An extraordinary and top secret away-day summit of leading leavers and remainers, from both the government and members of Labour’s shadow cabinet, has discussed how Brexit has failed and what to do about it.
The claim came in this week’s Observer. The two sides included key figures, such as Michael Gove for the Tories and David Lammy for Labour. The meeting was apparently chaired by Peter Mandelson.
The story predictably brought condemnation from Brexit supporters, including Priti Patel, and Nigel Farage declared: “The full sell-out of Brexit is underway. This Tory party never believed in it.”
Crucially though, it was agreed beforehand that a return to membership of the EU was not on the table. This has been slammed by some pro-EU commentators as being intellectually dishonest and unrealistic, and has once again called into question Labour’s post-Brexit strategy.
Pro-EU groups in East Anglia give half hearted welcome
Pro-EU groups across East Anglia however have offered half-hearted if sceptical support. Rob Colwell, chair of Norfolk for Europe, laughed on learning of the supposed title of the secret talks: “‘How can we make Brexit work better?’ It shows real desperation among leave politicians who behind closed doors appear to accept the disastrous economic situation the country is finding itself in, and the reality of Brexit,” he says.
Stephen Skinner, Chair of East Herts for Europe, was a little more blunt. “We left the EU and now politicians of the larger parties are meeting to discuss how we can rejoin the EU without rejoining the EU, and most importantly do it without admitting Brexit was an appalling error.”
Paul Browne of Cambridge for Europe says: “The revelation that former remain and leave backing politicians held a secret meeting to discuss how to confront the political and economic problems caused by Brexit is in a sense encouraging. It shows that even some of Brexit’s loudest advocates recognise that they can no longer ignore the harm it is doing.
“Recent polling shows that the public are way ahead of politicians on this, with far more supporting the UK rejoining the EU than opposing it. Perhaps the time has come for our political leaders to stop pretending they can ‘make Brexit work’ and instead work towards rejoining the EU.”
Does the Chatham House rule give a clue?
A spokesperson for Suffolk for Europe agrees: “It highlights the urgent need for a more informed and honest public debate about the true costs and implications of Brexit. As Remainers, we hope that this discussion will encourage greater awareness of the risks and downsides of Brexit and ultimately lead to a reconsideration of the UK’s relationship with the EU.”
The talks also included business leaders, diplomats and defence experts. They were held last Thursday and Friday at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, frequently used as a venue for soft-power diplomacy. Informed sources suggest this was probably arranged some time ago, rather than being a last-minute emergency session. Discussions there are usually held under the ‘Chatham House rule’, which requires that discussions may be reported outside the conference room but the identity and affiliation of the speaker may not be revealed or details of others present.
How secret was it intended to be?
If this meeting had been held on similar lines, that suggests the content discussed would be expected to be made public some time afterwards. That begs questions as to how secret it was supposed to be, and so what the real purpose of the event was. Also, in a move almost calculated to offend supporters of the other side, both teams included a bête noire to the other: Peter Mandelson and Michael Gove.
There is considerable speculation about what may lie behind the talks. A senior diplomatic source consulted by EAB suggests:
“You have to look at it in context and ask who benefits. The location is understandable; it can’t be a government building, it needs to be one where you won’t trip over “the unwashed”.
“If we ask who benefits most, I can’t see it redounding to the credit of Labour. On the other side, Gove appears as the Tory who is capable of thought and flexibility, which will appeal to some in his party and a few beyond, as a pragmatist, prepared to compromise in the national interest. And he has form.
“Without the presence of Lammy and Gove, it’s just hot air. They make it a story.”
More from East Anglia Bylines about Brexit
We need your help!
The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs.
If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette from as little as £2 a month 🙏