On November 23, 2019, Roger Casale founder of New Europeans was invited by the Friends of Lourmarin to give a speech on the political situation in the United Kingdom on the occasion of the publication of the book Brexit .. when the return? by the late Jean-Gérard Lieberherr, Jean Monnet's son-in-law.
To order a copy of Brexit..à quand le retour? click here
Thank you very much Catherine. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen
It is a delight for me to be here with you today. It is an honour to join you in remembering your good friend Jean-Gérard Liebeherr
He was a friend of Lourmarin and a friend of Europe. I am getting to know Lourmarin and I would like to be a friend. Perhaps I can join your association?
Certainly I am a friend of Europe. I think Jean-Gérard, if he was alive today, would tell you.
“Yes, like you, Roger is a European.”
But you have not invited me to speak about Europe and Lourmarin You have invited me to speak about Europe and Britain – about Brexit.
I must say I admire your resilience.
The Spanish foreign minister once said:
“In Britain you speak about Brexit 24 hours a day, in Spain we do so for 24 minutes a month”
I think the Spanish have the right balance.
I asked Catherine and Michel what would like me to say?
“Tell us what is happening now in Britain”
Well that is a very short speech I said.
One word sums it up and it is not a pleasant word.
Perhaps I should just say the UK is going down the drain.
That is the image that I think you should keep in mind.
I have to tell you that I am one of the people who has always thought Brexit will be stopped. Now I am not so sure.
Like Jean-Gérard, I trusted the pragmatism of the British people. Now I am not so sure.
When Michail Gorbachev was asked his advice to the British about Brexit he replied:
“The British are very smart and they will work this out for themselves.”
I am not so sure.
My organisation, New Europeans, started in London in 2013 and now is based in Brussels as well.
We campaign to protect the rights of the5 million EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe whose lives are in limbo.
The best way to do that is to stop Brexit.
We also campaign for a Europe of citizens, a Europe, in the words of another friend of Lourmarin, Albert Camus, of social justice and equality, anchored in human rights.
We know as Jean-Gérard did, that the British-EU relationship is a two-way street.
To understand Brexit, as is the case in any relationship, you need to see it from both sides.
What a fabulous marriage guidance counsellor and mediator Jean-Gérard would have been had he survived.
And what a great location the castle of Lourmarin would have been for such negotiations!
It’s because we can see the relationship from both sides that in February this year we proposed a compromise.
We said that the House of Commons should accept the withdrawal agreement, pass it into law and then take the agreement to the people for a confirmatory referendum.
The British people should have the chance to vote between remain and the actual deal. If Britain voted to remain, the deal would be void.
If Britain voted to leave, it would do so on the basis of the deal which was already passed into law.
That is why we call it a confirmatory referendum, not a second referendum.
The EU would be asked to give a sufficient extension for this to be possible.
This idea caught the imagination of two Labour MPs who managed to build a substantial body of support for the idea in the House of Commons. It very nearly came to pass.
In the end was blocked by a handful of Labour MPs who are opposed to a second referendum and the failure of a handful of Conservative MPs to back the idea in public even though they supported it in private.
We also joined calls for a government of national unity – one that could bring together all the parties in the House of Commons except the Conservatives.
Jean-Gérard would most definitely have approved.
This too floundered on the rock of partisan politics.
The Liberal Democrats could not accept the idea of Jeremy Corbyn as the interim Prime Minister.
Jeremy Corbyn was not prepared to accept any other Labour figure in that role.
So the UK is left now at the mercy of a General Election.
A General Election is the worst possible way to resolve Brexit.
It was made possible because the Liberal Democrats thought they would profit from it. They will not.
It was made possible because the Scottish National Party thought they would profit from it. But even if they win all the seats in Scotland, Johnson will not grant a second independence referendum.
The Labour Party then had to go along with it. Labour has taken the opportunity to publish a radical manifesto. But there is no prospect whatsoever that they will get the chance to implement it.
Jean-Gérard would be aghast at these developments. In fact the General Election is an early Christmas present for Boris Johnson.
The most likely outcome is a majority for Johnson. This will mean that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January.
Johnson’s election slogan is “Get Brexit Done” . But leaving the EU will not get Brexit done.
It will open a new chapter of negotiations. One in which the UK will be in a much weaker position because it is no longer a member of the club.
The “phony war” will have only just begun.
Jean-Gérard identifies many continuities and patterns in the history of the UK’s relations with the EU. But what is about to happen is a new departure.
