“Right-wing nationalistic commitment”: Lord Adonis talks government approach to Brexit

The Rt. Hon. Lord Andrew Adonis has grown into one of the most significant figures in the Brexit debate since 2016. Once labelled a “moderate moderate”, he has since become one of the most outspoken pro-remain voices in parliament. In late 2017 he took the political scene by storm by resigning from his position as the Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission and providing a scornful insight into the government’s approach to Brexit and many other key areas.

Having previously served as a No. 10 Policy Advisor, Education Secretary and Transport Secretary under New Labour, he has touched some of the most contentious issues in politics: from infrastructure to tuition fees. In an interview with Palatinate Politics, he extrapolated his goals in visiting Durham and gave a new perspective on the most pertinent issues of our day, from Brexit to Bridges.

By Rhodri Sheldrake Davies

Lord Adonis immediately strikes as a straight-forward type, far from the “political chameleon” he was labelled as during his time working under both New Labour and George Osborne. He had no qualms in explaining his twofold motivation for visiting Durham: to “preach the pro-EU case” to the Union Society and to bring attention to the “government’s terrible deal” on the East Coast mainline.

He stepped down from his position as Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission following disagreements with Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, who he described as “extremely right wing”. He affirmed that he believed both Grayling and the government has increasingly valued “ideological concerns” over the pragmatic good running of transport infrastructure. He suggested this came to a head in its bail-out of the Stagecoach-Virgin run East Coast line, costing £3.3bn, whch he said would cost Durham students on their train fares in the long run.

Grayling and the government has increasingly valued “ideological concerns” over the pragmatic good running of transport infrastructure.

He cited the action he had taken himself 9 years ago during his tenure as Transport Secretary under Brown. Following years of mismanagement, he nationalised a contract from National Express in East Anglia, an action which he argued guaranteed that “no other company dared” to approach him for a bailout. He in turn levelled that to avoid nationalising the contract, Grayling had resorted to little more than “bailing out Billionaires” “for the sake of ideology”.

He continued, reinforcing that this ideologically-dominated approach has not been only confined to the issue of the railways; but that the government has taken “the same approach to Brexit”, a process he claimed was a “right-wing nationalistic commitment” proposed by “Billionaires who want us to ride rough […] to escape regulation”. As the conversation moved towards the leave victory in Durham County, Adonis was quick to retort that the region had voted “narrowly to leave”, having been split 52% to 48%, instigating his visit and push to “encourage students and residents to oppose Brexit”.

The public ought to have “the right to a say on final terms.”

When prompted to comment on the conduct of the 2016 campaign and more specifically, whether he felt, as some of his peers have suggested, that the public in areas like Durham had been misled, Adonis retorted: “I don’t think it matters […] whether it was the £350mn on a bus or actual £39 bn exit bill”. He instead maintained that the public ought to have “the right to a say on final terms”.

The proposal for a second EU referendum, supposedly recently endorsed by keen Brexiteer Nigel Farage on LBC radio amongst a myriad of voices from across the political spectrum was quickly renounced by Adonis however. He advocated instead for what he called “the first referendum on the terms”, arguing “we don’t need a re-run”. Comparing the vote to ‘a restaurant dinner’, he argued that in 2016 the UK had “taken an invitation” but on “a menu without prices” and that at the end of the process, the public ought to be able to choose “knowing the realities”.

The public ought to be able to choose “knowing the realities”.

Considering the potential outcome of a vote to cease the Brexit process following negotiations, he maintained that “Europe won’t penalise us” and “we can withdraw from leaving”. Moreover, he suggested “we’ll only have to renegotiate if we rejoin”, in turn staunchly affirming that “it’s almost certain the next generation will”. He suggested that so far the UK had the “best of both”: with “access to the markets” “without having to take on the common currency”, which he proposed that the UK would have to accept if it tried to re-join later. Without hesitation Adonis asserted that it was “crazy to leave, for both economic and strategic reasons” and that “students are instinctively aware of this”, citing younger voters greater support of the remain side in the 2016 referendum”.

Adonis continued with a scathing attack of the negotiations process, which he called a “chaotic state” carried out by a government that “can’t decide their approach”. He argued that “its energy has been entirely consumed on Brexit” and alleged that this has led to the relegation of key issues such as “education reform, student debt” and “over-paid vice-chancellors, one of which Durham has” and that hence it was no wonder that Students were refusing to support it.

Lord Adonis described the 2010 rise in tuition fees as “a betrayal, by shifting the whole cost over to students”.

Pushed further on tuition fees, which Adonis himself had been a proponent of during his time as No.10 policy advisor, he confirmed that he was “for the principle of contribution” of “modest fees”, but “not shifting the entire cost to students”. He in turn suggested that the 2010 increase, which he had voted against in the lords, was “a betrayal, by shifting the whole cost over to students”.

Moving onto a more light-hearted subject, Adonis gave his response to Boris Johnson’s recent proposal for a bridge between the Dover and France. He comically proclaimed that it was a “nonsense gimmick”, which had received “no serious advice”, but rather constituted “Johnson trying to take attention away from the “Anglo-french summit”. He similarly noted the presence of the already far-more advantageous Channel tunnel, which “isn’t even at full capacity yet”. He also argued that Johnson ought to avert his efforts over linking the UK and France to the more important “bridge of the EU”.

He argued that Johnson ought to avert his efforts over linking the UK and France to the more important “bridge of the EU”.

On the internal state of the Labour Party, Adonis, who had previously been the chair of Progress (the group which has became infamous for its role in orchestrating the 2016 coup against Jeremy Corbyn) said that the most important priority for him was that “Labour becomes the next government”. He argued that this could only be done through “uniting behind staying in”, noting that the “EU is undoubtedly the most important issue in politics”. He hence suggested that, as “Momentum, the most significant group in Labour right now” is “in favour of staying in”, for Labour to win the next election, it would be vital that the party be “overwhelmingly strong” as a united force rejecting Brexit.


Lord Adonis will be speaking at the Durham Union Society and Durham University Labour Club on Friday 2nd of February, 2018.

Photograph: Institute for Government via Flickr

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