Lib Dem Lords vs the Article 50 Bill: Barbara Janke: Remain voters have spoken too and nobody is listening

The Lib Dem Lords have made some cracking contributions to the debate on the Article 50 Bill. Ahead of its next Lords stages, we’re bringing you all the Lib Dem contributions over the course of this weekend. That’s no mean feat. There were 32 of them and cover more than 30,000 words. You are not expected to read every single one of them as they appear. Nobody’s going to be testing you or anything. However, they will be there to refer to in the future. 

Our Lords excelled themselves. Their contributions were thoughtful, individual, well-researched and wide-ranging and it’s right that we present them in full on this site to help the historian of the future. 

Barbara’s theme was the effect of Brexit on young people and businesses in her home town of Bristol and the need to recognise the worries of those who voted Remain and not to forget about them.

My Lords, I wish to speak about some of the issues that have been raised by people and organisations in my own city of Bristol. The first thing to say is that the moralistic argument that “the people have spoken” has a rather hollow ring in my city, where a large majority voted to remain in the EU. They have spoken too and they feel that no one in government is listening to them.

Bristol is a highly successful city with an economy driven by an innovative business community which is based on strong links with the EU, particularly aviation and its supply chains throughout the south-west. Through the partnership of its two world-class universities, it is also a test bed for technological and environmental development and a trailblazer in the creative, media, digital and microelectronic industries. It is Britain’s leading smart city and was the European Green Capital in 2015. Bristol is a city of small companies. Having read some of the case studies in a local chamber of commerce survey, I do not recognise the description that I heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. The small firms in Bristol very much value working with the EU. Due to the skills shortages in this country many of them are dependent on recruitment from the EU and EU workers’ freedom of movement. They feel that the constraints that may be put in their way may well lead some of them to consider operating from Europe, where access to skills and freedom of movement fit much more with the kind of businesses they run.

Bristol is a city of young people. Many noble Lords have mentioned that the remain vote was much stronger among young people. There is a very strong tradition of internationalism in Bristol, which has a young people’s culture. It has one of the highest graduate retention rates in the country and is part of a very innovative, international culture, in partnership with EU countries and colleges. One thing that I have not heard mentioned today is the importance of those shared cultural heritages.

As an international port, Bristol welcomes people from other countries. It has many diverse communities and is not a homogenous city. We need to acknowledge that many cities, particularly in this country, are in the same position. When talking about divided communities, we need to think about the difference between our cities, which are sometimes defined as the economic powerhouse of our country, and other areas. Bristol is a city that welcomes people from outside the UK, and the distressing plight of the EU nationals there is a matter of great concern. The barriers that have been put in their way as they have tried to apply for residence are legendary. I had a group of them here yesterday. They told me that the form they have to fill in consists of some 85 pages. It is the longest of any EU country. For these people, many of whom have lived here for 40 years, worked here and paid their taxes, surely this is a most distressing state of affairs. Not only have barriers been put in their way, they have been subject to hate crime. Many of them tell me that they have lived here for 40 years. They came to this country because they valued its qualities of fairness, justice, constancy and a culture where they feel at home and where people from other countries feel welcome. Their experience since the vote has been quite the contrary. I spoke to people yesterday who told me that they are not sleeping; they are depressed, and their families are suffering as a result. All they want is reassurance—to know that they are welcome and will have the rights they have had over the last 40 years. I will most certainly support an amendment to the Bill that will give them those rights.

To come back to the argument that “the people have spoken”, when I talk to young people, more and more of them tell me that they are quite shocked to find that the only political party they have to support them is the Liberal Democrats. They have spoken to other parties and they are not—
That is borne out by the increasing numbers of people who are joining the Liberal Democrats for that very reason. If you read their reasons, you will understand why.

There was also a challenge to the point that somehow the punters are not interested. They are very interested in my city, and they were very interested in Richmond Park, where that was a key issue in the by-election. Maybe some people are not interested, but many are.

The outcome of the referendum was a huge shock and disappointment to people who have devoted their lives to co-operation and peace, internationalism, shared common values and beliefs. These will not be dismantled so easily. Despite this, we respect the right of others to differ. We do not say, “They got it wrong”; I know it is a jolly good phrase that gets passed around, just like “The people have spoken” and “Brexit is Brexit”, but we do not say that at all. None of us in this Chamber or in this country can know what the outcome of the negotiations will be. We also know that things will change. How many people on 23 June would have believed that Donald Trump would be elected? We know that circumstances can change, which is why we in this party are absolutely committed to the idea that people should vote and should have the final say on any deal that emerges. Two years is a long time—even a week is a long time in politics—and so much can change. As others have said, this started with the people, and so it must finish with the people.



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