The triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would set the negotiating period of the UK’s departure from the EU, kicked off on 29th March 2017. Negotiations were set to be long and hard, and it soon materialised that the UK was not only fighting against an EU famed for being obstinate. A small but very powerful group of British Remainers were waiting to undermine UK negotiating side from within, choosing to support a foreign power over their own government.
Remainer efforts to frustrate the process began soon after Article 50 was triggered. In October 2017, former Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg, Conservative MP Ken Clarke, and Lord Andrew Adonis met with Michel Barnier in Brussels. They were interviewed by journalists as they arrived in the Belgian capital.
Journalist: “What brings you to Brussels?”
Nick Clegg: “We’re going to see Michel Barnier, and a few other people in the European Commission…”
Journalist: “Are you here to stop Brexit?”
Nick Clegg: “Haha! If only it were that easy.”
Remainers Clegg, Clarke and Adonis arriving in Brussels to hold informal talks with EU leaders.
The flow of Remain supporting politicians into Brussels continued into the following year. In January 2018, Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve, and Labour MPs Chris Leslie and Chuka Umunna attended a meeting with Michel Barnier at the EU Commission. The meeting took place whilst Theresa May’s government were trying to iron out details of a proposed “transition period” with the EU. The Remainers visiting Brussels claimed that they had arrived to bring “ideas and solutions” to the negotiating table.
“It’s all sorted, we’re staying,”
— Anna Soubry joking with the media following her meeting with Barnier.
MPs Grieve, Soubry, Leslie and Umunna arriving at the EU Commission.
In February 2018, Westminster’s Official Opposition opened their own dialogue with the EU Commission. The leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, together with the Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry travelled to Brussels and met with the EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Memos circulated to the other EU member states stated that Corbyn had promised that should he become Prime Minister, he was willing to give up a number of concessions to the EU, namely a commitment to be in the EU Customs Union, as well as submitting to the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Starmer, Corbyn and Thornberry meeting the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.
However it wasn’t just Westminster-based parliamentarians working to undermine the government. In May 2018, the documentary “Carry On Brussels: Inside the EU” was aired on Channel 4. It showed Liberal Democrat MEP Caroline Bearder and Philosopher A C Grayling meeting with Guy Verhofstadt (the leader of the EU Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group) at the European Parliament in Brussels. The exchange remarkably included Grayling requesting Brussels to be as firm as possible on the UK, so that the UK would yield and abandon its efforts to leave.
Grayling: “What would help the Remain movement in the UK, is if the EU is very, very tough and uncompromising on a deal…”
Bearder: “I’m absolutely convinced that within a decade we’ll be knocking on the door and saying ‘excuse me, can we come back in again’ …”
AC Grayling and Catherine Bearder MEP urging Guy Verhofstadt to be as harsh as possible on the UK
Remainers had other well funded weapons at their disposal, and one of the most potent came in the form of a former Prime Minister – Tony Blair. Since the vote to Leave came in, he had incessantly called for a second referendum (People’s Vote), and travelled multiple times to Brussels, campaigning for a second referendum, and to advise EU leaders to prepare for one. Theresa May, the then Prime Minister of the UK at the time, rebuked him strongly, claiming he was undermining the work of her government.
“For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating for a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served.”
— Theresa May, speaking in December 2018
It also later emerged that Blair was briefing the French President, Emmanuel Macron on how to thwart the referendum result and keep Britain in the EU. Alleged advice included encouragement to hold firm in the hope that a Remainer dominated Parliament would push for either a Customs Union or a second referendum in the UK.
By September 2019, Remainers were getting more desperate, and they moved to prevent the government from being able to leave the EU. It emerged that the “Rebel Alliance” group of Remainer MPs, may have collaborated with EU chiefs to create the Benn-Burt Bill – a bill which would bind the hands of the PM and undermine the negotiations by forcing the PM to request an extension to the A50 process. The bill was presented by Hilary Benn, and was supported by other MPs such as Alistair Burt, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin, as well as opposition leaders. The Bill eventually passed, and became the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, also known as the Benn Act or the Surrender Act.
The government announced that it had opened an investigation into whether the Rebel Alliance had received legal advice from EU officials on how to best draft the bill. It was also alleged that former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond had admitted in a meeting with the Prime Minister that he had received advice from the EU’s legal department.
Dominic Grieve had also hosted members of the French government in order to discuss extending Article 50 with a route to having a second referendum to overturn the original referendum result.
In October 2019, it emerged that the supposedly neutral Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, had been meeting with the President of the EU Parliament to “discuss their shared desire to avoid no deal”.
The President of the EU Parliament gave the following speech in Brussels:
“This morning I also had a fruitful discussion with Speaker Bercow, which I set out my view that any request by British institutions for an extension of… or any prorogation of Parliament should allow the British people to give its views, whether it be in a referendum or General Election.”
“Speaker Bercow and I were very much on the same wavelength regarding the importance of the roles of our respective parliaments in managing Brexit, and we share an awareness that a chaotic exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union would work to the detriment of citizens on both sides. I do trust that No Deal can be avoided at the end of the day, the European Union nonetheless has adopted all the necessary measures to prepare for the consequences, should it occur.”
— A translator speaking for David Sassoli, the President of the EU Parliament, speaking in October 2019.
As the Article 50 deadline approached, the UK government faced renewed pressure from British politicians working on the continent to undermine them.
On 11th October 2019, British MEPs from the Green, Liberal Democrats and Labour parties sent a letter to the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, urging him and the EU Council to extend A50. The 37 MEPs claimed that Britain would now vote Remain, and that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not represent the views of the nation (despite it being the clear responsibility of the Prime Minister to negotiate with foreign nations).
The letter essentially begged the EU to prevent the 2016 referendum from being enacted.
An except from the letter sent by Remainer MEPs in Brussels to the EU Council President, Donald Tusk.
Following pressure from their Brussels-based counterparts, British politicians in Westminster also renewed their pressure on the EU to refuse to let the UK leave. On 16th October, just weeks before the A50 Brexit deadline, a cross-party group of MPs associated with the “Best For Britain” group, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Labour MP David Lammy, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable, SNP MP Peter Grant and Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts were spotted taking a Eurostar to Brussels to try and secure a Brexit extension.
Remainer MPs Grant, Cable, Grieve, Lucas, Lammy and Saville Roberts posing for a photo on their way to Talks in Brussels
On multiple occasions, a small but very powerful group of influential Remainers have worked tirelessly to frustrate the implementation of the largest democratic exercise the UK has ever seen – the vote to leave the EU.
There have been two main consequences to Remainers’ political games. Firstly, the UK’s negotiating position in Brussels has been undermined and sabotaged, with the EU always able to cling to the hope that British Remainers would be able to seize power and reverse the referendum result. Secondly the destruction of voters’ trust in democracy in the UK has been severely tested, as voters wait for their groundbreaking vote in 2016 to finally be implemented, and for the losers to accept the simple fact that they lost.
The ultimate result has been a paralysed Parliament, an Executive held in office as hostage, a division of our society and democracy in the UK itself imperiled.
This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog: https://joelrwrites.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/how-remainers-colluded-with-the-eu-to-frustrate-brexit/