How Brexit happened
Edward McMillan-Scott - a Vice-President of the European Parliament from 2004-2014 - shares some insights into what really led to the UK’s divorce from the EU.
Edward McMillan-Scott | Photo credit: Edward McMillan-Scott
Commentators at post-Brexit Day conferences in Brussels, where I spent a couple of days last week, blamed David Cameron’s split from the EU’s mainstream political family for Brexit.
While all former living prime ministers agree with John Major that leaving the EU is a “colossal mistake” Cameron has insulated himself by raking in £1.6m from speeches since the 2016 referendum, only occasionally accepting responsibility for dividing the country.
For many of his crisis capitalist City friends, any economic convulsion means big money, while the poorest will suffer yet more austerity, as the post-election bounce gives way to Brexit reality.
Since the first referendum in 1975 I was a member of what was a moderate centre-right, internationalist Conservative Party – despite the anti-EU attitudes of some leaders – until Cameron caved in under pressure from his far-right and split from the European People’s Party (EPP).
This happened after the 2009 European elections, and I left in protest. The divorce from the EPP ended links with an important network of influence, one of whose consequences was the modest package of concessions he won during his “re-negotiation”, which he then put to the country in the June 2016 referendum.
The split with the EPP was agitated for by Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP from 1999 and founder of the European Research Group of around 80 like-minded politicians, almost all following the “global Britain” line Hannan had preached since his election.
I tried to prevent his candidacy, telling former leader William Hague that Hannan was unsuitable. I was on the Conservative candidates committee and the key quality we sought in those days was “calibre” – difficult to define but we knew when it was absent.
"The divorce from the EPP ended links with an important network of influence, one of whose consequences was the modest package of concessions he won during his “re-negotiation”, which he then put to the country in the June 2016 referendum"
On his election, Hannan told me he intended to do no parliamentary work and would dedicate himself and his resources to getting the UK out of the EU.
Nigel Farage, elected the same year and from the same background and approach as Hannan, became the voice and Hannan the “brain of Brexit”.
Now they are fully answerable to the British public, as Northern Ireland and Scotland contemplate a post-UK future although it is reported that Johnson will add Hannan to the 800 members of the House of Lords, once again on the public purse.
Similarly Boris Johnson’s bluster and bombast - I knew him as a monstrously inaccurate Brussels-based journalist - in seeking a Canada-style deal with the EU and yet declaring “no achievement is beyond our reach”, the childish memo urging UK diplomats to avoid their EU counterparts at international meetings, developing freeports, closing frontiers and eulogising America’s chlorinated chicken are typical of the mindset of the new Conservative Party, the target of organised entryism from UKIP types.
The polls from the December 12 election show that it simply swallowed Farage’s Brexit Party: many see Johnson as mini-Trump.
Under the headline “Others won’t be stupid enough to leave”, the author of Article 50, veteran diplomat Lord John Kerr told the Sunday Times two days after the split, "We imagined a situation in which we withdrew a Member State’s voting rights because of a move towards autocracy, and in a huff its leader stormed out, leaving a chaotic legal situation."
"Many expect that is exactly what Downing Street seeks – ending with No Deal"
Many expect that is exactly what Downing Street seeks – ending with No Deal. Others I met in Brussels also now fear that Brexit could lead to similar moves elsewhere in the EU.
Although organisations like the European Movement UK will continue to campaign for citizens’ rights and to highlight the adverse consequences of Brexit (this week Ryanair announced it will no longer employ UK staff and Nissan threatened to pull out of Europe completely) any focus on Rejoin will come later. Never too soon for me.
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