So far a majority in the House of Commons supports the advice of the British people to leave the European Union (EU). The Government, elected by 25% of voters, continues to impose its destructive hard Brexit vision on the 48% and many leavers who wanted to remain in the Single Market. We also made a decision in the 1975 referendum, and then by a far larger majority, to remain. Taken together this suggests there is no ‘settled will’ as to how we wish to associate with our European neighbours and largest export market. Democracy is much more than just one or two votes. There is no finality in any democracy. When a political party loses an election, it does not stop arguing for what it believes in. Given the losers of the 1975 referendum did not stop trying to reverse that decision, why should remainers, who are also patriots, be asked to stand down now?
We have an unelected Prime Minister speaking outside Parliament proposing what she knows to be a half-baked sketch for Brexit which is not best for Britain. The White Paper isn’t a plan either – it’s a poorly drafted wish list of desired outcomes. She says she wants a good deal with the EU. Yet Lib Dems know any deal the Government does or doesn’t conclude will not be good enough. If leaving the EU were such a good policy, the Government wouldn’t have been so afraid to subject it to full Parliamentary scrutiny.
Brexiters perpetrate a misleading, if not self-delusional, narrative on the economy and particularly trade. It is true the “sky has not fallen in” on the economy. However, the past is no guide to future performance. The last 7 months is a short time frame, and shows we are still benefiting from being in the EU Single Market. But much investment in the UK is on hold, and some financial firms are already relocating some operations out of the UK. Brexiters downplay the 15% depreciation in the pound but let’s see how the Just About Managing (JAMs) and others enjoy the resulting 3% inflation, higher energy prices and forecast decline in real living standards as Brexit bites.
Being ‘free’ to conclude free trade deals will result in less trade and employment. British citizens currently have the freedom to travel to, study in, work in and export to another 27 EU member states. Why should many who have enjoyed these benefits of EU membership over the past 40 years, deprive future generations of these very same opportunities? So for the sake of our youth in particular let’s continue opposing this Government taking its trumpeted great step forward over the precipice.
We can still hope there will be amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) bill, in particular retaining membership of the Single Market. Why have a hard Brexit, when we can have an easy EEA (European Economic Area)? We should also continue to press for protecting the rights of resident EU citizens, and another referendum on the actual departure terms the Government negotiates. Voters deserve the right to confirm whether or not they are happy the Government has achieved a better deal with the EU than what we enjoy now.
Unfortunately, it seems the Government is determined to trash our economy and United Kingdom on the altar of reducing immigration. The former Home Office Minister does not seem to understand she is now Prime Minister. Leaving the EU will not stop the half of migrants who come from outside the EU. Brexit Britain’s economy and ageing population will still need immigration. EU professionals and others are particularly needed to work in services, the NHS, construction and in our countryside. We need foreign students who create employment up and down the country. Some Brexiters admit leaving the EU will not reduce overall immigration substantially, so what’s the point of making the UK poorer and disunited for the sake of some 10% fewer entrants a year?
Being a member of the Lib Dems is a key step in fighting Brexit. No other national party has such a clear position against Brexit. Other than standing as a candidate and helping local campaigning, if you want another channel for your pro-European interests and campaigning energies, why not join the Liberal Democrat European Group and our Liberal Democrat European Group Facebook group?
* Nick Hopkinson is chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) (website: http://ldeg.org/en/ ) and former Director, Wilton Park, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.