Bruges Group Meeting 1 June 2015 – John Redwood says he could vote to stay in the EU

Meeting title: The EU and the Future of Britain

Robert Henderson


Tim Aker  (Ukip  MEP)

John Redwood (Tory  MP)

Peter Oborne (Associate editor of the Spectator  magazine)

The meeting was well attended with in excess of 200 people present, many of whom stayed   throughout despite having  to stand.  Particularly pleasing and encouraging were the number of young faces, which made up perhaps  a  quarter  of the audience.  The audience was very animated and a positive forest of hands were going up when questions were taken.

The order of the speakers  was Aker – Redwood – Oborne.  However, for ease of summary of their views both in their  speeches  and in answer to audience questions I shall  deal with them with them in this order:  Redwood – Aker – Oborne.

John Redwood

Redwood was so out of touch with the feeling of the audience that  he came close to being booed. As it was there were frequent cries of “no”, “rubbish” and general murmurings of dissent as he asked the audience to trust Cameron’s honesty in his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and put forward a plan for the OUT campaign which side-lined Nigel Farage . (The traffic of  audience disapproval   was countered by support for Redwood , but judged by the noise made  those against him were   considerably more  numerous than his supporters).

Redwood said that he  believed  in Cameron’s honest intent  in  his negotiations  with EU. Consequently, he would not make up his mind whether to vote to leave until Cameron had completed his negotiations. Also said explicitly  that he would vote to stay in if the renegotiations were successful.    I think most people who have followed Redwood’s voluminous pronouncements  on  the EU over the years will be more than a little surprised by his adoption of  such an equivocal position as the referendum approaches.   His position was all the more unexpected because he began his talk by  denouncing  the fact that  membership of the EU  meant elected governments  –  most notably Greece at present – could not  do  what their electors wanted even if they wished to.  An important question arises,   if  Redwood  is  undecided about which way he will vote  how can he be part of the planning of the OUT campaign?   Indeed, if Cameron gets concessions which Redwood deems enough to persuade him to vote to stay in,  presumably he will be campaigning with the  stay in camp.

While Redwood’s unwillingness to directly dismiss Cameron’s stated aim as a sham is understandable, he is just a backbencher   who is unlikely to find a place in  a Cameron cabinet in a Parliament where his party only has a small majority.  These circumstances mean Redwood  has considerable freedom  to speak his mind. He could have said something along the lines of “The Prime Minister is sincere in his desire to reform the EU but I am  sure we all know in our hearts that this is a lost cause. Therefore, I have no doubt that I  shall be voting  to come out of the EU” or,  even better “, I  shall be voting to leave the EU regardless of what is offered by the EU  because for me the question  is not about renegotiating our term of membership but  of Britain being a sovereign nation state”.  Either statement would be consistent with what Redwood  has said over the past few years.

Redwood also  failed to  describe in any  detail what  would constitute  sufficient changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU to make him vote to stay in.  Neither Aker nor Oborne challenged him on this and no audience member who was called to ask a question raised the subject.  However, the subject is  academic in the long run because it really does not matter what Cameron obtains by his renegotiation, because whilst we remain within the EU any concessions given now may be reversed at a later date by the EU, most probably  in cahoots with a British government consisting of Europhiles. .

Perhaps most  disturbing for those  who wish  the UK to leave the EU as a matter of principle, that is, those who wish our country to be a sovereign nation again, was Redwood’s strategy for the OUT campaign.  He  adopted the line that Nigel Farage should not lead the OUT campaign because  Farage is a marmite politician  who will alienate large chunks of the waverers  as we approach the referendum.  In fact, Redwood gave the impression he would like to see  Farage completely excluded from the OUT campaign.

Redwood’s tactics  for the OUT side  consisted of not frightening the voters with vulgar non-pc  talk about immigration or , indeed, being  brutally honest  about anything relating to the  EU. Of course it is true  that both  the undecided voters and  faint-hearted supporters of Britain leaving the EU will have to be appealed to in the right terms. The mistake Redwood is making is to imagine that the right terms do not include putting immigration controls  at the heart of  the OUT campaign.  Polls consistently show that immigration is one of the  major concerns of the British public and,  when the politically correct inspired terror of speaking honestly about race and immigration is taken into account, it is odds on that immigration is the number one issue by a wide margin.  A British Future report in 2014 found that 25% of those included in the research wanted not only an end to immigration but the removal of all immigrants already in the UK and a YouGov poll commissioned by  Channel 5  in 2014 found that 70% of those questioned wanted and end to mass immigration. .