If disabusing you of the idea that Brexit will be done when Britain leaves was the first misperception I need to correct.
The second misperception is that Britain will be led by a Conservative government if Johnson wins a majority.
Johnson and his friends are not Conservatives. They are libertarians, they are right-wing populists, they are revolutionaries.
There is nothing about them that is Conservative in the traditional sense at all. A traditional Conservative would be concerned about the territorial integrity of the state.
But Johnson’s Brexit will lead to the break-up of Britain because sooner or later, Scotland will leave and Ireland will unite as a result.
A traditional Conservative would show some respect for the institutions of the British state such as the judiciary, and the monarchy.
But Johnson attacks the Supreme Court and has lied to the Queen.
A traditional Conservative would resign if he or she was found to be a proven liar.
Johnson shrugs it off when confronted with his own lies in office, and reframes the “trust issue” as one about the failure of the UK parliament to deliver Brexit.
Let me emphasize this point: the UK parliament has not been failing to respect the referendum – it has been doing its job.
The UK is a representative democracy in which parliament is sovereign. It is not an authoritarian right-wing populist republic ruled by the mob.
Boris Johnson is a clever man. He and his friends have recognised that they can leverage popular discontent about the EU, about the economy, about migration and use this as a pathway to power. They are very close to succeeding.
The reason they want Britain out of the EU is because they perceive membership of the EU as standing in the way of what they want to do. That is why they shut down parliament. That is why they threaten not to obey the law.
Remember Johnson is a libertarian, not a Conservative. He wants to brush away anything that stands in the way of what he wants to do. And we still do not know what it is that he wants to do.
Turn Britain into an offshore re-regulated capitalist paradise like Singapore? Sell off the National Health Service? It is a dangerous moment for Britain and for Europe.
Parliamentary democracy has never been so much at risk in Britain as it is today. Nothing sums this up better than Boris Johnson’s refusal to publish the House of Commons intelligence committee’s report into Russia.
Britain appears to have a Prime Minister who is colluding with a foreign state that is engaging in an intelligence war with Britain.
Hilary Clinton calls it shameful. Winston Churchill would have called it treason.
Jean-Gérard would have seen in the latest developments the biggest threat to democracy in Britain since the Second World War.
He would also have understood, as we do at New Europeans, that what is happening in Britain is also a challenge for Europe.
If Britain is left outside the EU in the hands of Boris Johnson it will represent a cataclysmic failure of British democracy.
It will also represent a set-back for Europe, and for the fight for liberal democracy everywhere.
Like me, Jean-Gérard would have been appalled by the arrogance and behaviour of the UK government.
He would also have seen the strategic threat to Europe.
A victory for Johnson, is a victory for populists everywhere.
We live in a time when it is a political act to assert reality, to speak out for the facts.
Johnson’ victory will be a triumph for lies over truth, for self-interest over the public interest, for integrity over naked ambition to exercise power without restraint.
The greatest misperception of all with regard to Brexit, is that it has anything to do with Britain’s relationship with Europe – it does not.
Brexit is to do with who has power in Britain and what they want to do with that power.
That is what Johnson understood, it is why he sided with the leave campaign and he is now very close to achieving his aim.
I am often asked, has anything good come from Brexit? My answer, is yes there is one good thing that has come from Brexit.
For the first time there is a strong, grass-roots, pro-European movement in Britain. I believe that if Britain does leave, this movement will one day lead to Britain applying to join the EU again.
That movement needs to become not just a European movement but a movement for the radical reform of democracy in Britain, of Britain’s institutions.
Jean-Gérard would have been part of that movement and so am I. So is New Europeans. It is not just a movement to save Britain, it is a movement to save Europe.
The battle for British democracy, is a battle for the soul of Europe. Just like the Battle of Britain in 1940.
I appeal to you in this room to recognise that as Europeans, we are first democrats, and second, British, French, German or Italian.
We must unite to defend our common values. We must unite to revive the spirit of freedom and democracy in Europe.
We must unite to safeguard the European project in the face of this unprecedented challenge and provocation.
If we do that, I am sure not only that Britain will one return to the European Union. I am also sure that the European Union will still be in existence when it does.
Because we believe in democracy, human rights, and freedom in Europe and we know how to stand up and fight for our values when they are endangered.
Because we have learned this from our history.
Because we know that we have a common destiny.
That we can only survive by working together in peace.
Or as Jean-Gérard would say: “Because we are Europeans.”