Author Archives: Caroline Voaden

Ten former MEPs write….Why now is not the right time to campaign to rejoin the EU

This weekend at our party conference we will debate our Europe motion, clarifying the party’s policy on our relations with and towards the EU.

The main focus of debate between members is likely to be around  ‘r’. Not the COVID ‘r’, which we have all become used to, but the Brexit ‘r’ word – rejoin. 

We all remember the joy we felt last May when our representation in Europe went from one solitary MEP, Catherine Bearder, to a surprisingly fulsome group of 16 from right across the country – several of whom had not expected to be elected. 

It was a symbol of how strongly people felt about Brexit, and, thanks to a proportional electoral system, their commitment to EU membership was reflected in our election result. 

I can honestly say no one in the party, or outside it, regrets our departure from Europe more strongly than the 16 of us. 

But the world has changed since 31st January beyond what any of us could have imagined.

Hard though it is to accept, for those of us who fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit, most people’s attention is now far more  are now far more focused distracted by on COVID and the implications it is having for their families and jobs, the economy, education and our health and social care services. 

As a party, it would be wise for us  to focus on the fact that only 2% of UK voters now think Brexit is the most important issue facing us. We are back to the sort of numbers seen before the EU referendum was even a thing. Remember that? When no one ever talked about our relationship with Europe – except the Daily Mail!

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 58 Comments

A longer read for the weekend: The case for an extension to the Brexit transition period

It’s hard to believe that something which had dominated our lives for so long – Brexit – has almost completely fallen off the radar.

After the shock of the December General Election, and the brutality of losing our jobs and heading home from Brussels in January, we former MEPs were geared up for the long haul of holding the government to account as it ground its way through tortuous post Brexit trade negotiations with the EU.

And when Boris Johnson spoke of ‘healing the rift’ between leavers and remainers, it seemed an impossible idea. 

Little did any of us think a global pandemic would sweep across the globe and make those two words almost redundant within weeks. We are now a people divided between frontline workers and those who stay at home, the vulnerable and those less at risk, the sick and the well.

But while many people have far more urgent things to concentrate on, it is vital that some of us don’t take our eyes off what’s happening with Brexit. The transition clock is ticking loudly and it’s only a few weeks until the UK has to decide whether it will ask for an extension to the transition period that is due to end on December 31. 

Senior Europeans say that while the case for an extension is overwhelming, there is little appetite for it on the UK side. And while the Government might be tempted to use COVID-19 to camouflage the disaster of a crash out from the single market and customs union at the end of the year, the costs will be high – and less affordable than ever. 

This government, picked for its adherence to the Brexit mantra rather than its ability to steer us out of the COVID-19 crisis, still seems hell bent on crashing out, rather than looking at the changed landscape we now find ourselves in and accepting that not only we, but other governments too, have other things to think about.

We are so far away from reaching an agreement with the EU that it is fantasy to assume it is now possible. The timeline was extremely tight to begin with, but after talks stalled due to illness and isolation, the prospect of a deal has become even less likely.

And the UK’s refusal to make their negotiating mandate public is infuriating EU capitals. They don’t even know what the UK side is aiming for.

“The problems are immense: the British texts, which are not made public, don’t cover a number of key priorities. Nothing substantial on a level playing field, no text whatsoever on fisheries so far, no recognition of the role of ECJ or ECHR, no commitments regarding climate change, no certainty in the protection of data… The Political declaration is forgotten,” said one senior European who is well aware of what’s happening in the negotiations. 

The source said there was nothing concrete so far on how the UK sees its relationship with EU security or defence policies but by contrast they are making huge demands about access to European data, with no strings attached. 

“More generally, there is an aggressive tone which hurts and doesn’t help. There are many reasons why the talks are only talks, and not proper negotiations. The risk of a no deal is serious and obviously a scenario which has some traction in London.” 

During a remote meeting of the UK-EU Friendship Group set up by MEPs before the UK contingent headed home, Polish MEP Radek Sikorski (EPP) said: “We should all prepare ourselves for a super hard Brexit at the end of this year.”

And French MEP Nathalie Loiseau (Renew Europe), said: “The pace of negotiations is pretty slow. There’s very little progress. We ask for no posturing ideology, but for care for individuals and businesses who will be affected by this.”

The feeling in Brussels is that the UK still wants an agreement with all the benefits, but with minimal obligations. Their language is couched in ideology and hubris. Never mind the details of what being a ‘third country’ means in reality, fulfilling an election promise still seems far more important – regardless of the fact that whole world order has fundamentally changed. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 39 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • Martin Tod
    Very sorry to hear this. John and Liz also lived for a while in Winchester - and were much appreciated and active supporters of the party here too....
  • Andrew Tampion
    Rob Kinnon-Brettle. "Brexit is a narrow-minded “Little Englander” policy that is the antithesis of internationalism" If that is true how do you explain th...
  • James Fowler
    @Alex Macfie: Your argument remains interesting but relates to procedures rather than first principles. There is no point citing the mere existence of rules ...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    Andy Boddington The best I have read on this, thanks for it!!!...
  • James Fowler
    Good article from Max....