Putting immigration at the heart of the OUT campaign would also have the bonus of appealing to the Scots through  a subject on which they feel  much the same as the rest of the UK, that is they are   opposed to mass immigration.  That is important because the SNP are trying to establish grounds for Scotland having a veto over the UK leaving the EU if Scotland votes to stay in the EU and either England  or England, Wales and Northern Ireland  vote to leave.  The larger the vote to leave the EU in Scotland is , the less moral  leverage they will have for  either a veto over Britain leaving  the EU or another independence referendum.

Why is Redwood putting forward the  idea that Farage should be kept out of the limelight?   It cannot be simply to damage Ukip in the interest of the Tory Party  because there will be no general election for years (probably five years) . Could it be personal spite against Farage on Redwood’s part because they have quarrelled? I doubt it because I cannot recall Redwood and Farage having had a serious disagreement.   How about Redwood being  contaminated with the politically correct imprinting on the subjects of race and immigration  with the consequence that he thinks Farage’s views on these subjects are simply beyond the Pale? This is much more likely.  Interestingly, such a view echoes that of Douglas Carswell  who said of Nigel  Farage’s comments about foreign HIV patients costing the Earth:  “I think some of the tone that we deployed – for example the comments about HIV I think were plain wrong. Wrong at so many levels. Not just wrong because they were electorally unhelpful but just wrong because they were wrong.”

Redwood added fuel to the fire of the audience’s  discontent  by adopting a patronising tone adorned with a  supercilious smirk to anyone who disagreed with  him – Redwood kept on repeating that the referendum  would be lost if any general  plan but the one he described  was followed – and refused to answer when he was asked to comment  on what he would  do and think if Farage did lead the OUT campaign.  The smirk became particularly  pronounced at this point.

Tim Aker

Unlike Redwood and  Aker   was very forthright and uncompromising, dealing pretty roughly with Redwood  whose position on Cameron’s sincerity   he treated with undisguised  incredulity. He  pointed out the impossibility of the EU  giving Cameron anything substantial  and the folly of trying to sideline Farage.  He pointed out that without Farage and Ukip there would be no referendum, a simple  truth  because before Ukip began to make substantial inroads into the Tory vote  Cameron had  shown no serious interest in a referendum.

In his speech Aker made all the right sort of  political noises likely  to appeal to most  electors :  immigrants reduce the wages of the low paid; the unemployed of other EU states are being dumped on the UK;  the need for positive patriotism; a vote to remain in the EU would betray future generations;  billions in  Aid went to foreigners while  some of our own people went to food banks ; England was being Balkanised through the city regions being forced on the country by Cameron;  it is time to get rid of  the Barnett Formula and so on. All of this produced in Redwood and Oborne the kind of  facial expression  that people adopt when they have encountered an unpleasant smell.   That alone told you that Akers is  on the right path.

Peter Oborne

Oborne gave a very poor speech. It  largely  consisted of backing up Redwood’s objections to  Farage and Redwood’s   plans for the OUT campaign.  He described Akers as misguided and predicted that Farage  would bring to the ballot box only  the 14% or so who voted Ukip at the General Election.  That  claim was simple nonsense because  a general election and a referendum are chalk and cheese, and there are many  Eurosceptics in other parties, even some in the LibDems.  To assume that Farage would  cause such people to vote to  remain in the EU or to abstain is ridiculous.

However, Oborne  was strong on the need to have spending restrictions during the referendum campaign and made  the  interesting claim that  Rupert Murdoch will be coming out for the stay in the EU side because Murdoch has re-established his close association with the Tory Party.

What needs to be done

Nigel Farage must not be shouldered aside but put in the forefront of the OUT campaign. Not only is he an increasingly effective public performer, especially in debates,  unless he takes a lead role the OUT campaign is likely to end up in the hands of people such as Redwood and Carswell who have bought into the politically correct view of the world.  What this campaign needs is emphatic, unambiguous and above all honest  explanation of what the EU represents .  It needs  Farage  at the forefront of the OUT campaign  to set that tone.

Immigration must be at the heart of the OUT campaign because it is (1)  the issue which concerns more voters  than any other issue and (2)  it  cuts across party and ideological lines in a way no other issue in the referendum will do.

