Simon Maxwell

Keep in touch!

Roadmap to Remain: An Open Letter to Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron

Roadmap to Remain: An Open Letter to Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron



Dear Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron,

I know you’re busy, what with forming a coalition in Germany, reforming the labour market in France, and thinking, both of you, about how to shape the core institutions of the Eurozone, and the EUEuropean Union more widely. However, if you can find a few minutes, please spare a thought for Brexit. You two, perhaps only the two of you, can take the initiative, and avoid the pain that Brexit will represent.

Perhaps you agree with Jean-Claude Juncker, in his State of the Union speech in September, who seemed indifferent to the consequences of Brexit, even relieved that now the ‘real’ EUEuropean Union could move forward towards fiscal, monetary and political union. I hope you don’t share that view, and recognise instead that Britain leaving the EUEuropean Union would be immensely damaging for the EU, as well as for the UK. At a stroke, the EUEuropean Union will lose its leading financial centre, 15% of its population, income and budget, half its seats on the UN Security Council, one of its two nuclear powers, nearly 20% of its scientists, all 4 of its global top 20 universities, and a market worth £300bn a year to the rest of the EU. It is hard to imagine you are not worried by all of that, and would prefer to avoid it.

Your advisers might lead you to believe that the politics in the UK mean Brexit will not happen.  There is a lot of political talk about the possibility of a second referendum, when the negotiations have been completed. This is the stated position of some political parties in the UK, and the aspiration of some in other parties. However, even if there were to be another referendum which did mark an ‘exit from Brexit’, in 2019, at the end of another eighteen months’ hard negotiations, both the UK and the EUEuropean Union will have suffered a long period of anxiety and uncertainty. And who can tell how soured relations might be by then?

There is a better solution, and it lies in your hands. The two of you could make an offer that would amount to a material change and justify a second referendum in the UK – not in early 2019, but now, soon, perhaps in early 2018. Of course, you would want to be sure in advance that such an offer was welcome, and that a second referendum would command the enthusiastic support of all Britain’s nations, and a solid majority of its people. There would also need to be enough of a consensus across political parties in the House of Commons. The channels surely exist to test the waters and choreograph the process.

The offer you make would need to be significant, in appearance and in practice. It would need to command support, of course, among all of the EU-27. But it need not deviate so very much from the proposals that you are likely to favour. Further, you might ask for something in return.

The first element of an offer would be on freedom of movement. As Tony Blair wrote in September ‘Most people are not actually anti-immigrant. They understand that we need some categories of migrant worker particularly the highly skilled; and they're not indifferent to the plight of genuine refugees. But they believe we should have the right to control our own borders and that the system is fundamentally unsystematic. So there is no discussion about Brexit which can set aside discussion of immigration’. The UK’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has said he thinks the door is open to an emergency brake. And there are other options, including further restrictions on benefits. Emmanuel Macron has complained about ‘social dumping’ associated with low-wage migrant workers from Eastern Europe, and has called for reform of the Posted Workers Directive. Is that an option?

The second element would be reform of the European Court of Justice. This, too, is a hot button issue in the UK, but again, one on which it should be easy to forge a pan-European consensus for reform. Recent reform efforts were long drawn-out and contentious, but have left key issues unresolved. For example, as Professor Peter Lindseth has argued, by the way citing the German Federal Constitutional Court in support, it is necessary to purge the erroneous idea of ‘supremacy’ from discussions of EUEuropean Union public law, emphasise its limited regulatory function, protect national democratic and constitutional prerogatives of the Member States against undue encroachments by European institutions, be much more demanding of the European institutions, and do more to embed subsidiarity in Europe. That sounds like an agenda which would unite eurosceptics and eurorealists alike.

In return for action in these areas, you might ask for a reduction, even elimination of the UK rebate. That currently amounts to about £4bn per year, or nearly £30bn over the lifetime of the EU’s 7-year budget. The UK might think that a small price to pay, certainly compared to the size of the exit bill currently being discussed.

No doubt, there are die-hard sceptics in the UK, certainly in the two main national political parties, who would reject even these innovations. But an ambitious offer would reduce their number. Most important, a material change in the conditions of membership would legitimise a second vote.

One further piece of evidence might sway opinion. This is the realisation that a ‘soft’ Brexit is probably unattainable, and anyway hardly conducive to wild popular acclaim. In the trade area, a favoured option involves continued membership of the single market and the customs union. This has been described as ‘Pay, Obey, but No Say’. There is only one answer to that, either in an extended transition period or for ever: ‘‘Pay, Obey, but No Say?. No Way!’.

Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron, there is so much we can do together, on all the big problems challenging Europe and the world: peace . . . a solution to climate change  . . . a globalisation that works for all. The EUEuropean Union can be a force for good, all the more so if the UK remains as a member. The European Council meets on 19 and 20 October. How about launching an initiative then?

Image: Copyright: <a href=''>tang90246 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Add comment

Security code
Security code:


latest pollVote now: 

Is the concept of 'fragile               states'                   over-                   burdened?


Follow me on Twitter