On Tuesday night, Political Intelligence attended the ‘Brexit. Tamed’ event hosted by The Times in Westminster. The event brought together columnists and politicians to make sense of the political uncertainty in Westminster and to chart a course about where we go from here.
The first panel focused on how we got to this point, and brought together a number of Times columnists, including Philip Collins, Daniel Finkelstein, Sarah Baxter, Iain Martin and David Aaronovitch. The panel offered plenty of suggestions about why there was so much historic discontent about the EU, ranging from the Schuman Plan and the unease created by the speedy introduction of the Euro to more recent events such as the migration crisis and the collapse of the Greek economy.
It was also interesting to note that the panellists highlighted that traditional Euroscepticism didn’t originate from the Conservatives, but from the Labour left-wing – the wing which Corbyn represents – who viewed the EU as an adversary to the Soviet Union. It was noted with some irony that the EU is viewed both as a capitalist and a socialist conspiracy.
The panel pessimistically concluded that leaving the EU is a process rather than an event, and that we are likely to be arguing about the European question for the next 10 years.
Following this panel, Chuka Umunna, the recently departed Labour MP and now lead spokesman for The Independent Group, was grilled by Times sketchwriter and enthusiastic Brexiteer Quentin Letts. Some interesting observations from this interview were that The Independent Group plans to become a Party by the next General Election – even if a snap election happens – and that Chuka intends to stand, although he did not confirm whether this will be for Streatham, his current constituency.
Chuka outlined his dismay at the current party system, highlighting that we shouldn’t have to vote for a party to keep the other one out. He noted that politics has not changed at all over the last 50 years, and that it doesn’t at all reflect the diversification of our society or the impact that technology has had on our lives. He concluded by ruling out that he would run for Mayor of London.
The most interesting part of the evening came when Times columnist Rachel Sylvester interviewed leading Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith MP. The MP over the weekend had been part of the discussions at Chequers where the PM had tried to win over ERG support for her deal.
Asked about his view on the biggest mistake of the whole Brexit process, he believed it was the decision to call an election that no one wanted, and no one was prepared for. He stressed that it is impossible for a Government to govern without a majority, and a lot of the Brexit uncertainty is due to this.
He also stated that the election result played a huge part in the negotiations. He commented that when the EU came to the negotiating table, they were hugely inflexible and insistent in their demands, and the UK should have walked away from the negotiating table to force them to reconsider these demands. However, the election result led to the PM losing her majority and her mandate, and she had no choice but to concede to these demands.
Sylvester then moved onto asking the questions that everyone wanted him to answer. Asked if he believed the PM’s deal would pass, he said yes. Although he did not indicate whether he would personally support it, he referenced Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson’s recent comments in suggesting that he would follow suit in supporting the PM’s deal to prevent no-Brexit.
Questioned about whether May should resign, he said that it was a matter of when, not if. Pressed on this, he admitted that it should be sooner rather than later. When asked about who to replace her, he curtly replied that he wanted to hear about what all of the contenders would do if they were Prime Minister, rather than hear about what they think someone else should do.
Although the event did not find any substantial answers to resolve the Brexit issue, there were a number of interesting perspectives given by columnists and a series of stimulating interviews that provided a greater understanding into the thinking of two leading politicians on either side of the Brexit debate.