acknowledge the serious differences between expectation and reality that exist between the promises made in the 2016 Referendum, and the Withdrawal Agreement now on offer. No one voted to be poorer, nor to become the colony of a foreign power.

You have failed to acknowledge the contradiction between your support for three Meaningful Votes for Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement, and denying even one for your constituents.

Worse, you fail to recognise that the first Meaningful Vote was lost by the largest margin in British politics history. This was not the 52:48 margin in the 2016 Referendum, it was 32:68, by any assessment an overwhelming defeat. After today’s defeat, Withdrawal Agreement has now been rejected three times by Parliament.

In this context, how can you possibly deny your country and your constituents the opportunity to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, with the option to Remain?

Constituency and Country first

We trust that we have clearly expressed our point of view regarding your position on Brexit, and the deep concerns that we hold regarding your representation of the interests of our constituency.

We continue to believe, based on all the information made available to us since June 2016, that the best interests of this constituency and this country are served by the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union.

The coming weeks will see further opportunities for you to demonstrate that you are fulfilling your special duty to the constituents you have been elected to represent as our Member of Parliament.

We therefore call on you to support further amendments in favour of either a People’s Vote or Revoking Article 50, and preventing all forms of No Deal Brexit.

We thank you for your service to our community.

On behalf of Harpenden for Europe and North Herts for Europe,

Richard Scott
Chair, Harpenden for Europe
Lisa Bouchat
Chair, North Herts for Europe

[1] Right to Vote, March 2019

[2] https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584

[3] https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/economistipsos-mori-june-2015-issues-index

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/final-say-brexit-referendum-lies-boris-johnson-leave-campaign-remain-a8466751.html

[5] https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/why-is-britain-turning-blind-eye-to-leave-side-s-lawbreaking-1.3568256

[6] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/brexit/brexit-and-the-economy-government-analysis-of-the-long-term-impact/

[7] http://www.daviddavismp.com/david-davis-mp-delivers-speech-on-the-opportunities-for-a-referendum-on-europe/

[8] https://fullfact.org/europe/our-eu-membership-fee-55-million/

[9] http://www.cbi.org.uk/insight-and-analysis/our-global-future/factsheets/factsheet-2-benefits-of-eu-membership-outweigh-costs/

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/20/liam-fox-uk-eu-trade-deal-after-brexit-easiest-human-history

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2018/mar/28/11-brexit-promises-leavers-quietly-dropped

[12] Brexit: What trade deals has the UK done so far? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47213842

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.