Lib Dems vs Brexit: Jo Swinson “Even my five year old knows that unicorns aren’t real”

This week the House of Commons has been debating Theresa May’s deal. Liberal Democrats have been explaining why Brexit is a bad thing and why we need a People’s Vote.

Here’s Jo Swinson making one of her five contributions in the Chamber on her first week back from parental leave.

Two and a half years ago the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to tackle society’s burning injustices. I for one was glad to hear that speech, and I hoped that it would mark a real change in direction from this Government.

We could debate endlessly the reasons why people voted to leave the European Union, and of course they were varied. For many, however, there was a feeling that the system is broken, that working hard is no guarantee of getting on, and a fear that their children will end up worse off than they are, earning less, finding it harder to secure a decent home. People, rightly and understandably, feel angry about that. However, instead of the radical changes needed to our economy and society, the energy and attention of our Government have been sucked into the black hole of Brexit. Nothing has changed for those the Prime Minister vowed to help. Those injustices still fuel discontent. We have an underfunded universal credit system bringing misery to thousands. We are in the midst of a housing crisis in which many children are living in heartbreaking conditions and vulnerable people are sleeping on our streets—and dying on them, too. None of that will be resolved by leaving the EU. None of that will be resolved by the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

The leave campaign said we would take back control, but to many of my constituents—to the mother of two who contacted me because she was worried about her family’s security after the Prime Minister called her husband a “queue jumper”; to the scientist concerned about jobs in Glasgow once the life sciences industry loses vital European funding; and to the businesses that do not even know on what terms they will be able to sell to our biggest trading partner in three months’ time—it feels like we are doing the very opposite.

Five years ago, I fought passionately to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. Together, we are stronger. Our economy is more successful and our influence is greater. We can pool risks. Our businesses benefit from selling to a larger market, without barriers. We share values. We share our history. We share a desire for our loved ones in different parts of the country to be able to live, work and travel where they want with ease. I am certain that Scotland’s best future is in the United Kingdom, and for the same reasons I believe the United Kingdom’s interests are best served within the European Union.

In 2017, the people of East Dunbartonshire elected me to fight for Scotland’s position in the UK and for the United Kingdom’s position in the EU. That is the manifesto I stood on. The Liberal Democrats have led the fight for a people’s vote so we keep the benefits of our EU membership and remain a leading and influential member of the world’s most successful economic and political bloc. I am delighted that so many MPs from all parties are coming together and working beyond party lines for the public to have the final say on a deal, with the option of keeping our EU membership.

She was challenged by an SNP MP about independence at this point and continued

We are trying to unpick a Union we have been in for 40 years. Look at the chaos that is causing. The last thing we need is the chaos of trying to unpick a Union of 300 years. If this experience tells us anything, it is how disastrous that would be.

We need a people’s vote. Two and a half years on, we know that leaving the European Union will not make us richer. It will not bring in £350 million a week for the NHS, despite what that bus said, and it will not be the “easiest trade deal in human history,” despite what the International Trade Secretary said. Those were fantasies of the leave campaign. Brexit has become a national embarrassment. It will make us poorer, it will hurt our NHS and it will weaken our Union.

Perhaps strangely, I have recently found myself agreeing with both the former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), and the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the Prime Minister’s deal is worse than staying in the EU—we would be bound by the rules but lose our say over them—but the Prime Minister is right that this is the best Brexit on offer.

I despair at the arrogance of those, whether they sit on the Conservative Benches or the Labour Front Bench, who claim that they could negotiate a better deal. They live in the land of make-believe. Here in the real world, there are no magic beans to put food on the table and there are no pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. Even my five-year-old could tell them that unicorns are not real. And, frankly, I am horrified by those who are so cavalier that they countenance no deal as a serious option. How lovely it must be to live in an ivory tower, claiming French residency or setting up investment funds in Dublin as the poorest people in society pay the price for an ideological Brexit.

Quite simply, there is no deal that will ever be as good as being members of the European Union; there is no Brexit that works for the whole United Kingdom; there is no Brexit that keeps our economy strong and jobs safe; there is no Brexit that gives us first-class public services. We need a way out of this mess. We should give people the chance to choose, in full knowledge of the Brexit deal on offer, what future they want for their children. I urge the House to vote down this deal and call for a people’s vote.

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  • It’s great to have Jo back.

    I love everything that she says, but want to draw particular attention to the interjection by the SNP. It’s been a recurring theme amongst the ideological nationalists that they insist that the best/only way to deal with the problems of Brexit is yet more division and nationalism, and many pro-Europeans outwith Scotland don’t seem willing or able to challenge them on it.

    We must be clear that if the SNP want to join a cross-party approach to stopping Brexit, it should be because Brexit will be bad for Scotland and the rest of the UK and not just to further their own nationalism. Lest we forget, everyone campaigning for Scottish independence in 2014 didn’t think that leaving the EU was a big deal, and claimed that leaving a long-standing political, economic and cultural union would be easy, make us richer and anyone who said otherwise was not patriotic.

  • Yeovil Yokel 13th Jan '19 - 11:39am

    I don’t see speech-making as one of either Jo or Vince’s strongpoints, but actually this looks like a good one from Jo.

  • Peter Martin 13th Jan '19 - 10:43pm

    There is a case for being in the EU if we go the whole way and are members to the same extent as Germany, France, Italy, Spain etc . This means adopting the euro and being part of Schengen. This way we’d have a much higher level of influence than we do now. We’d be equal partners with everyone else.

    For this reason, the comparison between Scotland being part of the UK and the UK being part of the EU lacks validity.

    Suppose Scotland said it wanted to be a part of the UK , but didn’t want to share the same currency as everyone else in the UK? Or suppose it said it didn’t want to be part of the the free movement zone within the UK and wanted its own separate border checks. Suppose it also wanted to negotiate other opt-outs from the UK as the UK has done with the EU?

    Not to put too fine a point on it we’d tell the Scots to get lost! Or words to that effect!

    Brexit really started to happen when we stayed out of the euro. The referendum result in 2016 was just a continuation of the disengagement process.

  • The important question following Peter Martin’s point about the parallels between the EU and Scotland is who the we are who would tell the Scots to get lost. If the U.K. splits in two, or more for that matter, why is it assumed that one part of the country is the successor and the other part a new country.
    The same question arises in the EU of course. The U.K. is part of the EU and yet we are told that we are forced to agree to things that have been in fact been agreed on our behalf by our government. The we here refers to the people of the U.K.

  • Tony Clayton 14th Jan '19 - 11:03am

    Good speech – and a great Question Time performance.
    Peter Martin is right that we’d have gained from being inside the Euro. As members we might have moderated some of the mistakes, like including Greece at the outset, when the evidence showed that it would cause real pain..
    But Sweden and Denmark are outside it too – and still committed to the European idea.
    Remember Churchill – the European family of nations is built by ‘those who can and those who will’. That means bringing countries in when they are ready, economically and politically.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Jan '19 - 12:52pm

    I think this is the voice many of us have been waiting for.

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