AEJ stages ‘consensus-seeking’ debate on future UK-EU relations in London, and marks a 50th anniversary in London
The AEJ has hosted an ambitious event in London on Friday 28 September in a search for a degree of consensus among rival camps in the ongoing fierce debate over Brexit and the shape of future UK-EU relations in the longer term. The AEJ-UK 50 Years Forum: Colloquium on the Future of UK-EU Relations was held just six months before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU. The event marked 50 years since the formation of the UK branch and it generated something rare in the present fevered political climate in Britain: an open-minded dialogue among figures from opposing sides of the Brexit debate.
The event attracted active participation by about 100 diplomate, officials, and representatives of a wide range of professional and civil society organisations, including more than 40 journalists from all corners of the EU. A dozen AEJ member journalists from other EU states, including international AEJ president Otmar Lahodynsky of Austria’s “profil” magazine, flew into London specially to join the debate, at the invitation of the European Commission which supported the organisation of the event by the AEJ in the UK.
Full details of the event, with links to prepared speeches, summaries of the Panels and the interventions by AEJ journalists on the reporting of Brexit in the European media, are available on the AEJ Uk webite www.aej-uk.org . Audio and video recordings of the Colloquium will also be made available there.
In his keynote speech Sir Martin Donnelly, who until last year held a series of very senior posts dealing with the EU in the UK Cabinet Office, Foreign Office and Department of International Trade, said that the UK government’s mishandling of the Brexit negotiations and unrealistic expectations are likely to result in serious damage to the country’s wealth and standing in the world. He predicted that it would take years or even decades before the UK could achieve an eventual recovery in its fortunes, which would also require a sober re-think of Britain’s often testy relationship with its closest neighbours by a new generation of political leaders.
Gisela Stuart, the German-born former British Labour MP who played a leading part in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, strongly contested that assessment. She said the referendum had shown the settled mindset of British people as a whole. She was confident that any second referendum would confirm the results of the first one, and that in future people would look back on the current confusion and hesitation and ask themselves what all the fuss had been about. She now heads the “Change Britain” organisation which is dedicated to seeing Brexit through and ensuring that the UK takes back control of its laws, borders, money and trade.
The half-day Colloquium set out to test the extent to which common ground could be found among the proponents of rival standpoints on the shape of Britain’s future dealings with continental Europe despite the fierce divisions revealed by the Brexit debate. The event included two spirited panel discussions featuring prominent opinion leaders and experts politics, history, inter-cultural exchange and journalism. A fair degree of consensus was voiced among speakers that underlying social issues such as inequality, deprivation and a loss of trust in the current generation of political leaders, had played a major part in the 52 to 48 percent popular vote in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum.
The wide regional variations in the breakdown of that vote – with London and other major cities as well as Scotland voting for Remain but most of England and Wales voting for Leave, continue to be reflected in the acrimonious political debate which is growing even more intense as the effective deadline for a workable UK-EU agreement to pave the way for Britain’s departure comes ever closer. Prime Minister David Cameron had sought a new deal with the EU which would in his words make UK voters feel ‘more comfortable’ about the country’s continued membership of the European Union. Instead the Leave side won and Mr Cameron promptly left the political stage.
The first Panel on “The UK in and out of Europe: Politics, Identity and Cultures” heard presentations – in addition to Gisela Stuart – from Gina Miller, the campaigner who became a national figure after successfully challenging the government’s Brexit plans in the UK Supreme Court last year, Alexandre Holroyd, a French-British politician a]nd member of President Macron’s En Marche party who sits in the French Assemblee Nationale as the representative of French inhabitants of the UK and Northern Europe, and James Hawes, a novelist and the author of a much-acclaimed recent publication, “The Shortest History of Germany”.
The first panel was moderated by William Horsley, chairman of the AEJ UK Section and a former long-serving BBC foreign correspondent and TV and radio presenter.
The second Panel, “Whoe Europe is it anyway? Media and Public opinion”, featured as speakers the Daily Telegraph’s respected Europe editor Peter Foster, the UK-based journalist for “Zeit Online” and journalism lecturer Imke Henkel, former Financial Times foreign editor and Brussels correspondent Quentin Peel, and Stephen Jukes, former Reuters head of global news who writes extensively on the media’s role in informing and shaping public opinion.
The moderator of the second panel was Eileen Dunne, who for many years has presented the main news on RTE, Irish national television. She is currently secretary of the AEJ in Ireland.
The London event had the ambitious aim of seeking fresh answers to the vexed search for a framework that could ensure a constructive and healthy relationship between Britain and the rest of Europe that takes account of the groundswell of public opinion which led to the Brexit vote, but which can also reflect the shared history and inter-dependence of the UK and its nearest neighbours. The dialogue took place at Europe House, the home of the European Commission’s Representation in the UK, at a time when the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is shrouded in extraordinary uncertainty.
See www.aej-uk.org for more information about the speakers and a full account of the half-day event on 28 September 2018.