Occupy London: the eviction and the backlash

Protesters angered by apparent collusion of St Paul's with the police.

When Giles Fraser resigned as the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's last year it was, he said, because he could not face the prospect of "Dale Farm" on the steps of the Cathedral. But, to the protesters' credit, last night's eviction did not result in violence. Legal observers report that there were around 20 arrests but the majority of activists, who were given just five minutes' notice by bailiffs, complied peacefully with police orders.

On Twitter, Fraser, who was denied access to the site by police, has commented:

Of concern to activists is the apparent collusion of St Paul's with the eviction. Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, has posted footage (see below) of police stating that the Cathedral gave them permission to clear the steps. The protesters lost their legal right to remain earlier this month but there are some who feel that St Paul's should have stood with them in peaceful resistance.

Meanwhile, Occupy London has issued a press release declaring that "plans are already afoot: plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect from us."

The key paragraphs read:

This morning, the City of London Corporation and St Paul's Cathedral have dismantled a camp and displaced a small community, but they will not derail a movement. The attention given to the final hours of the Occupy London Stock Exchange site is testament to that. We would like to thank all those who got the word out on social and traditional media overnight. We are deeply appreciative of the sustained attention we have received; it's all the more precious at absurd hours of the morning.

The natural question to rush to in these moments is "what next?" In the short term, there will be a GA at 7pm on Tuesday by the steps of St Paul's. In the medium term, it is only right that people will need time to rest, reflect and recharge, to take stock and learn the lessons of the past four and a half months. But be assured that plans are already afoot: plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect from us. All will be revealed in time. May is one of our favourite months.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.