With a year to go until Britain leaves the European Union, one of the country’s most divisive Remainers, Lord Adonis, comes to Leeds for what is being billed as the largest ever anti-Brexit march outside London. Arj Singh reports.
Known as one of the most strident “Remaniacs” who sparked anger by comparing Brexit to the appeasement of the Nazis, Lord Adonis is in no mood for compromise as he visits largely Leave-backing Yorkshire.
The one thing the country has not done is unite behind Brexit; on the contrary, the one electoral test there has been since the referendum which was last year’s General Election, she lost it.Lord Adonis
The former Cabinet Minister is clear in his aim – staying in the EU – and believes the region’s voters will back him in a second referendum when they realise that Brexit was a “damaging and misguided” idea “sold to them on a false prospectus” full of claims which “one by one are collapsing”.
Yorkshire Leave voters, he claims, “were told a lie” that Brexit would allow the UK to control immigration without damaging the economy by leaving the single market, and so must have another say.
“I’m not subverting democracy one iota,” says the peer who has never been elected to office, describing a second vote on the final exit deal Theresa May negotiates with Brussels as “a supreme democratic act”.
Now that the Prime Minister has tied up a “status quo” transition deal to run until 2021, attention is turning to the all-important negotiations on trade in which the Labour peer believes Brexit’s contradictions will come crashing to the fore.
That’s why today he is in Leeds, one of only three local authorities in Yorkshire where residents backed Remain, for what has been billed as the largest anti-Brexit march ever seen in the North of England.
Lord Adonis, who is part of an increasingly organised pro-EU campaign which includes the likes of ex-PMs Tony Blair and Sir John Major, Tory rebel MPs and business leaders, says it is time to “rally the troops” amid polls which are stubbornly refusing to deviate much from the referendum result.
He admits this is significant, but in his enthusiastic style sees it as a positive and insists the Tories’ embarrassing General Election “loss” last year showed there is a Remainer backlash ready to be exploited.
“Two years on from the Brexit referendum you’d have expected that Brexit would now be regarded as a done deal; after all, the country voted with a narrow majority in favour, Theresa May said that Brexit means Brexit, she asked for an electoral mandate to do Brexit and she asked us to unite behind her.
“The one thing the country has not done is unite behind Brexit; on the contrary, the one electoral test there has been since the referendum which was last year’s General Election, she lost it.”
The strategy is now to exploit Mrs May’s lack of a majority in the Commons to vote down the Brexit deal in autumn this year while agitating for a second referendum.
The Tories’ rebel Brexit leader Dominic Grieve is “extremely unhappy” with the deal on the table, Lord Adonis claims, while Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are moving “crab-like towards Remain”.
“Bit by bit we are getting to a position where Labour will, I believe, vote against the withdrawal treaty,” he says, and with about 20-25 Tory rebels it’s “highly likely now that the Government will lose the vote on the treaty at the end of the year.”
It’s the kind of talk that many Brexiteers see as evidence of an attempted stitch-up by an Establishment they rejected in the referendum vote.
And Lord Adonis’s admission that anti-Brexit campaigners have held meetings at the London base of the European Commission and Parliament, within a stone’s throw of the Palace of Westminster, is unlikely to help win over the Leavers he needs.
But he insists there is no link between the Remain campaign and the EU and cannot resist a characteristic dig at Nigel Farage, whose description of the peer as a “twisted weasel” is worn as a badge of honour on his Twitter profile.
Lord Adonis says: “We’re not the thought police from Brussels, we’re independently minded individuals who are in full control of our faculties.
“We are not the Manchurian Candidates.
“We’re not the equivalent of Nigel Farage and his relationship with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, we are fully, fully in control of our independent thinking processes.”
He insists a second referendum will be “fundamentally different” as Remain can tap into young Corbyn-supporting voters who backed Labour in 2017 “in order, it’s clear from the polls, to defeat Brexit”, as well as two million extra politically engaged 18 and 19-year-olds.
Which is where Leeds, with its massive student population which turned out in numbers for Mr Corbyn last June, comes in.
Lord Adonis says: “This crazed, right-wing, nationalist, Thatcherite Brexit project is, I’m glad to say, steadily disintegrating, but the problem we have is that Theresa May still has the largest party in the House of Commons and we have to seize the initiative from her, and that requires really serious popular agitation”.
Even if he fails to stop Brexit happening on March 29, 2019, the outspoken peer says he will still be campaigning for EU membership in five years “unless it’s all a miraculous success, but I think that’s extremely unlikely”.
“My own view is if Brexit happens next year within 10 or 15 years the next generation of politicians will be proposing we go back into the European Union – far from ending divisions, Brexit I believe will exacerbate them.”
The clock, as they say in Brussels, is ticking.