Rebuilding trade and cooperation with Europe

Hardly a week goes by without some new evidence of the damage done by Brexit to the British economy. From rising food prices, to empty supermarket shelves, to shortages of HGV drivers and of staff in the healthcare, farming and hospitality sectors, to musicians being unable to perform abroad, to British firms, farmers and fishers facing such higher charges and bureaucracy that they give up exporting their products altogether, to scientists losing chances of collaborative projects, Brexit is affecting more and more parts of everyday life. The coronavirus pandemic has caused the biggest shock to the British economy since the war, but, as the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted, the impact of Brexit will be twice as large – and, unlike the pandemic, it will not stop.

The damage is not only to the economy. Brexit has removed British citizens’ opportunities to work, to be together with their loved ones, to study and retire anywhere in the EU. Britain now has less clout in international negotiations, whether on climate change or biodiversity or trade. The existence of the UK itself is now under threat, as Brexit has weakened the arguments for Scotland and Northern Ireland – which both voted to Remain – to stay part of the union. The slogan ‘take back control’ was a lie; in reality Britain now exercises less control over the forces that determine its future than it did inside the EU.

Increasingly the electorate shares our view that Brexit is damaging Britain, and recognises that a new approach would bring benefits. The Liberal Democrat position, as agreed by conference in autumn 2020 and spring 2021, is to back the ultimate goal of the UK joining the EU once more. But support for a campaign to join the EU as soon as possible is by no means certain, and has no guarantee of success. In any case, there is no indication that the EU would want the UK back, in its current state; the Conservatives have gone out of their way to turn down offers of cooperation, to destroy the trust that is necessary to effective international relations and to diverge as much as possible from European standards and systems. The EU no longer sees Britain as a good neighbour, and it will take time to convince EU member states that the UK is serious about forging stronger links and rebuilding the relationship.

It is against this background that the Federal Policy Committee has approved the policy paper Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe for debate at the spring conference next month. The paper argues for a staged approach to re-establish good relations and rebuild the associations between Britain and its European neighbours, to the benefit of both:

1. Immediate UK initiatives to repair the UK–EU relationship – starting with a declaration of a fundamental change in the UK’s approach, and including extending mobility schemes, improving channels for foreign policy cooperation and granting full Settled Status to all EU citizens and their families who were living in the UK on 31 December 2020.

2. Rebuilding confidence – through seeking to agree partnerships or associations with EU agencies and programmes such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, Erasmus Plus, scientific programmes, climate and environment initiatives, and cooperation on crime and security.

3. Deepening the trading relationship – including critical steps for the British economy, such as aiming to negotiate a veterinary agreement for trade in food and livestock, mutual recognition agreements, and reciprocal deals with the EU on low-cost, fast-tracked work visas.

4. Applying to join the Single Market. Once ties of trust and friendship have been renewed, and the damage the Conservatives have caused to trade between the UK and EU has begun to be repaired, the opportunity should arise to remove remaining trade barriers and to restore Britain’s economy to health by applying to join the Single Market – though we recognise, given the current state of these relationships, that this may be some time in the future.

The paper is available on the party website; and the motion accompanying it is on pages 37–40 of the agenda; it’s due for debate on the Saturday morning of conference, 12 March. While it focuses primarily on the UK–EU trading relationship and Single Market membership, the approach we take means that the paper also touches on many other policy areas too, but generally only very briefly. We will be coming back to future conferences with further policy motions to allow party members to debate more fully other aspects of the UK–EU relationship.

We believe that the staged approach proposed in Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe offers the best chance of convincing former Remain voters sick of Brexit, and former Leave voters disillusioned by it, that the Liberal Democrats have a better way – that the hostility that marks the Conservative government’s approach to relations with the EU is not a necessary part of Brexit, that there are different approaches available that work through trust and cooperation, not antagonism and divergence.

