On 15 July 2023, the recently appointed Vice President of the European Movement, Dominic Grieve KC, addressed the European Movement Grassroots Conference held at Victoria Hall in Sheffield.
This is a must watch for anyone interested in the UK's place in Europe and sets out a positive and motivating vision for how we can work together to achieve a better future for our country.
If you prefer to read Dominic's important speech, a transcript is included below.
Well thank you so much for the warmth of the welcome. Thank you also, I'm very conscious as I look around the room, to quite a few of the people here who actually helped me in the 2019 election campaign and turned up in my constituency in Beconsfield when I had probably the most exciting political campaign I'd ever run, even if it didn't have quite the outcome that I might have wished. And I'm very conscious therefore of the privilege of taking on the role of being a vice president of the European Movement. My heart's been in this for a very long time.
The first thing I did as a student in my gap year between school and University in 1975 was to work for the keep Britain in Europe campaign and I suppose it's also right to say that it was pretty well implanted in My DNA because my late father had been completely British. Although he did marry a half-French wife. But nevertheless his pro-Europeanism, whilst deeply inculcated into him by the events of the second world war, that is what had made him believe passionately that European cooperation and the creation of the EEC and the United Kingdom's participation in it, were really important things and he did that from a very conservative rather old-fashioned background something I want to come back to in a moment about patriotism.
He saw it as being patriotic that that was what was in Britain's best interest and I must say, having worked for the keep Britain and Europe campaign in 1975, and then seen that it kept us in the EEC and watched what's happened since, although as Mark so rightly said the EU is far from being a perfect institution and is a forum in which countries will inevitably both cooperate but also seek to promote their own National agendas.
That's what happens in democracies. That's what happens when tectonic plates slide. That's what you have to expect notwithstanding that I think it's track record of success since it was set up in preserving peace in Europe. Helping to bring those Eastern European countries that had been dominated by Russia Soviet tyranny into the Democratic fold by meeting that test of trying to create a zone of freedom, democracy, peace and justice on our continent has been well fulfilled despite the setbacks.
So that makes it for me on a personal basis all the more extraordinary to reflect on what happened in 2016, and to have witnessed colleagues in my own party who I regarded as being well-rounded and sound, become totally delusional about the United Kingdom's prospects if we left the European Union. Because one thing we can say now, unfortunately, and we know this with really total certainty, is that everything we predicted and was predictable about the downsides to the well-being of the average person living in this country from leaving the European Union has been fulfilled, the statistics speak for themselve. You can't just pretend that it's all about Covid.
It is about doing ourselves significant economic harm at almost every level so that, and I agreed so much with what Mark said about this as well, so that structural issues and weaknesses that exist in our country and which have been the subject to political debate on a cross-party basis in which we haven't actually been very successful at remedying over the recent decades have just been made immeasurably worse by going. So businesses have been handicapped, our education is badly affected, I think the opportunities offered by Erasmus and also the scientific cooperation that we engaged in was hugely beneficial to us. Areas in which we were world leaders: areas of science, areas of finance which I think sometimes we denigrate London as one of the three major World Financial Centers, was really to our advantage, have all been badly damaged.
And this percolates down to every single man woman and child living in this country, whatever their background may be and wherever they may be living; quite apart from the interference it has on the ease of existence that we previously might enjoy such as the queues when I shall go over to my house in Brittany in two weeks time when we arrive at the Port where we land and the fact that I sometimes when I went off to do my pilgrimage the Compostella I realized when I came back I'd used up my 90 days and couldn't go back to the continent for another three months!
These may be minor things but their accumulated total is bad. It's a sustained damage which is going to continue and I'm not going to recite any more of those statistics but that also highlights the challenge we've got earlier in our discussions, and I've really enjoyed the morning and the presentations and the contributions. The question was asked about the Union flag and whether that associated us with people we wouldn't really wish to be associated with, and of course it's right that in our country today, perhaps more than has been the case 25 or 30 years ago, or it's always difficult to register this, there are a lot of angry people out there - there are - I've seen them join me at the time that I was doing the fighting brexit they used to come up and abuse me in the street. And some of them are very angry, and have views which I find repellent.
But one thing I've learned in politics is that people on the whole who get very angry do so because they are frightened. They're frightened of the future and they retreat back into their comfort zones and latch on to whatever they think might remedy their discomfort, whether it's anxiety about strangers coming in from abroad, or uncontrolled migration, or boats coming onto the beaches at Folkestone, or anything else. Actually they can get angry about climate change and glue themselves to motorways in the southeast of England causing complete chaos and contributing absolutely nothing to resolving the problem whatsoever.
