Wed, 31 Jul 2019
Lord Adonis addressed an audience at Newbury Salvation Army hall on Tuesday evening, in a visit intended to promote his anti-Brexit campaign.
The event was one leg of the peer’s informal stumping tour, as Britain braces for its scheduled departure from the European Union on October 31.
Lord Adonis served in a number of ministerial roles during the Gordon Brown and Tony Blair years.
In 2017, he made headlines by resigning his post on the National Infrastructure Commission in protest against the Government’s Brexit policy.
He is now vice chairman of the European Movement.
Prior to his speech, Lord Adonis thanked the organisers – among them the Newbury Labour Party’s candidate for the 2015 general election, Jonny Roberts – for arranging the visit.
He began by noting local concerns, including transport, education and homelessness issues specific to West Berkshire.
He said: “It’s great to be here in Newbury.
“I feel very angry as I go around the country.
“I see all the things that need to be fixed – and all of them are going to be made worse by Brexit.”
Lord Adonis had a damning assessment of the new Prime Minister and his Government.
He described Brexit as a “massive nationalist phobia … which has gripped part of the Conservative Party”.
His warnings about no-deal Brexit – the approach favoured by a large section of Boris Johnson’s cabinet – were particularly hard-hitting.
He said: “We were told it was a one-in-a-million chance we were going to do no-deal.
“It now turns out that’s the central planning assumption of Michael Gove.
“I’ve been in government. You simply do not spend £100m pounds … on something that you think is a one-in-a-million chance.”
Lord Adonis offered an insider account of the Brexit process and its more technical aspects.
Among the topics touched on was the loss of rights he believed would arise from Brexit, trade and regulatory barriers and the Irish border question.
He argued that a second referendum was the only desirable way out of the impasse.
He asked: “So what is the right thing to do, given the situation we’re in?
“There is no viable Brexit on the table.
“The one that’s been negotiated by Theresa May – of blessed historical memory now – … that bit the dust.
“Nothing’s going to replace it [the withdrawal agreement], and most of the promises that were made three years ago are no longer applicable or can’t be delivered.
“The obvious and right thing to do is to put it back to the people.”
Time was set aside at the end of the talk for questions from the audience.
While Lord Adonis has expressed his misgivings about the current Labour leadership in the past, he avoided any direct criticisms when asked for his opinion on Jeremy Corbyn.
“I didn’t vote for him [Corbyn], I’m not of that wing of the Labour Party … though it was very fashionable to be of that wing of the Labour Party four years ago.
“Jeremy appeared to offer hope, and optimism, and all of that, and he got elected.
“It’s a very small group of people around Jeremy who for very peculiar reasons are against [remaining in the EU].
“I don’t want to go into ... the psychology of it, of some of the factions of the far left, which don’t represent most of [the membership].”
Lord Adonis did, however, attack all parties for a perceived lack of initiative on the Brexit issue.
He said: “Part of the reason we’re in this mess as a country is a massive leadership deficit.
“Somehow, we’ve got to take charge, in spite of the leaders, and hope that a decent leader will come through.”
These remarks were later addressed by Newbury Labour Party treasurer Julie Wintrup, who defended Mr Corbyn’s record.
She said: “Jeremy Corbyn has transformed political debate in the country and influenced the policies of all other parties.
“There are many types of leadership.”
After the event, Lord Adonis remained in the hall for a book signing.