By steadily building a healthier relationship with the EU, we can demonstrate how the UK can become more prosperous, more safe and more influential – and in this way maximise the chance of persuading the electorate to support a renewed UK membership of the EU in the longer term.

* Duncan Brack is Chair of the Federal Policy Committee Working Group on Europe. Layla Moran MP is the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

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28 Comments

  • kenneth gardner 22nd Feb '22 - 10:44am

    Agree with all of the proposition but not with one point .The European Union and its Parliamentary Members would welcome and approve a Rejoin application, without doubt, i am informed, with such a application coming forth from a totally new U.K Govt that is constituted without any Conservative /Tory ties. The accord and friendship still abounds and the Union looks forward to such a rejoin application.

  • Laurence Cox 22nd Feb '22 - 11:56am

    I think that rather than emphasising rejoining the Single Market we should seek to rejoin the EEA (which would have the same effect), which we chose to leave when we left the EU, even though it was covered by a different treaty. The existing EEA countries would need to change the EEA rules to allow non-EU, non-EFTA members, but it would also have wider merits, particularly in acting as a stepping-stone for countries in the Balkans and for the European microstates (Andorra, Monaco and San Marino).

  • Chris Platts 22nd Feb '22 - 12:44pm

    I agree with the aim and direction of the above policy and the comments made by both Kenneth and Laurence. Especially those of Laurence,one thing I would add is that British citizens living European countries need to have their voting rights restored by the EU.I think that the Libdems should campaign for this to be established as a priority.

  • In the Referendum we decided to Leave the EU in its entirety as was made clear at the time. We did not vote to leave in name only and still be subject to three-quarters of all EU law. We voted to reclaim our sovereignty so we can impose our own laws in our own country. So we can decide for ourselves on how to run our railways and to require whole system fire tests for external cladding.

    ‘We pay, but have no say: that’s the reality of Norway’s relationship with the EU’:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/27/norway-eu-reality-uk-voters-seduced-by-norwegian-model

    As an EEA member, we do not participate in decision-making in Brussels, but we loyally abide by Brussels’ decisions. We have incorporated approximately three-quarters of all EU legislative acts into Norwegian legislation – and counting.

    ‘Norway: Rail workers hold national strikes over EU rail privatisation’:
    https://labourheartlands.com/norway-rail-workers-hold-national-strikes-over-eu-rail-privatisation/

    Norway is bound to follow EU rules due to its EEA membership.

    ‘The Grenfell tragedy was about more than cladding’:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/01/grenfell-tragedy-cladding/

    …the BRE had already devised a new British standard, BS 8414, which the MPs recommended should replace the wholly inadequate EN 13501. But the latter had come from the EU, making it mandatory. So, under EU law, the new British standard could only therefore be a voluntary (and more expensive) option.

  • John Marriott 22nd Feb '22 - 4:11pm

    @Jeff
    “In the referendum we decided to leave the EU in its entirety”. Who are “we”? You seem to be someone, who likes their facts and figures so let’s be accurate, shall we? That ‘throw-away’ remark of yours doesn’t do you justice. First of all, around 30% of those eligible to vote never bothered. So, that means that around 37% of the electorate voted for Brexit. This was the largest minority, granted; but it WAS a minority after all. Many would argue that those who didn’t vote have only themselves to blame. Fair enough; but please don’t assume that you are speaking for the majority of our citizens when you write; “we voted to leave the EU in its entirety”. You may have voted to leave; but I and many others voted to remain in what was a close result. I wonder whether, given what the reality of the first year of Brexit has brought us even allowing for the unforeseen problems that COVID has caused, many of those who believed that message on the bus, for example, would still vote to leave?

  • @ Jeff 22nd Feb ’22 – 2:51pm In the Referendum we decided to Leave the EU in its entirety as was made clear at the time. We did not vote to leave in name only and still be subject to three-quarters of all EU law.

    I’m sorry, Jeff, but in Scotland 62% of us didn’t…….. so please don ‘t count as ‘We’.