Setting spending limits must be made a priority and should be agreed and  put into operation by the end of 2015. The Europhile political elite will doubtless try to  restrict spending limits to a short period before the vote is held.   This would produce a re-run of the great inequality of resources between the YES and NO sides  the 1975 referendum.

The fixing of the EU referendum by the Europhiles has already begun with  the choice of a palpably biased question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”  The bias comes from both the trigger word “remain” and the fact that the status quo has captured the  YES answer. Ideally a  judicial review should be launched as soon as possible. If Ukip  could fund it,  that would be a most  effective way of exercising control over the OUT campaign.

What should the question be? The original question put into European (Referendum) Bill  was “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?”  That is much less biased because it does not overtly ask electors to vote for the status quo.

An alternative would be a double question with a box to mark against each question, for example

I wish Britain to be a member of the EU

I do not wish Britain to be a member of the EU.

Even that is not perfect because there is the problem of the order in which the questions come (being first gives a slight advantage because people tend to have an inclination to read the first question on a ballot and  be swayed by that before reading subsequent questions).  However, it could be objected that people would be confused by having the question in different orders.

Above all the OUT campaign needs to get its skates on as the referendum could be upon us quicker than we think, perhaps by the end of 2016 if Cameron has his way.

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9 Responses to Bruges Group Meeting 1 June 2015 – John Redwood says he could vote to stay in the EU

  1. Keith Thomas says:

    I do like your double question option. The advantage given to the first position (a “donkey vote”) could be neutralised by having half the ballot papers printed in one order and the other half in the other order and the papers coming in pads with alternate printings.

    • Printing half with one question at the top and the other half with the second question would be a non-starter because the objection would be that people would get confused.

      • Keith Thomas says:

        It works in elections in a couple of Australian states where the ballot papers are printed in a number of batches so that every candidate is given equal exposure in the top position. The practice there is totally uncontroversial.

  2. Peter Brown says:

    For Redwood to come out and say that he may be in a position to vote to stay in the EU has left me speechless. Therefore, I can only WRITE that somehow Redwood has been got at.

    Redwood has always presented himself as a patriot which is totally incompatible with living under a Supra-National regime of any kind. Wit respect, he must either be becoming a victim of dementia or undue force is being laid upon him. This must be the antithesis of a damascene that he started off with all the evidence of truth, then suddenly, he appears to be sliding towards all of the nay-sayers.

  3. hereward says:

    What about Tim Martin Chairman of Wetherspoons ? I think he is a confirmed outer and a very good debater as he showed when he wiped the floor with Richard Branson during a prog about adopting the euro . He could also help to finance the Campaign . Nigel F yes but one of a group not isolated . I agree that immigration is the main issue after Sovereignty .
    There should be two questions on the ref ballot paper as you say .
    The suggestion that we do as the Australians do made by Keith Thomas above is excellent .
    John Dedwood is a spent force . He needs to go away and study the words of the Welsh national Anthem !

  4. david brown says:

    i agree with Peter Brown above -no relation. Somehow Redwood who has always seemed an honest guy has been got at. The fact is the agents of the state will engage in all sort of covert actions to undermine from within any effective opposition to the UK remaining in the EU.
    All that GCHQ electronic surveillance that pretends to protect us will be used to gain leverage against enemies of the real power which rules England the EU.

  5. DICK R says:

    Redwood must be thinking of his career, the treacherous EU lickspittle.

  6. Oborne is a strange figure to judge. He described the media campaign against UKIP in the 2014 European election as the nastiest since that against Kinnock in 1992 (a correct call) yet on other areas he seems to be away with the fairies – most noticeably his endless pussyfooting with a succession of UK Islamists.

    I don’t think the NO campaign wants to alienate him, but it is interesting that on this examination, both Oborne and Redwood are tentative before the fight has even begun.

    • Redwood made a fool of himself at the meeting because he so emphatically contradicted what he had been saying and writing for many years. That makes him unfit to play a role in the OUT campaign because the IN camp will simply point to his amazing change of position on the EU and say, how can anything this man says be taken seriously. Redwood has succumbed to the politically correct view that dealing honestly with the subject of immigration is beyond the Pale. Oborne has long espoused that view.

      It is essential that Farage takes a leading part in thec ampaign because otherwise the OUT campaign will be hijacked by those who will through away the strongest card the OUT camp have: the impossibility of controlling our borders whilst were are within the EU.

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