Tag Archives: brexit

LibLink: Christine Jardine: Boris is putting peace process in peril

As Liz Truss prepares to tell Parliament how exactly the British Government intends to ride a coach and horses through the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated by itself, Christine Jardine writes in the Scotsman about the dangers this poses to the Peace Process.

She starts by writing about how she felt when the IRA first announced its ceasefire back in 1994.

But in that moment it seemed, for the first time, that there might be a bright, positive peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland. For everyone touched by the euphemistically named ‘Troubles’.

Thirty years later, they have reached a point where they have, to a previously unimaginable extent, put the bitterness and pain of those years behind them.

So to be faced with the realisation that it might all be undermined by an unnecessary dispute born of the Brexit debacle and government intransigence is astonishing.

She condemns the Government for the threat it is posing to the Union.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that a government, under fire, struggling to get on top of a cost-of-living crisis, is using the most socially and politically fragile area of the UK as a football.

More than that, it often feels as if the Conservatives are playing unacceptable games, not just with the people of Northern Ireland but with the Union.

She outlines the potential consequences of the Government’s actions:

If the Conservatives persist with their ideological approach, it could result in a trade war with our closest allies in the EU.

In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, and when we need to work together to support Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression in Europe, it is hard to imagine a more self-damaging approach.

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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.

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Campaigning on Europe – members’ views

Please note that the title of this piece has been amended to reflect the content of the article.

You may remember, last November, taking part in a survey on members’ views on Brexit and the party’s campaigning on the future of UK–EU relations. Thanks to everyone who participated – 6,500 members, more than any previous survey of this type – and thanks to Greg Foster and Dan Schmeising at party HQ who organised it on behalf of the Federal Policy Committee. This article gives you the results.

The first question asked how you voted in the 2016 referendum. Completely unsurprisingly, over 91 per cent voted to Remain. Most of the rest couldn’t vote (for example because they were too young); just 2.5 per cent voted to Leave. No less than 95 per cent would describe themselves now as Remainers (more than four-fifths of whom chose the option ‘Yes, I am a Remainer and I am proud of it’) and just 1.3 per cent described themselves as Leavers (a third of whom – 25 people – were proud of it).

In response to the question, ‘Do you think people in your life who aren’t Liberal Democrats associate the current problems the country is experiencing – shortages of truck drivers, farmworkers, care workers and goods in shops – with Brexit?’, on a 0–6 scale, the average answer was 3.7: in other words, they do, but not all that strongly. Of course, the pandemic and the government’s feeble response have complicated the picture substantially, but this will change over time, as the impacts of Brexit become ever clearer. Indeed, if we’d asked the question now rather than two months ago, I suspect the response would have been stronger.

We next asked which EU-related policy areas the party ought to treat as a priority, given that the impact of Brexit is being felt across so many; people could choose three out of a list of fourteen. Trade came top, listed by more than half of respondents. The others, in order, were: climate change and energy; freedom of movement and immigration; rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU; standards for environment and labour issues; scientific collaboration; cultural, artistic and educational links; environment and biodiversity; defence and security; health policy; justice and police cooperation; foreign policy (countries outside the EU); international development; and crime.

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The damage caused by this Government now includes psychological harm – we need them gone

This morning I was looking on Twitter at the heartbreaking messages from people who had not been able to see their loved ones before they died in May 2020 due to the Covid rules in force at the time, or to attend family funerals or visit relatives in care homes. These are deeply hurtful and scarring experiences.

I also thought to myself, how do most people feel about being told in the Spring of 2020 that they could, legally, only meet up with one person outdoors, now they know that there were parties with 30 or more people held in Downing Street at the very same time? Or about members of the public being fined by the police for breaking the same rules the Prime Minister introduced – yet broke – himself whilst, of course, concealing the truth from everyone?

I turned to thinking about Brexit and the damage and uncertainty caused to multiple interests, especially famers and fishing communities, but also to students and people who used to move regularly between the UK and the EU. This article is not about comparing the tragedies of Covid and Brexit, as Covid is infinitely worse due to the enormity of the loss of life and the associated heartache, but it is about the same way the Conservative Government has handled these two major catastrophes and continues to do so – and the kind of damage their duplicity has surely done to many people’s mental health.