  • Barry Lofty 22nd Feb '22 - 5:48pm

    Can I just add my agreement to the previous three posts, Martin, John and David.

  • John Marriott 22nd Feb ’22 – 4:11pm:
    “In the referendum we decided to leave the EU in its entirety”. Who are “we”?

    I would have thought that was obvious; the British people, as explained here by the late and much missed Paddy Ashdown…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzpssICXnrg

    You know, those who’ve asked for this, and I was the first leader ever to ask for a referendum way back in, I don’t know 89 / 90, have said so because they believe it to be an act of democracy.

    I will forgive no one who does not accept the sovereign voice of the British people, once it has spoken, whether it’s by 1% or 20%.
    […]

    I mean either you believe in democracy or you don’t. When democracy speaks we obey. All of us do. And then if you put your nation first then you make the best use of it as you can with the decision you’ve got.

    …I and many others voted to remain in what was a close result.

    7.9% more people voting Leave wasn’t a “close result”.

  • The proposition for Leave was clearly encapsulated in three words: “Take Back Control”. It’s not possible to take back control of our money, borders, laws, and trade while being in the ‘single market’ – the EU Internal Market. We’d have to pay (Norway paid more per head), we’d have to accept ‘free movement’ from the EU, we’d have to obey three-quarters of all EU law with no say, and we wouldn’t be able to operate an independent trade policy – absurd for the world’s fifth largest market.

    Not everyone paid much attention to what was said during the Referendum campaign – many already knew which way they would be voting. After our decision to leave some remainer activists have tried to rewrite history by pretending that a Leave vote only meant leaving the political part of the EU.

    1. The government sent a leaflet to every household which mentioned the “single market” 20 times and exhorted us to vote to remain within it. It was the central economic issue of the campaign.

    ‘Government leaflet on the EU Referendum’:
    https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7579/
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk/why-the-government-believes-that-voting-to-remain-in-the-european-union-is-the-best-decision-for-the-uk

    If we move outside the single market we would have to negotiate a new relationship with the EU. Even the best Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will come with higher administrative costs and red tape in order to export into the single market.

  • 2. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated in parliament what each vote meant…

    Prime Minister’s Questions: 15 June 2016: Answer to Nigel Adams:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2170&v=9BjtP00IRPA

    ’In’ means we remain in a reformed EU; ‘Out’ means we come out. As the leave campaigners and others have said, ‘Out’ means out of the European Union, out of the European single market, out of the Council of Ministers — out of all those things…

    3. The remain campaign saw leaving the ‘single market’ as the “key issue”…

    ‘Brexit vote was about single market, says Cameron adviser’ [November 2016]:
    http://www.politico.eu/article/brexit-vote-was-about-single-market-says-cameron-adviser/

    “Leaving the European single market was “the instruction from the referendum,” according to one of David Cameron’s closest advisers.

    Ameet Gill, who served as the former prime minister’s director of strategy until earlier this year and campaigned for a Remain vote, said the Brexiteers’ commitment to leaving the free-trade bloc was the key issue of the campaign… […]

    Gill is particularly damning about the attempt to rewrite the history of the campaign by those who, like him, supported a vote to Remain.

  • John Marriott 22nd Feb '22 - 7:09pm

    @Jeff
    No, not “the British people”, 37% of those eligible to vote. What about those deemed old enough to take up arms but not old enough to cast a ballot? Your figure of 7.9% is spurious. That might have been the case in England but certainly not in Scotland, as David Raw affirms, or in Northern Ireland. The figures for the U.K. as a whole were 52% leave and 48% remain. That’s pretty close in my book. Equally spurious is your Ashdown quote, which makes no mention of “the British people”.

  • Still arguing the toss about the result of the 2016 referendum. Good grief. Time to move on.

  • John Marriott 22nd Feb ’22 – 7:09pm:
    Your figure of 7.9% is spurious.

