New Direction is a think tank associated with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament.
ECR is the group the British Conservatives joined when they left the largest group in the European Parliament (EEP) in 2009 for ideological reasons and under the leadership of Daniel Hannan, who is now a key player in New Direction. This move diminished the Tories’ influence in Europe since it meant they were no longer aligned with a group large enough to move majorities in the Parliament. It thus also diminished British influence and fed the narrative that the EU does not pay heed to British priorities.
Hannan is a ubiquitous Brexit talking head, has been dubbed ‘the man who brought you Brexit’. Significantly, it was Hannan who in 2012 asked Brexit Bad Boy Matthew Elliott, the founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, to set up the embryonic campaign group that later became Vote Leave.
New Direction was established in 2010 under the patronage of Baroness Thatcher and has satellite offices in Warsaw and Rome. Its stated priorities make clear that it is a natural home for Brexiters:
- The advancement of small government, private property, free enterprise, lower taxes, family values, individual freedom, and strong defence;
- Championing a strong Transtlantic alliance;
- Advancing a Europe of nation states.
Following the 2014 EU elections the British Conservatives in ECR joined some deeply unsavoury bedfellows in building their group up to being the third largest in the European Parliament. These include:
- The Polish PiS party, whose government has been subject to legal action by EU institutions because of its failure to uphold the rule of law and state interference in the judiciary and the media;
- The Danish People’s Party, an unpleasant, xenophobic party whose policies include a ban on all Travellers’ sites, encouraging voluntary repatriation, and that Denmark should derogate from the UN convention on refugees;
- The Sweden Democrats, which has its roots in Neo-Nazi movements and has used the slogan ‘Keep Sweden Swedish’, and whose politicians have suggested Muslims are not fully human and that Jews and Sami people were not true Swedes.
If you are concerned at the way Brexit is undermining democratic standards in the UK, the Conservative’s decision to work with these far-right parties might provide some explanation.
New Direction’s programme of events has included a conference titled ‘How to leave the European Union’, with speakers including Initiative for Free Trade board members Tony Abbott and Daniel Hannan, and Patrick Minford of Economists for Free Trade. The resulting publication pushed the usual message about the importance of preparing for no deal and the attraction of trading under WTO rules.
In March 2018, New Direction published a report outlining a somewhat fantastical plan for the City of London after Brexit, titled ‘Post-Brexit Financial Services’. The plan depends on mutual recognition of standards between the UK and EU, ignoring the considerably greater strength of the EU single market. The report includes the threat that if the EU is not flexible on financial services the UK will go it alone with a ‘slimmer rulebook’, making it more attractive to EU and global business (a prospect that would be very much to the taste of the anti-regulation idealogues of New Direction).
It is disturbing – and possibly illegal – that an organisation funded through the European Parliament is able to use its funding to put on events that undermine the strength of the Union and perhaps the rule of law itself.
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