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What a mess! The Brexit fiasco

Brexit has not been done. There never was an oven-ready deal. Whatever Johnson thought was ready for the oven is now burnt to a cinder.

It’s time to use ridicule to explain how this UKIP-Tory government has made such a mess of Brexit. Five and a half years since the Brexit referendum, and Liz Truss has just become the sixth minister in charge of getting Brexit done. The public are beginning to understand that Johnson did not have a clue what sort of Brexit he wanted when he was campaigning to leave and is now struggling to come to terms with the failure to deliver.

A succession of incompetent ministers have attempted to reconcile the Leave campaign’s contradictory objectives. We started with David Davis – who went to meetings with Michel Barnier without any briefing papers. He lasted nearly two years as Brexit secretary. Olly Robbins did most of the work, reporting to Theresa May, against a backdrop of hostile briefings from Tory MPs. Dominic Raab picked up the poisoned chalice when Davis and Johnson resigned over May’s Chequers package. He lasted four months, a period distinguished only by his admission that he had not understood how important the port of Dover was.

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World Review: Coups, budget, Brexit, hypersonic China, dictatorships and weaponizing energy

This year the world seems to be suffering from a pandemic of coups. Myanmar, Guinea, Mali, Chad Ethiopia (although technically it is a civil war) and now Sudan. There were also attempted coups in Madagascar and the Central African Republic. It is not surprising. The combined forces of covid-19, Jihadism and long-standing ethnic divisions are taking their toll and the first victims are almost always the poorest countries. Sudan is a prime example. The per capita income is just under $4,000 a year. It ranks 181 out of 225 countries in the wealth stakes. In Sudan’s case neither covid nor Jihadism appear to have played a direct role in the military power grab, although both contributed to general dissatisfaction. It seems, however, the prime driver was good old fashioned greed coupled with fear and a hunger for power. For the past two years the country had been in a political transitional period following the removal of Omar al-Bashiri. The military was gradually returning control to civilians, in particular to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. But according to the military, problems arose when competing civilian politicians tried to develop individual power bases within the army, thus raising the spectre of civil war. Their argument carries little weight with either Washington or Brussels, both of whom have cut off aid to Sudan. The Western capitals are concerned about Sudanese developments because of the danger of the civil war in neighbouring Ethiopia spreading into a destabilised Sudan and the combined problems of the two countries destabilising the upper reaches of the Nile River basin and the Horn of Africa.

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How do you solve a problem like Dominic Raab?

This morning Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, exposed his own ignorance on live television:

Lib Dem Women and Equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said:

“It’s little wonder the Conservatives are failing to tackle misogyny when their Justice Secretary doesn’t even seem to know what it is.”

“These comments are an insult to the millions of women and girls impacted by misogyny and show just how out of touch the Conservatives are on this issue.

“Women and girls deserve better than these callous remarks. The Government must make misogyny a hate crime so that police forces take these crimes more seriously and support women and girls who are being so desperately let down.”

This is, of course, the very same Dominic Raab who, when Brexit Secretary, said the following:

“We are, and I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and if you look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29 August

Afghanistan

As Kabul descends into chaos it is becoming painfully clear that this is largely due to poor political leadership in the West. America – Trump and Biden – bear the lion’s share of the blame. Trump for laying the groundwork and Biden for failing to jettison Trump’s work and the serious miscalculation that the government of Ashraf Ghani could hold back the Taliban tide.

But the Europeans also have to accept a big share of the blame, especially British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The British were the lead European partner in Afghanistan. They have (or had) the second largest NATO military force and have a historic involvement in the country. President Biden made it clear back in April that he would withdraw US troops by 9/11 at the latest. Boris did nothing. It was not until the Taliban was banging on the gates of Kabul that he started trying to organise European NATO to persuade Biden to remain in Afghanistan or, at the very least, substantially delay US withdrawal. Even then something may have been salvaged if Boris had not been leading the charge. As one former senior diplomat said: “He has virtually zero credibility with the Biden Administration and every EU capital. He is regarded as lazy, untrustworthy and a political lightweight.”

