Pro-EU campaign groups join forces to fight against hard Brexit

Labour MP Chuka Umunna to chair umbrella group of nine organisations mounting collective push for close links to Europe

Andrew Grice
Thursday 01 February 2018 20:53 GMT
Labour MP Chuka Umunna is to chair the umbrella group
Labour MP Chuka Umunna is to chair the umbrella group (Getty)

Nine campaign groups which want the closest possible links with the EU are to join forces in order to mount a more effective attack on Theresa May’s plans for a hard Brexit.

The organisations, which have half a million supporters between them, have set up an umbrella group to urge a soft Brexit and call for the public’s voice to be heard, possibly through a referendum on the exit deal. The move has been welcomed by The Independent.

The Grassroots Coordinating Group will play a crucial role in lobbying MPs before Parliament votes on the withdrawal agreement this autumn. If pro-Europeans win a referendum on the deal, the new group would be the starting point for a campaign to remain in the EU.

The nine campaigns will co-ordinate their work to avoid duplication following criticism that they have been competing with each other rather than fighting the Government.

“It’s been a bit like the ‘People’s Front of Judea’,” one insider admitted, in a reference to Monty Python's film Life of Brian, in which fractious independence groups bicker rather than fight the Romans.

The groups involved are the all‐party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations; Open Britain; Best for Britain; the European Movement UK; InFacts; Scientists for EU; Healthier IN the EU; Britain for Europe; and The New European newspaper. Between them they have 1.1 million Facebook page likes and 307,000 Twitter followers.

They have met informally in recent months and lobbied MPs before the Commons defied the Government in December by giving Parliament a “meaningful vote” on the exit deal. They will now try to persuade the Labour opposition to take a tougher stance against Ms May’s proposals and will urge the 25 pro-EU Conservative MPs to block a hard Brexit.

Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP who has a weekly column with The Independent, will chair the coordinating group. He said: “This is a network of hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are determined the British people have a say not only on whether we remain in the EU but also on the form of Brexit pursued. We have now brought together all the different armies to join the battle in a more efficient and effective way.”

Mr Umunna denied that the pro-EU groups’ efforts had been hampered by rivalries between them. “It has not been about competition, but more a case of how to avoid duplication,” he said.

The Streatham MP added: “It is vital in our democracy that in these Brexit negotiations the people get a say on the outcome, rather than their representatives in Parliament being reduced to some rubber stamp for whatever ministers decide. The 2016 referendum did not determine the form of Brexit, so our grassroots network of civic society organisations and parliamentarians are now working in a much more co-ordinated way to ensure the people’s voices are heard in this process.”

The new group will work across parties, and organisers contrast that with the pro-Brexit European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, which has the support of about 60 Tory MPs.

Pro-Europeans hope the tide is starting to turn against Brexit. They have been buoyed by an ICM poll showing a 16-point lead for the public to have the final say on whether to leave the EU when the Brexit deal is known.

They have seized on the leak of a draft government analysis showing the economy would take a hit under the main Brexit options. This prompted Philip Lee, a Justice Minister, to question whether Brexit could legitimately go ahead. Ministers insist the Whitehall study is incomplete and does not address their favoured option of a bespoke trade deal with the EU.

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