Author Archives: Graham Watson

Only time will tell …

The UK has followed Ireland, France and the Netherlands in rejecting the EU in a referendum. As in those countries, the result was unexpected, the government unprepared and the situation unresolved by the outcome.

Overall, 51.9% voted to leave the EU and 48.1% voted to remain. But in hardly a single community was that the actual result. In most communities two thirds voted one way and one third the other in a ballot which ripped Britain limb from limb. As was said with grim humour when Wales defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 in the European football championship on Saturday, ‘this is the second time in three days that Wales has knocked Northern Ireland out of Europe’.

The reasons for the vote were many and varied and the result cannot be said to represent the settled will of the UK’s citizens. The vote was highest in the areas where income is lowest, and lowest among people whose educational achievement is high. The old and tired sought to restore a more glorious past, the young and energetic to help build a European future. Gibraltar voted by over 95% to stay; Scotland, Northern Ireland and London also declared decisively their desire to remain. Rather than a reasoned rejection of EU membership it was a cry of anguish against inequality, against the ravages of the globalisation of markets, against the all-too-apparently uncaring nature of the governing elite. The people were asked ‘Ça va?’. A majority replied – à la révolution française – ‘Ça ira!’

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Sir Graham Watson writes…Is there a way back from the Brexit decision?

What happens now?

Initial reactions in London and Brussels have been stark, along the lines of ‘Out means Out’. Will they change with more considered reflection? As the foreign ministers gather in Berlin today and the leaders of Germany, France and Italy meet on Monday to prepare Tuesday’s European Council (‘summit’) meeting, economic interests may have started to impinge on political considerations. It seems most likely, however, that when David Cameron arrives in Brussels on Tuesday he will find his 27 counterparts almost all singing from the same (German-language) hymn sheet.

In a statement Friday by the Presidents of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission it is made clear that there can be no further renegotiation and that the concessions made to Cameron in February are now null and void. The summit can be expected to rubber-stamp this.

The most Cameron can hope for is a period of 12 weeks for the UK to sort out the shitstorm which will now be unleashed by the most calamitous case of self harm in Britain’s democratic history. The EU Treaties leave it up to the country which seeks to leave to decide when and if to invoke Article 50, to start the formal process of withdrawal. But the continental clamour for it will be deafening. Britain’s footdragging, wheel-spoking and taking home of wicket in recent years has drained any patience or sympathy our partners might once have felt.

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Reflections on Jo Cox MP’s murder

The tragic killing of Jo Cox tells us three things about this campaign.

First, that it has become bad natured. We are perhaps all guilty: I tweeted a picture of the England-Russia Sebastopol replay last Saturday under the headline ‘English nationalists in France show the other side of Vote.Leave’. In the end, demeaning our opponents demeans us too. It’s time to tone down the rhetoric, as Paddy Ashdown reminded us on Twitter a few hours ago.

The second thing it tells us is that MPs’ security needs review. Jo is the third victim in recent years, after Andy Pennington of Nigel …

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Graham Watson MEP writes: The time has come for the EU to take decisive action over Ukraine

The past twenty four hours has seen the situation in Ukraine escalate from serious to critical. We are only now seeing the true extent of the clashes between police and anti-government protestors, with the number of fatalities standing at 26 but set to rise as the violence continues. What is clear is that last night’s attack on protestors by the police was at the direct order of the Ukrainian government. While the government claimed it was simply aiming to restore law and order, the underlying motive was for President Yanukovych to reassert his legitimacy. As far as I am concerned, …

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Sir Graham Watson MEP writes…Welcoming ALDE Party Congress to London

This week the Liberal Democrats are playing host to the wider European Liberal family – the ALDE Party’s big annual congress, which is taking place in London on today, Friday and Saturday.

Over 900 Liberals from across the EU and beyond will gather in Canary Wharf to draw up the common manifesto for the 2014 European Parliament elections and consider nominees for the Liberal candidate for European Commission President.

The European Liberal family includes three current Prime Ministers: Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, Andris Ansip of Estonia and Alenka Bratušek of Slovenia, and they will soon be joined by Xavier Bettel in …

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The Climate Parliament: The scientific debate is over – the ball is now in our court

Uttarakhand FloodsThe scientific debate is over.

That’s the message from a network of MPs called the Climate Parliament.

Now it’s down to politicians and policy makers to ensure we avoid a global catastrophe.

The Parliament believes that today’s International Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report is the most comprehensive, detailed account of current climate science. Despite much press scepticism, scientists overwhelmingly agree:

Climate change is real, and it’s already happening.

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Sir Graham Watson: Gibraltar will always have the Lib Dems’ backing

GibraltarOn Sunday 1 September, I was treated to what many of my constituents face on a daily basis, a border queue. I got off rather lightly with 90 minutes. Many Gibraltarians who dare to cross the frontier face delays of over four hours. But they are a hardy lot. They survived eighteen years under Franco with the border closed.

In December 2011, the Liberal Party of Gibraltar, our sister party on the Rock, was elected to office in coalition with the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party. At about the same time, a general election in Spain saw a moderate Socialist government replaced by the nationalist Popular Party, the party of former dictator General Franco.

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Graham Watson: what sort of President does the European Parliament need?

We live in a world of armchair experts: amateur psychologists, sofa-based football players, and in the (slightly nerdish) world of politics, would-be Leaders. Here in the European Parliament, there is a range of figures to criticise, including party leaders, group leaders, and the President of Parliament himself. That post becomes vacant after the European Parliament elections in June. On the basis that it’s not quite cricket to carp from the back that “I could do better” I’ve taken the plunge and announced that I will be a candidate for the job.

It won’t be an easy ride. …

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Leader article: United in Europe

Across Europe we have entered the age of drawbridge politics. What do I mean by this? That the dividing line between left and right, which for years divided those favouring a free market economy (generally on the right) from those favouring a planned or social market economy (generally on the left) – and which estranged economic liberals from social liberals though they belong together – is disappearing fast.

Most of the left has now recognised the need for a globally competitive economy and a less costly welfare state, as evidenced in the manifesto of the Party of European Socialists adopted in Oporto in Dec 2006 (though a few have joined the ‘stop the world I wanna get off’ camp). In an almost conciliatory gesture, many on the right now discuss the impact of massive shifts in investment and jobs on desirable and necessary levels of social cohesion. If we are sacrificing some social cohesion for economic dynamism, what happens to what we used to call ‘the common good’? A new social contract, capable of reconciling the competing demands of flexibility and fairness in te post-industrial age, is actively sought.

Their is a new dividing line in politics, however, no less clear than the old left-right division over the management of the economy. It reflects our response to the challenges of globalisation.

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