Western diplomats are fleeing Afghanistan in droves. In fact, most of their embassies now stand empty. But that is not the case with the Russians. Their diplomats are operating at full tilt strengthening relations with the Taliban with whom they have been quietly working for several years. Taliban leaders have been in and out of Moscow since for some time, and at one point the Trump Administration was accusing the Russians of supplying the Afghan Islamic rebels with weaponry. The charge was successfully denied. But the change of regime has been warmly and publicly welcomed by the Russians who maintain that the Taliban victory will bring peace and prosperity to the streets of Kabul and hills and valleys of rural Afghanistan.

Part of the reason for the Russian diplomatic offensive in Afghanistan is to fill the political vacuum left by the West and exploit America’s humiliation and discomfort. But there are also practical considerations. Russia retains wide-ranging economic and military interests in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is concerned that instability, Jihadism and a rogue Taliban will destabilise the other Asian stans and encourage Chechen rebels. They are also concerned that a failed state in Afghanistan will result in an increase in the drug trade with Russia. Moscow still has painful memories of their nine-year war in Afghanistan, but practical politics have won the day.

The UK

More signs that Brexit is beginning to bite. It has taken longer than expected, but the reality factor is replacing the fear factor. As predicted by Remainers, it is the lack of EU immigrant workers which is causing the current problem, especially in the agricultural and trucking industries. The two sectors rely on what is classified as unskilled labour to harvest the crops and move those products to supermarket shelves while still fresh. Unskilled jobs have been traditionally filled by immigrants, mainly because they are dirty, physically exhausting, and low-paid and involve long hours. British workers don’t want them. The result is that the number of lorry drivers is down by 20 percent and agricultural workers by at least 25 percent. Supermarkets are seriously worried about empty shelves.

The response of British Home Secretary Priti Patel is “pay more money and hire British workers.” There are several problems with this diktat. First of all, there is already a general labour shortage caused partly by Brexit and partly by Covid. Next, although, agricultural work and truck driving are classed as unskilled, that is a labour fallacy. Anyone who has spent a day picking strawberries or trying to drive a heavy goods vehicle will testify to the fact. So recruiting indigenous Brits will involve a training period. Which means a delay. Then there is the impact that such a move will have on inflation. Increasing the salaries of 320,000 lorry drivers and 176,000 agricultural workers will have a significant impact on wage inflation. It will also substantially increase the cost of products across the entire range of commerce as transport costs are added to the retail price. Already supermarket chains are paying drivers bonuses of up to 25 percent to move goods to shelves before they spoil. Unable to compete with the private sector will be the public sector, which means, for instance, that local councils face the prospect of a shortage of drivers of dust carts to collect rubbish.

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Carmichael: Why is the fishing industry having to fight its own government for survival?

Alistair Carmichael knows more about fishing than most, as you would expect for someone representing an island constituency.

He knows how our fishermen have been completely sold down the river by the Brexit deal.

Yesterday, he stood up for fishermen and those in related industries in a Parliamentary debate which you can watch here.

He outlined some of the eye-watering losses suffered by the industry as a result of the Government failing to deliver on its promises.

Here is his speech in the debate:

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How YOU can support EU citizens in the UK

Put yourself forward to be a member of the EU Citizens’ Panel.

Many members of the Liberal Democrats will have been horrified to hear about the treatment of EU citizens arriving in the UK, as reported in the Guardian, Politico and other newspapers. 

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are cases of European citizens who have lived among us for many years suddenly finding themselves unwelcome with questions being raised about their entitlement to healthcare and even school places for their children. This was not supposed to happen. EU citizens were told “nothing would change” after Brexit and it was one of the negotiating positions of the European Commission during the withdrawal negotiations. The principle set out in the  Withdrawal Agreement was that those Europeans living in the UK at the end of the transition period would continue to maintain their rights. It is simply not happening.

The Withdrawal Agreement set up an Independent Monitoring Authority to monitor the implementation of the citizens rights aspects and its website can be found here

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Alistair Carmichael sets out a route map back to the EU

There has been a lot of talk about the party’s future approach to the EU. In a speech to Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire this week, Alistair Carmichael MP set out a possible route map back to full EU membership for the UK and has given us permission to reproduce his remarks.

For the last quarter century Britain’s relationship with her European neighbours has never been far from the centre of our political debate.

For the last five years it has been absolutely dominant.

Brexit may now have happened but few would be naïve enough to think that would be the end of the story.

Less than a month after Boris Johnson signed his trade and cooperation deal with the European Union the flaws and gaps are already apparent.

