Our new times require new thinking. The Convention on Brexit and the Political Crash – May 12th and 13th – will host the debate that is absent from Parliament on the impact of Brexit, and focus on the danger posed to democratic and liberal values in Britain and across the West.
To be held in Central Hall Westminster, the Convention is the first large-scale event to offer organisations and individuals the chance to hear and take part in crucial debates about the United Kingdom’s future and the populist insurgencies that are sweeping Western democracies.
Too often, over the last year, Parliament and the press have stifled discussion about the implications of a Hard Brexit strategy on such things as the future of the Union, the economy, the NHS, security, scientific exchange and the environment. The effects of withdrawal on everyone in the United Kingdom will be profound and long-lasting, yet the major parties and most of the media behave as though there was nothing more to consider after the 2016 referendum.
We believe there is still much to say which is of national interest – and of consequence to the EU itself – and the Convention will seek to augment the debate with detailed sessions on the future of Northern Ireland and Scotland, on the causes of populism, on migration and foreign nationals, on politics and the media in the post-truth age and, crucially, on the NHS.
There will be speeches from well-known cultural figures and from leading political figures from the UK, US and across Europe, who will define the character of these new times and look ahead.
These two days will be of vital importance because the Convention will also address the UK government’s Hard Brexit strategy and ask whether those who voted to leave were aware of the implications of quitting the Single Market, the Customs Union and Euratom. We will debate the options – to work for a successful Brexit, to completely oppose leaving the EU, or to campaign for another vote when the details of the government’s negotiation become clear.
Divisions that were exposed by last year’s campaign have hardened and there has been little attempt by the main parties to bring people together.
Brexit means much more than finding new trading partners and taking back control of borders and Parliament: hate crime and intolerance have surged; millions of foreign workers feel unwanted and insecure; and, far from bringing about an expansive, outward-looking nation, the country’s horizons and attitudes seem to have narrowed since the vote. Divisions that were exposed by last year’s campaign have hardened and there has been little attempt by the main parties to bring people together.
The forces that drove Britons apart are of course now at play in Europe and are all too obvious in the United States. The Convention will analyse these movements and seek to reassert democratic and progressive values, but in order to do this we must do the thinking first. As Lincoln said, ‘think anew, act anew’.
To hold the debate that the government refuses to allow is good in itself, but to come together with one message and to reassert the open, progressive and democratic values in this new era is a higher goal.
We hope you will join us for two days in May, for this is essentially about what country we want.
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” Abraham Lincoln, 1862.
Committee: Henry Porter; Rebecca Ashton (Co-Director); Julien Planté (Producer and Co-Curator); Helena Kennedy, Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford; Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford College, Oxford; Bess Mayhew, More United; Alice Fermor-Hesketh, CommonGround; Neal Lawson, Compass; Edward McMillan-Scott and Mike Biden, European Movement; Mike Galsworthy, Scientists for Europe; Eloise Todd, Mary Fitzgerald, Rosemary Bechler, Anthony Barnett, Cathy Runciman, all of openDemocracy; A.C. Grayling, Master of New College of the Humanities; Jo Maugham QC – tax lawyer; Deborah Hermanns and Joe Todd, The World Transformed; Anne Weyman, Britain for Europe; and Clare Algar.
Media partners: The Observer and openDemocracy