Category Archives: John Fitzmaurice Lecture

Brussels Labour welcomes Lord Andrew Adonis for the John Fitzmaurice Lecture

“To create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared.”

This is just part of the preamble to the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, signed in Paris in 1951. The preamble itself is worth reading in full, which is exactly what Lord Andrew Adonis did when he gave the annual John Fitzmaurice lecture in February this year.

While many of us do not need reminding of reasons to continue to fight to remain part of the EU, hearing this certainly revitalised our spirits as we approached the dreaded 29 March deadline.

Brussels Labour were pleased to be able to welcome Lord Adonis as our speaker in this year’s John Fitzmaurice lecture. Adonis is no stranger to Brussels. Members who have attended rallies at Schuman may well have spotted him there.

Given the proximity to our expected departure of the EU, this year’s theme was an obvious choice, and Adonis spoke to us at length about the EU referendum, the forces behind it, and the future.

A whistle-stop tour of British history in the EU demonstrated the changing nature of the relationship between the UK and the EU. Adonis was able to conjure up a nostalgia for a forgotten past. This wasn’t the faux past that populists lament losing, but the late 70s and early 80s, when Britain was not just part of the EU but a leader, on a civilising and democratic mission, looking for opportunities not threats.

We also got a view of Adonis’ own character and politics beyond Brexit. He quoted extensively from Roy Jenkins’ diaries with references to his time in Brussels, giving the audience a good laugh as they recognised familiar places and events.

Looking to what might happen next, Adonis spoke of the ‘Sherlock Holmes principle’; once all impossible options are eliminated, we are forced to have hope. In the end, many left this year’s John Fitzmaurice lecture with a bit more optimism about the future.

About the John Fitzmaurice Lecture

John Fitzmaurice was an administrator, academic and writer, and a founding father of Brussels Labour. He was an author of numerous books and articles on politics, as well as an official at the European Commission and a lecturer at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

In memory of John, and his unique contribution to democracy, socialism and Europe, Brussels Labour established an annual lecture around these themes, inviting a leading figure from the Left in Europe.

Neil Kinnock gave the inaugural lecture in October 2004, and since then we have welcomed a number of distinguished speakers from British and European politics.

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Emma Reynolds MP Gives Brussels Labour Memorial Lecture 2016


The 2016 Memorial Lecture was held in remembrance of John Fitzmaurice and Mike Ridgeway. Mike passed away earlier this year and had participated in Brussels Labour for many years, including as auditor of our accounts.  We warmly welcomed Françoise, Mike’s partner, to the meeting.

His fellow auditor, Peter Wragg, told us how Mike was well known in Brussels circles and was also an active member of the Belgian Parti Socialiste.  He was quite a private person with a dry sense of humour but who was fiercely loyal to Labour and, today, would have called strongly for party unity.  Peter had known well Mike and John and he was moved to remember how they had both been discreet but selfless and learned comrades.

Also on this occasion, Labour International was pleased to give Frazer Clarke an award in recognition of his services as Treasurer.

Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North East led a Delegation of MPs and gave the keynote speech.  Emma had been Shadow Minister for Europe, as well as a former Treasurer of Brussels Labour !  She was delighted to see many old friends and had come to Brussels to discuss the situation in her new role as a representative on the Brexit Committee in the House of Commons.

She recalled the first ever John Fitzmaurice lecture given by Neil Kinnock.  In those days Socialists were in power in 11 countries across Europe and there was a sense of a world full of possibilities. Never would we have imagined what was happening today.

However, Emma went on to say that today we needed to accept the situation.  Working people did feel that they were neglected and were worried about their livelihoods.  The Theresa May government seemed to put migration above all other issues, to the extent that it seemed to put UKIP into power without being in office. A hard Brexit was possible but it posed huge questions.

The recent High Court ruling clarified that since Parliament voted for the European Communities Act when the UK joined the EU, then only Parliament could repeal it.  Labour MPs are pressing for a transitional free trade arrangement to fill the gap between the end of the Article 50 exit procedure and the conclusion of a full free trade agreement in compliance with Article 218.  Otherwise there was the risk of less favourable WTO rules coming into force.

Emma outlined her principles for an exit settlement.  We should defend progressive rights and avoid race to bottom. We should also ensure the closest possible relations with the EU and reform free movement. There was a spectrum between all or no free movement and a debate was needed to convince voters that we had a fair system.

UK financial expertise and the role of the City of London were valuable to Europe as well as to the UK it was in our mutual interest to preserve this.  Furthermore, it was in all our interests to have a new relationship with Europe including British participation to deal with strategic issues such as security.

In the discussion that followed several friends questioned whether Labour should support Brexit following a referendum based on misinformation and which risked leaving the UK worse off.  Emma underlined that in her view it was necessary to respect the result of the referendum, where 17 million people had voted to leave the EU.  It was fundamentally important to respect democracy.

Theresa May was apparently intent on leaving the single market and therefore Labour had to focus on setting its own objectives for the Brexit process.  We needed to say that European cooperation was still valuable and have the softest Brexit possible.

Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, spoke about how Brexit and the Trump victory pointed to a new post-liberal age where popular opinion had shifted.  Labour had a choice between continuing to fight for existing policies, and risk perpetual defeat, or engaging with this new mood.

Other comments included that the softest Brexit will leave Britain worse off than what we have now with no Schengen and the budgetary rebate; the need to be pragmatic if the Brexit negotiations revealed that the Leave promises were unattainable and public opinion changed; the need to ensure reciprocal rights for EU and UK workers and respect acquired rights.

Click here to read Emma’s speech in full.

Martin Dawson


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