    17,410,742 is 7.9% larger than 16,141,241. 100*(17,410,742-16,141,241)/16,141,241

    That might have been the case in England but certainly not in Scotland, as David Raw affirms, or in Northern Ireland.

    The question on the ballot paper was this…

    Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

    It wasn’t ‘should Scotland remain a member of the European Union…?’

    People in Scotland voted along with the rest of the UK for the whole of the UK to leave the EU.

    Over 20% more Scots voted for Scotland to remain in the UK than voted for the UK to remain in the EU (2,001,926 votes to 1,661,191 votes).

    Equally spurious is your Ashdown quote, which makes no mention of “the British people”…

    Second paragraph: “I will forgive no one who does not accept the sovereign voice of the British people,…”.

  • Kathy Erasmusae 23rd Feb '22 - 8:56am

    Excellent. Totally agree

  • Kathy Erasmus 23rd Feb '22 - 8:56am

    Excellent. I totally agree

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Feb '22 - 9:18am

    So much time has been wasted with partygate, and the public display of bad behaviour by certain MPs.
    There should be more done, to make a badly preforming MP either improve or be removed.
    If you can be sacked in the private sector, why little control running a country?

  • John Marriott 23rd Feb '22 - 10:12am

    @David Raw
    ‘Jeff’ writes; “People in Scotland voted along with the rest of the UK for the whole of the UK to leave the EU”.

    Your comments?

  • Chris platts 23rd Feb '22 - 12:21pm

    If there is no will to rejoin etc,then those who won the referendum need to take responsibility for their actions and start making Brexit work. They should be given a set time scale and if that has not achieved positive results then we should rethink the whole process

  • William Wallace 23rd Feb '22 - 3:16pm

    Jacob Rees Mogg as minister for Brexit opportunities has just proposed in effect that we adopt a large part of the EEA position, by unilaterally adopting EU regulations rather than duplicating them in parallel (or distinctive) UK form.

  • @William Wallace – Give Rees Mogg a little more time and he’ll probably come to the same decision as Margaret Thatcher, namely, the UK needs to be at the table that sets the EEA regulations…

  • Bizarre new math. Sixty-two percent of Scots voted to remain in the EU. Only thirty-eight percent voted to leave. Scotland wanted to be in the EU and were dragged out by an English majority. The same is true of Northern Ireland.

  • Peter Watson 24th Feb '22 - 8:37am

    @David “Scotland wanted to be in the EU and were dragged out by an English majority.”
    It would have been a brilliantly ironic slap-in-the-face to Brexit-supporting Unionists if the Scottish vote had kept the UK in the EU, but having opposed Scottish independence, Remain-supporting Unionists have to accept that, sadly, they contributed to dragging Scotland out of the EU despite insisting in 2014 that opposing independence would ensure the opposite.

  • @Martin – From the press reports I think JRM fully understands what he is saying…
    However, automatically accepting other countries regulations is different to actually joining trading blocks and having to obey their rules…; so all is well in Brexitland.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Feb '22 - 3:17pm

    If any good can come from Russia invading Ukraine might it be that it will accelerate our rejoining the eu? Military and economic collaboration in countering this will show how impotent we are on our own. Also, the public will more quickly realise the advantages of working with our european friends.

  • @Peter Hirst: That would be nice. But first people have to recognise the connexion between Brexit and the lack of the UK’s power and voice on the one hand, and between Brexit and Putin’s military adventurism on the other.

    Since people are still purporting to have difficulty seeing the obvious connexion between Brexit and Anglocentric xenophobia/racism, I think it might take a while.

  • Neil James Sandison 26th Feb '22 - 10:37pm

    its going to be a long haul back most likely to be achieved by individual trade agreements .it will also need a move by the EU away from its corporate style and more towards a defender of social liberal values like liberty , freedom for self determination and equality of education and oppertunity

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