By James Moules
ON THE surface, Brendan Donnelly has had an unusual political journey.
Starting his political career in the Conservative Party as a Member of the European Parliament in the 1990s, he is now a staunch opponent of Brexit and is standing in the upcoming Chesham and Amersham by-election with one message – rejoin the European Union.
Speaking to Redaction Report, Donnelly explained how, in his view, the Conservative Party morphed over the years from having a pro-European majority to being the facilitator of Brexit.
He said: “I was the Foreign Office and then decided I wanted to have a more political bent to my activities, and I joined the Secretariat of the Conservative group in the European Parliament – which at that time reflected the pro-EU views of the majority of the Conservative Party.
“I was then elected to be an MEP in 1994, and that was about the time in my view that the Conservative Party took leave of its senses on the subject of Europe.”
In response to growing Euroscepticism in the Tory Party, he stood for a splinter party called the Pro-Euro Conservative Party in the 1999 European election – but failed to retain his deposit.
“My own view is that the pro-EU majority in the Conservative Party were much too supine and much too cowardly,” he said.
“They hoped that it would be possible to see off the Euroscepticism within the Conservative Party without getting their hands dirty. They thought that if they just kept their heads down then inevitably the Eurosceptics would run out of steam.
“That was to underestimate two things, it seems to me. One, was the enormous support from some parts of the conservative media that the Eurosceptic cause got. Secondly, the ruthlessness and determination of the Conservative Eurosceptics.”
He added: “In the question in the dilemma – ‘is the Conservative Party going to be united or not?’ – the Eurosceptics only ever gave one answer. It’s only going to be united on our terms.”
Since the 2016 Brexit referendum and Britain’s departure from the EU in 2020, Donnelly is now part of the movement for the UK to rejoin the bloc.
He stood unsuccessfully for the Rejoin EU Party in the London Assembly elections in 2021. The party’s leader, Richard Hewison, came eighth out of 20 in the concurrent London mayoral election.
Donnelly is now the party’s candidate for the upcoming Chesham and Amersham by-election. The seat was vacated due to the death of its long serving Tory MP Cheryl Gillan in April.
Located in Buckinghamshire, the constituency voted to remain in the EU in 2016 by about 55 per cent.
“We’ve had a certain amount of positive reaction and a certain amount of negative reaction,” Donnelly told Redaction Report. “But in a way, we don’t mind that, because what we’re doing is appealing in the first instance to those people that do want to rejoin.
“There are some people who take the view – even if they voted to remain in 2016 – that it’s just too complicated and too difficult to get back in. I don’t share that view, but I can understand it.”
Speaking about how Brexit has shaped Britain, he added: “There’s also a point about the future kind of society we want. Do we want, in crude terms, a European society or an American society?
“There are many people who are proponents of Brexit who see it as an opportunity to Americanise British society. I don’t want that. But more particularly, I don’t want it to happen by stealth. I don’t want it to happen without a proper argument about the sort of society we should be.”
Regarding local problems facing the constituency, he reiterated the core message of his campaign, saying: “I don’t think that until we rejoin the European Union, anything can be done to solve the problems of Chesham and Amersham.”
On issues such as unaffordable housing and HS2, he believes that the problem lies in “the very substantial tilt in British politics towards a low tax, low public services economy.”
Donnelly also addressed the criticism that his candidacy would split the vote with opposition parties.
“The argument would have more validity if we were talking about a general election,” he said.
“There is a genuine policy difference. The Rejoin EU Party wants to campaign for rejoining the European Union. That isn’t the position of any of the other parties as far as I can see.
“If you can’t have parties that stand in political competition over policy differences, then I don’t see what the point is in having elections in the first place.”
The Rejoin EU Party is also set to stand in the Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen, which is going to the polls for a by-election on July 1, 2021 following incumbent Labour MP Tracy Brabin’s election to the West Yorkshire mayorship.
Unlike Chesham and Amersham, this constituency voted 60 per cent in favour of Brexit.
When asked how the party will make the rejoin argument in this constituency, Donnelly said: “I think the argument is the same one – that there are quite a lot of people who do not regard the Brexit issue as settled.
“There are people everywhere who are unhappy at the idea that we’re going to be out of the European Union forever and nobody’s going to do anything about it.
“I think it’s the nobody doing anything about it that’s the particularly galling aspect for many people.”
Pension scheme trustee Andrew Smith is set to be the party’s candidate in Batley and Spen.
He said: “I hope that my candidature in Batley and Spen helps to show that across the country, in both remain voting and leave voting areas, there are people frustrated that their voices and concern for the future of the country are being ignored. Brexit is broken and it is breaking Britain.”
The Chesham and Amersham by-election will be held on June 17, 2021.
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