Our fishermen have woken up to the fact that they were used by Johnson, Farage, Gove et al.

Our young people are coming to terms with the loss of the Erasmus Programme and the opportunities that it brought.

Our exporters are finding that before they can take advantage of the tariff-free access of which the Prime Minister is so proud, they must first get past the Tory red tape manufactured in Whitehall on this side of the channel.

Clearly our relationship with Europe will remain with us as a politcal issue for years if not decades to come.

For us as a party that is a challenge and an opportunity.

This is a point where we have to take stock and go back to our liberal first principles – free trade, enterprise, internationalism.

Since Jo Grimond, my predecessor but one as MP for Orkney and Shetland, took up the reins as leader of the Liberal Party we have been consistent in our view that the United Kingdom’s best interests have best been served by being a member of what was then the European Communities or European Union as it is today.

We have not always got it right. Too often our response to an unrelenting barrage of abuse and misinformation by a right-wing press was to be drawn into defending the institutions of the EU and to look, as a consequence, like uncritical fans.

I confess I never found that to be an attractive or even a particularly liberal approach.

That was why in my early years in Parliament I was one of a handful of Lib Dem MPs who wanted to see political reform before we joined the Euro. I think that time has vindicated that judgement.

It was also why I resigned from Nick Clegg’s front bench team in order to vote for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty that we had promised in our manifesto in 2005.

I remember journalists describing me then as that most unusual animal – the Lib Dem Eurosceptic.

I won’t deny the “most unusual” bit but to the rest my response then, as now, was that as a liberal I would always be sceptical about the workings of government. The need to reform the way we govern ourselves in the UK was one of the main issues that motivated me to join the Liberal Party in 1980 as a fourteen year old schoolboy.

While we have made some progress in decentralising power away from Whitehall in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senned and Northern Ireland Assembly there remains much still to do.

The House of Lords remains stubbornly resistant to reform;

Our electoral system remains obscenely unrepresentative in the governments that it provides;

Local Government has been starved of funds and shorn of power piece by piece for decades.

At no point, however, have my frustrations with the institutions power government and politics dimmed my belief in the fundamental principles that underpin them – respect for democracy and the rule of law.

I mention that now because – as we saw most graphically in Washington DC a few weeks ago – these truths that were once regarded as being so obvious and universally held that it was trite to mention them – are under attack by a movement of nationalist populism as never before.

When the very idea of liberal democracy is under attack then the need for Liberal Democrats is greater than ever.

When historians come to write the story of the first two decades of the twenty-first century that is how I believe (and hope) that the debate about Britain’s relationship with Europe will be seen.

Yes, we have suffered a major set-back in that battle between those who believe that reform is possible and those who will tell you that it will never happen.

Our party has always argued for Scotland to have her own parliament within a federal United Kingdom. Not because of any nationalist sentiment but because we believe that produces better government.

Similarly we have always believed that the United Kingdom, while maintaining its own parliament and institutions should be part of the European Union. There again we should be guided by what produces better outcomes rather than the colours of a flag.

Nothing has changed in that regard. Our Federal Party conference confirmed as much as recently as last September when we passed a motion in these terms “Conference resolves to support a longer terms objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.”

That remains the position. The Liberal Democrats are a party that wants to see the U.K. eventually rejoin the EU.

Of course, we should make it equally and emphatically clear that this is not something that we seek immediately. It is probably at best a medium-term objective. Quite apart from healing the divisions that have blighted our politics and communities since 2016 any party in government must be focused on rebuilding our economy post-COVID. Anything else would be unforgiveable.

Even a medium-term objective, however, must demand more than warm words.

This is a time when we as a party need to make it clear that we not only want to see the United Kingdom return to full membership of the European Union but that we have a clear and credible route map for getting there.

Liberal Democrats have always been a party where policy is set by our members, and rightly so. Just as we set ourselves that goal of EU membership at last year’s conference I would like us all to play our part in designing the route map to get us there. Full EU membership may be a medium-term objective but the problems caused by being on the outside are real and acute and immediate.

They need and deserve more than warm words about close cooperation.

So my opening bid in that debate is this.

I would like to see our party argue for the United Kingdom to rejoin the European Free Trade Association and to do so as soon as possible. We were, after all, founding members in 1960.

