By Edward McMillan-Scott
It's been a bad week for David Davis. Not only was he the butt of criticism from his Brussels counterparts as a "weak negotiator" and for his "apparent lack of involvement" but he was also chided by MPs during his "fantasy land" presentation on the Brexit negotiations as the Commons returned on Tuesday. They objected not just for its content, but for him turning his back on most MPs and simply addressing the phalanx of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs behind him.
It was the same during second reading of the EU withdrawal bill yesterday - a debate on its principles, such as they are. Those Eurosceptics are the handful of people who now run the country, the rebels on Europe who harassed successive Tory party leaders and who now bully those who question "the will of the people".
But Davis has trouble in his own department, with a junior minister accused of undermining his negotiating position.
A letter urging a hard Brexit has been supported by Davis' junior minister Steve Baker, one of the new Eurosceptic MPs and a former chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), founded by Daniel Hannan MEP, which coordinates some 60 hard Brexit Tory MPs behind a password-protected website and the WhatsApp group called "ERG DExEU/DIT Suppt Group".
The letter, which was being circulated by the ERG and has been signed by about 40 MPs, was intended for publication in a Sunday newspaper on the eve of the vote on second reading. It urges no payment to Brussels and withdrawal from the Single Market and Customs Union. It concludes "In short, when we leave in 2019 - we need to make sure we are well and truly out."
But as the EU Withdrawal Bill moves to detailed examination in Committee in October, the influence of the ERG has stimulated more cooperation between the pro-EU organisations, and the reality of Brexit is spreading to the formerly sceptic media. The Times sketch writer Patrick Kidd, wrote after Davis' Tuesday performance that "Brexit is proving to be a bit of a disaster" and Isabel Hardman wrote on the Spectator blog:
"Davis stuck at being an optimist despite constant jeering and a good response from Labour's Keir Starmer, in which the Shadow Brexit Secretary ridiculed what he claimed were constant changes of heart, both over the ease with which the negotiations would progress and the options for the customs border with Ireland."
Last Saturday, scores of pro-European activist groups joined the latest day of action across Britain organised jointly by Open Britain, the European Movement and its partners Britain for Europe, Scientists for EU and Healthier in the EU. Growing branch networks and street activism are under way.
Working level coordination between these and other pro-EU organisations with funds and staffing, such as Best for Britain, is supporting the EU Relations all-party parliamentary group chaired by Anna Soubry MP and Chuka Umunna MP. It tellingly pledges to "ensure that, in the negotiation with the UK's EU partners, all options are kept on the table" .
Meanwhile, former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, chair of the long-established European Movement, which campaigns for an 'outcome referendum' and for the UK to stay in the EU, this week urged a united pro-EU voice. And Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service, said of Brexit on Newsnight on Tuesday that a no Brexit deal would be a "complete and utter disaster" for the country.
"There is no upside here," he said. "This is about damage limitation and we are working in a situation where policy has not been properly settled." He added that a no Brexit deal would be a "complete and utter disaster for this country".
The Tory Eurosceptics in parliament, with Theresa May in thrall, want nothing but a no deal, hard Brexit. They can afford it, the country cannot.
In "Democracy and its Crisis" published this week, philosopher Professor A C Grayling concludes with a study of Trump and Brexit: "No constitutional system should allow a partisan group to hijack the interests of the whole: this is happening in the UK and the US as these words are being written."
Edward McMillan-Scott was a UK MEP 1984-2014 and founder of the EU’s €190m Democracy & Human Rights Initiative www.EIDHR.eu . A former leader of the Conservative MEPs, he opposed David Cameron's split from the mainstream EPP Group in 2009 and sat as a LibDem until 2014. He is a patron of the European Movement
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