Our Future Relationship with the EU – Another Europe National Conference 2021

Text of proposal passed at the Another Europe National Conference 2021.

The following proposal was passed at the Another Europe National Conference 2021.

Proposal 1

What kind of relationship with the EU? And what path to re-join? A progressive vision and strategy

  1. This is the first Another Europe Is Possible conference to have taken place after the end of the transitional period. So now, for the first time, we can identify and measure the effects of the ‘hard Brexit’ that the UK government has chosen.
  2. We can already see how many of the things that we warned of have come to pass. These include the loss of freedom of movement rights for UK citizens in the EU (and vice versa), labour shortages and supply chain issues in the economy (compounded further by COVID-19), threats to environmental regulation and standards, and numerous examples of authoritarianism and racism in policy making (from rejecting international refugee law, to restricting judicial review, threatening independent electoral regulation and the placing of partisan right-wingers in public roles).
  3. Every aspect of this represents a politics we profoundly reject – and will resist. We support international solidarity, not ethnic nationalism. We want a democratically run, well-funded public sector and economy, not crony capitalism. And we recognise that the major problems of the 21st century require regional and global cooperation.
  4. These values inform our strategy. Our starting point is to recognise that the UK needs to rebuild a stable relationship with the EU based on a progressive trade and cooperation agreement. This should include a range of policies that together would restore citizen rights, protect our environment and social rights, and allow for radical economic change to address the burning injustices and inequalities of the UK.
  5. The problems with the current deal are clear and the window of opportunity to change it will come in 2024 when the existing treaty needs to be renewed. This is a chance to pursue a close, progressive trade and cooperation deal that ensures[1]:

    a. A mutual rights agreement for UK and EU citizens. Restore the rights of UK citizens to work and study in the EU (and vice versa) as a key priority.
    b. Harmonisation without downgrading. Replace the flawed level playing-field commitments with a legal commitment to align with minimum EU standards.
    c. Re-join EU programmes on the basis of common interest, including close cooperation in research, science, education and innovation.
    d. Support and build the changing European economic consensus, including reform of state aid and fiscal rules as necessary to support a democratic, transformative economic system with robust protections against corruption.   
    e. Close cooperation in foreign and security policy but without accepting ‘fortress Europe’ and the securitisation of the migration issue. Our conception of a common European foreign policy collaboration would involve robust defence of human rights globally without being pulled into militaristic adventurism (for example, see the UK’s naval flotilla in the South China Sea). We also want to see a solidaristic and humanitarian approach to development policies – including pushing support for UNCTAD[2] and the G77 proposals[3] on a just transition amongst European governments and the wider global north.
  1. Is there a path to re-join? We believe the best relationship the UK could have with the EU is returning to its membership (i.e., ‘re-join’). However, the UK as such cannot move straight from a very hard Brexit to fully re-joining the European Union for the simple reason that the EU side would not accept this – and a UK application would need to be unanimously supported by all EU member states. The trust basis for the UK’s EU membership has to be rebuilt through restoring close cooperation and mutual rights.[4] This means a ‘soft Brexit’ / EEA-like agreement is a critical stage on the path to re-join. We have to reach this stage, in order for a re-join campaign to be viable.
  2. However, we recognize that the path to re-joining may well be different for the constituent parts of the UK: for the north of Ireland, by re-joining the EU as part of a united Ireland; for Scotland, Wales, and England by re-joining as independent states, no doubt at different speeds. While Another Europe does not take a position on the desirability of the break-up of Britain, we fully support the right to self-determination and commit ourselves, as a predominantly England-based movement, to work with allies in the other nations of the U.K. and to recognise the increasing salience of the national question in all our campaigning and media output. We particularly support the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement, the principle of an open land border, and commit to giving visibility to the new debates around the concept of a ‘shared island’ taking place across the island of Ireland.
  3. At the same time, UK public opinion overall continues to be divided about 50/50 between the pro-EU and pro-Brexit sides[5] – though the trend of opinion is currently in favour of the ‘re-join’ side over ‘stay out’, and demographic change strongly favours the pro-EU position overtime. In addition, the situation of public opinion in Scotland and Northern Ireland is clearly very different to the rest of the UK.[6]
  4. In order for re-join to become a credible proposition, there would need to be a substantial, sustainable majority for itWe are not therefore aiming for another 48/52 split, but a higher level of support to give genuine stability to EU membership. An EU that is sceptical about a UK membership application would need to be convinced that this was a sustainable initiative with significant public support. In this respect, we have to be honest that re-joining is a lot harder than deciding to leave.
  5. We must further acknowledge that we will re-join the EU ‘as it is’ not ‘as it was’. A UK rebate is extremely unlikely, opting out of Schengen might be easier due to the fact not all EU members are in it (similarly for the single currency). These are clearly points that will be heavily plugged by a ‘stay out’ side in a referendum. The UK would also face pressure for institutional change during the membership talks, including on rule of law and democracy compliance – but as domestic democratic reform is likely to go hand-in-hand with a successful re-join movement, this might not be an issue.
  6. All in all, this will not be easy. As the twenty-first century rumbles on with its broken economic system, unprecedented environmental threats, and rising nationalism and authoritarianism, the trend lines are to disruption and crisis. But our response to these huge problems and challenges has to be robust, principled and in line with our values: global solidarity and anti-racism, economic justice and ecological sustainability. We cannot credibly fight our domestic authoritarians without challenging the project, Brexit, that they draw legitimacy from – and our vision for making ‘another Europe’ and ‘another world possible’ is internationalist in its essence. Our challenge is to combine this ‘big vision’ with issues-by-issues grassroots campaigning and solidarity work. We need to monitor, scrutinise and challenge specific problems with Brexit as they arise, turning these into rapid-fire campaigns.
  7. To pursue this, we will prioritise our Brexit Spotlight project as:
    1. A public resource of blogs seeking meaningful scrutiny and accountability of Brexit, which can be turned into rapid campaigning responses.  
    2. A regular series of briefings for members (“The Brexit Spotlight 60-minute Briefing Series”) in the form of webinars with experts and campaigners.
    3. A medium to outline our holistic and radical alternative to Tory Brexit.
  8. We will also build support for our approach (especially individual policies that arise from it, like freedom of movement) amongst UK political parties in the run-in to the next general election. And continue to work with progressive movements and political parties on the international stage, including European Alternatives.  

[1] For a longer outline, see 25th April 2021, ‘The fundamental problems in the UK-EU trade deal and how it can be reformed’ https://www.anothereurope.org/reformEUdeal.pdf

[2] https://unctad.org/news/scaling-climate-adaptation-finance-must-be-table-un-cop26

[3] Referring to the ‘Loss and Damage Facility’ proposed by G77+China at COP26 (representing 130 nations and 85% of the world’s population) to establish an institutional body responsible for allocation and distribution of funds for losses and damage cause by climate change in vulnerable and poor countries. The proposal was rejected by countries in the rich world. 

[4] Some constituent parts of the UK have a different route back to membershipOn this, see footnote 6. 

[5] On this see, ‘Do voters want to reverse Brexit?’ 16th November 2021, https://www.brexitspotlight.org/do-voters-really-want-to-reverse-brexit/.

[6] At our first democratic national conference in 2018, Another Europe Is Possible committed to, “support the self-determination of the Scottish and Irish peoples, by supporting their right to a referendum on independence and unification respectively.” We re-affirmed this position at the 2019 conference and most recently made a further NC statement on these lines after the 2021 Scottish elections: https://www.anothereurope.org/the-scottish-people-must-have-the-right-to-self-determination/  

4th December 2021