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What is the future of the farming industry in the UK?

Although I come originally from a city called Lublin, in the South-East part of Poland, as a child, I spent a lot time visiting my cousins and grandparents’ in relatively large village close to a city called Rzeszow. I remember Polish harvest, I remember watching my uncle, my grandmothers’ brother, who used to leave the house very early in the morning and who was coming back home very late; often tired but also happy, as the job enabled him to feel closely connected with nature. 

Looking back, I think that farming has been always strongly rooted in the “working culture” of the Polish nation. Today, the situation has changed as young people move to cities to seek and enhance their life opportunities. I remember how hard everyone had to work to feed their families and earn a decent (?) living. My mum tells me that when she was a child, before going to school, she also had to support her parents with e.g. feeding the cows or cleaning the stable. I also remember visiting my auntie in Italy, who was working on the farm. It really was a hard job. I have it easy these days, don’t I? 

I’ve recently come across a very interesting article published in Emerging Europe about the impact of Brexit on UK farming industry. I often wondered what will happen to some sections of the economy when the transition period ends? It is good news that the UK government has increased to 30,000 the number of visas to seasonal workers, who will be able to come to Britain for up to 6 months. Unfortunately, this is where the good news end. This new ‘visa arrangement’ comes with a heavy price. Each work permit will cost £244, which for many interested individuals might be simply too expensive. What is even more interesting is that citizens from some countries e.g. Turkey or Macedonia will pay less (£55) than seasonal workers from other countries e.g. Romania, Bulgaria or Slovenia. Reason? Some countries are not members of the Council of Europe’s Social Chapter. 

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Lib Dem peers unite musicians from Elton John to Iron Maiden over Brexit visa problems

Liberal Democrat peers have organised a letter to the Times signed by over 100 very well known musicians and others in the industry outlining the problems they are now facing as a result of the Brexit deal.

The letter has united Ed Sheehan, Iron Maiden and the Sex Pistols with just about everyone in between.

Significantly, the letter is also signed by Roger Daltrey, who was a prominent campaigner for Brexit.

The Times(£) has the details and quotes Lib Dem peer Paul Strasburger.

Lord Strasburger, the Liberal Democrat peer, said that while the government was “predictably” trying to blame the EU, Britain’s creative artists had been “left high and dry”

He added: “The artists who signed this letter are either furious or fearful for the future of their business, or both. If the Conservative government cares about these industries and the economy, they must get back around the negotiating table and get this sorted pronto.”

The basic problem is that up until 31 December, musicians could just go to any of the other EU countries and perform with zero hassle. Now they have a mountain of paperwork and visas to deal with.

The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment. The extra costs will make many tours unviable, especially for young emerging musicians who are already struggling to keep their heads above water owing to the Covid ban on live music. This negotiating failure will tip many performers over the edge.

We urge the government to do what it said it would do and negotiate paperwork-free travel in Europe for British artists and their equipment. For the sake of British fans wanting to see European performers in the UK and British venues wishing to host them, the deal should be reciprocal.

You can find out more in an article on the Lib Dem website which describes how musicians have been left high and dry by the Brexit deal.

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All quiet on the Brexit front

To judge by the silence in the media, Brexit is done and dusted, and the country has already moved on. Or perhaps it was all a bad dream and never happened.
Of course, the covid-19 pandemic has eclipsed much of the other news, but this is not entirely explained. There have been plenty of problems: mountains of red tape that never perished in any bonfire, failed deliveries, cargoes of rotting fish. Of course, the Government has played these minor irritations down, no surprise there. But more puzzlingly, Kier Starmer has staged a judicious retreat from the Brexit battlefield, fearful no doubt …

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Why giving up on “rejoin” is the last straw

I’m afraid Ed Davey’s reply to Andrew Marr yesterday, agreeing that the Liberal Democrats are no different from the Labour Party in not being “a rejoin party” is a massively missed opportunity and it’s the last straw for me. Leaving the party I have supported, stood for and donated to, since my teenage years in the 1970’s will be very difficult and heart wrenching. Sadly, I am on the cusp of making that decision. If there is one thing we can learn from Brexiteers, it’s that persistent and passionate campaigning, even when things are not going your way, can pay off in the end.