Anger very rarely creates rational decision making and as I say one of the things which I found extraordinary in 2016 was watching colleagues who I thought were rational become angry and do us untold damage, not just Conservative colleagues but some Labor colleagues including some who represented constituencies around here who are doing effectively the same thing although they were a bit more casuistical about it possibly because they felt they were responding to pressures within their own Associations and from their own voters.
So we can't dismiss these people because, in a funny way, we should be as a movement not ignoring them but actually saying to them that being patriotic and wanting the best for our country and to promote its well-being and to offer them a future with which they would be comfortable and in which they can take pride is in fact the route that we are trying to advocate. And we need to be so careful therefore that we don't just treat them as the enemy. On the contrary they are the people we need to convert. Which is why I think it's so telling in all the information we were fed this morning that the images of patriotism register whereas the images of saying you got it wrong or we are in another place from you don't work.
We have to convert people and the good news for us, although in some ways it's the bad news for the country, is I think the evidence suggests very very clearly but the penny is dropping with people that in fact a lot of the problems that they now have are in fact the result of having made a mistake. But getting people to admit to mistakes is very hard. On top of that you don't just have to get people to admit mistakes, because admitting mistakes without anything else isn't going to work. It's about taking the view that there is an alternative route to the one that they had previously envisaged which they can reconcile themselves to and sign up to.
And also, let's face it, another group - that's the group of people in this country who didn't vote in the referendum at all. Or the young who have got onto the Electoral register since it took place, and we know that many of the young who were on the Electoral register when the referendum took place chose not to vote, because they couldn't see the point.
We love I think to delude ourselves in this country - we love to have participatory democracy. But the truth of course is that politics in some ways at a national level not at a local level and not in societies and all those committees that actually run our country at a local level but at the national level is a bit of an elite activity. And on the whole people send people to Westminster because we're supposed to be able to make rational decisions which may at times be a variance with the opinion of within the electorate.
The total failure the United Kingdom has experienced in the last 10 years is that the people sent to Westminster to make those decisions blew it! And that's why we're in the doghouse and we deserve to be because it constitutes a massive leadership failure.
Now what can we then do about it? We're not a political party. I think actually that's probably quite a good thing. But we do need to remind ourselves about that. We're a movement that transcends political parties. The Great Joy I had in 2019 was people coming to support me from every political party except probably the brexit party or I don't think they came along but I think you know I had Labor people came to support me, I had Liberal Democrats, and I had plenty of Conservatives in my old constituency in Beconsfield, which was a very Conservative place.
I also had lots of people who had come up to me and say I'm going to come and support you and I said how did you vote at the last election, they said no I haven't voted for years, nobody to vote for. So by transcending Party politics we actually are offering an opportunity to ourselves to promote an influence debate in a way which actually political parties find very difficult to do. But that also imposes a constraint on us, because whilst we can be critical of individuals, and of course we may think that one particular political party in this story comes out of it particularly badly, namely my old one, nevertheless we can't just go around with finger-pointing because they are the very people who we've got to convert. And as I know because, I still have some friendly contacts with parliamentarians of my old political party, there are plenty there are quietly beneath the parapet who know very well what problems this country faces are the result of a gross and mistaken decision.
So our campaigning I think, as has been so nicely presented to us, needs if I may use this rather a word to be sectoral and pragmatic. There are lots of things which I think the public will accept in terms of closer relationships with our European neighbors and inevitably as a consequence that can only be done through the European Union. Lots of things that they will cheerfully accept which only six or seven years ago, because it was all ideologically driven, they determined they wouldn't have.
I do think that the statistics are pretty clear that the Customs Union and the single Market although it's not a very satisfactory place to end up without being full membership are potentially attainable. And I think it's inevitable that we are going to have to return in that direction because without it those inherent flaws in our economic system in this country will never be remediable and we will continue to sink. And it is not in the interest of our European Union partners and neighbors that that should happen because a strong United Kingdom can still be a force for good in Europe and actually also in the wider world, and that means keeping our country together. It means rebuilding our economy. It means rebuilding confidence in the future which at the moment is so massively eroded.
