On the 2nd March at 7.50 am I boarded a Ryanair flight from Manchester to Charleroi in Belgium. It is an hour and a half train journey from Charleroi to Brussels and the first thing that you notice is the friendliness of the people and the matter of fact way they switch from one language to another without pause. The next thing is the extent of the industrialisation of the landscape as it flashes by.
I was travelling to join Catherine Bearder at the EU Parliament in Brussels on the European Information Program in the hope of finding out how Brexit will be affecting us here in the Wirral. I was not surprised in the least to find that Brussels knows as little about Brexit as we do here in the UK.
The visit lasted two packed days and I found it very informative during the conversations I had with colleagues, from across the UK, and the question and answer sessions with MEP’s.
I found out, for instance, that the only country to have left the EU so far is Greenland who had only one treaty to negotiate (fish). It took over seven years to complete their single negotiation, whilst here in the UK we have over four hundred agreements to unravel.
Each of the 28 countries need to agree for anything to be passed, and now following my visit I am beginning to appreciate the forces at work, the pressures from business, the domestic political agendas in both the UK and the EU, and the compromises that have been reached and agreed to over the years. The recent purchase of Vauxhalls by the French Group PSA illustrates just how closely interwoven our economies have become and the complexities of the tasks ahead.
Theresa May has let it be known that if the EU does not agree to her terms then she will walk away for a hard Brexit. I still cannot say what a hard Brexit really looks like…. but what I do know is that Britain cannot afford the risk of getting it wrong.
I am a firm ‘remainer’ and believe in being an open and outward looking nation and this trip has bolstered my resolve in fighting for our inclusion in such things as the single market and cross boarder policing, and to those who say the EU waste money on frivolous things I can assure you that is not the case.
I was set a task to obtain an EU flag for the forthcoming EU action weekend. The rules were simple it had to be obtained without paying for it, for which I have to sadly report that despite begging, pleading and cajoling I failed completely and had to buy some from eBay when I got home.
* Chris Carubia is a councillor in Wirral, and was the Lib Dem candidate for the Merseyside's Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016.