If you have been following the aftermath of the EU Referendum then you may have heard of an ostensibly new group Open Britain, a cross-party group made up of politicians who backed the losing remain campaign.
Open Britain was officially launched with a article in yesterday’s Sunday Times written by Conservative MP Anna Soubry, Labour MP Pat McFadden, and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, whilst the group is also backed by several other high profile MPs including Nick Clegg, Dominic Grieve, and Chuka Umunna. Effectively, it is a relaunch of the Stronger In campaign and is aiming to pressure Theresa May into a deal which puts the UK as close to the EU as possible, without actually being members.
In their article in yesterday’s Sunday Times; Soubry, McFadden, and Lamb argued strongly that the referendum result didn’t reflect a desire to shut Britain off from the rest of Europe:
We do not believe that a vote to leave the EU was a vote for a closed Britain. We believe that we are at our best when we are open — open-minded, open for business, open to trade and investment, open to talent and hard work, open to Europe and the world. That is what we are campaigning for.
It had already been suggested in early July that senior pro-Europe figures across the three main parties were openly debating the idea of a new pro-Europe and pro-business political party, a so-called ‘party of the 48 per cent’. However, this was back when there was still a chance of Andrea Leadsom becoming leader of the Conservative Party, which would have led to both major parties being in the position of having a leader with views at odds with the majority of their party’s MPs. Since the ascension of Theresa May to the office of Prime Minister, talk of a split in the Conservative Party has calmed significantly. However, there is little doubt that the Prime Minister made some enemies in the process of her Cabinet reshuffle, with most of the Conservative modernisers sacked from government. Although all is calm at the moment, who knows what could happen once the Brexit negotiations properly begin. As for the Labour Party, when Corbyn wins in September (clearly Owen Smith has absolutely no chance), the splits in the party will simply be exacerbated further, and it is difficult to see the current Labour Party ever properly reunited.
Potential rebels from these parties would have little appetite for simply joining the Liberal Democrats. Many Labour MPs have particular animosity for the Liberal Democrats following a series of bloody by-election fights over the years. In any case, the Liberal Democrat brand remains significantly tainted following the five years of the Coalition Government and despite Tim Farron’s best efforts, the party look to be making little headway in changing this. Therefore, the only option would be to form a completely new party.
Although Open Britain has been launched simply as a grassroots campaign to get a good deal for Britain in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, there seems a decent chance that it could develop into something much more. There were stories during the referendum campaign of how progressive politicians from all the main parties had enjoyed working together during the campaign, and that the prospect of further cooperation in the future had been mooted.
With Jeremy Corbyn set to remain as Labour Party leader, it looks inconceivable that the Labour Party will avoid a split. Whilst although the Conservative Party is currently relatively calm, Theresa May has the unenviable task of balancing the Brexit negotiations so that they aren’t seen to favour the Remain or Leave side of the debate. If the deal she negotiates favours the Leave side, then don’t bet against some of the keener pro-EU Conservative MPs to defect to a new pro-EU grouping in the House of Commons. The UK political system is somewhat unique in that all of the parties are relatively big tents, with the effect of this meaning that there is always potential for defections.
Ultimately, although Open Britain begins as a grassroots campaign group, it may yet morph into a new political party.