And if we do that then I think we will gradually break down the silence that seems to pervade both Conservative and Labor, perhaps more surprisingly, of just going around reciting mantras that they're going to make Brexit work. Because patently obviously Brexit in its current form cannot work at all and is not working and cannot be made to work. It's like the old story of the dead horse. What do you do about it? You set up a committee to consider whether it might or might not be dead rather than facing up to the reality. And we, and even the Liberal Democrats, because I like them and they supported me very much in Beconsfield, but they're sort of strangely muted - so we need to give them a shove. And I actually think the fact that this is now a mass movement of 21,000 members and has the capacity if we play our cards right I think to expand dramatically into the sort of mass movement it was in the 1960s when on a cross-party basis it was calling for closer links with Europe and for our going into the then EEC - I think that's possible and that's the sort of thing I want to help this movement achieve.
The young particularly know that visions of untrammeled sovereignty are complete and total rubbish. Sovereignty is about the power to make your own decisions for the good of all and in an interconnected world that means making your decisions to cooperate with other people for the common good, and we know that's a powerful message, and we know we can get it across. And I think it's a really great cause. But the challenge is delivering it.
You are Grassroots members. I've always been very conscious throughout everything which happened after Brexit that in a way the political system failed and you started to take over. Let's face it in 2015 it's a rather cozy group of people who met from time to time to consider how Europe might better develop. It was very much an elite activity. You stepped into the bridge because you were upset. Your diagnosis was correct and let's face it you're also quite angry. Heaven knows I've been angry in the last few years, and I see some nodding, about what had happened.
You're the ones who set up the street stalls. Your'e the ones who started paying attention and arguing. Whereas let's face it and I have to confess this myself in the years before 2016 as a conservative MP I didn't argue the positives of our European Union participation particularly in Associations where it would become a default position to blame everything on Europe. And Labor was as bad. So we never made the positive case before it was too late. I remember David Cameron coming to the 1922 Committee in 2016 to tell us why we should back Remain and saying come on guys get real. But he hadn't got real in the previous eight years. Indeed rather the reverse. He'd suggested by a constant litany of complaints that it was the source of most problems which it never was - even if it had some challenges.
The EU is not the Elysian Fields - that point was made so well by Mark, the fact of the matter is it's a big organization, it has bureaucrats, it has ideologues, it has countries that wish to cooperate, and it also has people within it who are promoting National agendas and seeking negotiating positions which might be to their advantage. But that's the world as it is. But for all that there is an underlying idealism which all of you have connected with in this room which I've never had any difficulty connecting with either. Let's face it Europe is unique and unless you go out to Canada or Australia, New Zealand which are very much elsewhere, the values, the civilization, the aspirations that we share, are something which is pretty unique to ourselves. And about how people lead their lives, about how people look after others, how people tolerate alternative viewpoints, and how people work together to achieve the common good. And of course if I may say so that is I think an intensely patriotic message, because I can't see and have never seen any incompatibility between those aspirations of zones of freedom, democracy, peace, and justice, with the underlying principles of a coronation oath which we watched our king take in Westminster Abbey in May. In fact they are identical.
That's why we have a patriotic message, and of course if we do it well, not only will we have the capacity of getting ourselves back with our European partners in some form or other and again I agree with Mark this is a moving target, we can't predict entirely how it will develop, the maybe different forms of European Union and we will have to look at that as and when it comes up - but actually we can not only do good for ourselves but actually we're capable of doing good for the European Union itself.
After all this is one of the largest mass pro-european movements in Europe even though we are not members of the EU - a profound irony, but one which has been noted in Brussels and Paris and Berlin and other cities that there are people who are prepared to speak out about this and together we can then face those problems those Wicked problems as I think they're called in politics whether it's climate change, mass migration, the Ukraine, the ones that politicians don't have easy or straightforward solutions to, rather than just engaging in displacement activity - which is what your six-year-old does when you want to talk to him about having thrown a stone through a window and he wants to talk about his Teddy Bear. This is... and I'm afraid a lot of our national politics is exactly about that.
So we can make that difference and that's why I'm optimistic about the future of this movement and also the future of our own country if we get on with it. We're fortunate in that I think the movement now has really good opportunities, good staff, good leadership, work along with Mike, it's a good opportunity to promote itself enough members to provide its sustenance - heaven knows every time I ask you for money you seem to cough up so... and more people join. So in many organizations, including my old party, this isn't exactly what's happening.
So I think we're on the right track and what I want to do is to do everything I can to help make it a movement whose views cannot be ignored and that's about persuasion, it's about optimism, it's about a better future for our country, and it's about saying to people we're not coming along to criticize what happened in the past, but we're coming along because we are convinced there's a better future, and we want you on board to help us not just helping us within the movement but helping us in the political parties to which you may be attached, because we think this message makes sense and we think it offers a much better future for us all.
Thank you very much.