I am not suggesting that we should be asking for another referendum now, but that we should be making it very clear that we will be doing everything possible to create the situation where it is possible for the UK to re-join the EU as soon as is practical, and that we won’t give up until we succeed.

Doing so would give the Liberal Democrats the powerful distinct reason we need to differentiate us and attract support from both Labour and the Conservatives. With a credible Labour leader, we will otherwise just fall back into our familiar position of getting votes from people whose preferred party can’t win. Opinion polls show at least half of the country would still prefer the UK to be in the EU. Boris’s large majority was not a long term mandate for staying out of the EU. They voted for him because they were fed up with Brexit and believed his would end it. At the same time they judged Jeremy Corbyn as unsuitable for the role of Prime Minister.

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Ed Davey on Marr: We need £150 billion green recovery, not weak and timid government

“We are not a rejoin party” was one of the first things Ed Davey said in his New Year interview with Andrew Marr. The starkness of that statement is bound to disappoint some Liberal Democrat members and activists who are committed to this country ultimately being part of the EU again. Party strategists are adamant that now is not the time to have that argument and that we need to re-establish our credibility after the 2019 election. Perhaps being proven right will take care of some of that issue. We just need to make sure that we can be better at benefitting from being right than we have been all the other times when we have called a major issue correctly – think Iraq and the 2008 economic crisis.

It’s also not what our policy, passed at Conference in September, says:

Conference resolves to support a longer term objective of UK membership of the EU.

I would have preferred to see a very quick addition to Ed’s line that we didn’t support Brexit for all the reasons we can see it going wrong before he emphasises the need for the closest possible relationship with the EU. There is nothing wrong with saying that while rejoin isn’t on the table now, we think we’ll get to a place where it will be a viable option. There is nothing wrong with keeping that hope alive.

However, he was very strong on one issue that differentiates us from the Labour Party. Keir Starmer is not going to fight for freedom of movement of people. The Liberal Democrats will. Ed said that taking away the freedom to live, work and raise families across the EU is illiberal. The issue is one that impacts on so many families in this country and should increase our support.

That’s a major point of difference with Labour and should attract young people.

The conversation then turned to students. Ed said that the Government had let down schools, universities and students. He called Gavin Williamson the worst education secretary in living memory, who had mismanaged the crisis for everyone in the education sector. He argued that students should be refunded some of their fees and the Government, not the universities should pay for this.

Marr then turned to another really important issue for Lib Dem voters – the environment.

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LibLink: Alistair Carmichael Scotland’s fishermen have been used by opportunists

In a hard-hitting and justifiably furious article in the Sunday Herald, Alistair Carmichael highlights the betrayal of those working in the seafood industry whose livelihood has been ruined by Brexit enhnced by the incompetence of UK Government ministers.

He sets out what is wrong with the deal:

Having made a great pantomime of holding out to get the best deal for fishermen, Johnson folded. Instead we found a deal that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation described this week as “desperately poor” and “the worst of both worlds”.

On close scrutiny the deal leaves our fishermen able to catch fewer fish in most key species, “wins” us shoals of “paper fish” (which we have no economic interest in catching) and leaves us locked into a deal that we barely control and will only be able to leave in 2026 if we are prepared to pay a heavy political and economic price.

It’s already having a devastating impact:

Traditionally, the first week of the new year is a bumper one for exports before trade quietens down for a couple of months.

This year, red-faced Scottish traders were unable to meet their orders as the lorries carrying their slowly deteriorating stock sat idling in Larkhall – unable to penetrate the new fog of bureaucracy in Johnson’s deal.

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Nationalism even extends to fish now, apparently

Our Parliament has a reputation as being one of the oldest and best in the world. Every time I walk through the Palace of Westminster, I am reminded of who has walked these same corridors.

Shirley Wiliams, Barbara Castle, William Wilberforce talking about abolishing slavery, Lloyd George bringing forward the People’s Budget, Aneurin Bevan bringing in the legislation that set up the NHS.

All these great things, over centuries.

In 200 years time, I doubt they’ll be talking about the Day the Fish Smiled.

It was Business Questions. The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard raised the crisis in our fishing industry caused by the Government. But of course, he couldn’t just leave it there. He had to use it as a proxy to ask to have a Commons debate on Scottish independence. I mean, the industry is on its knees. One of its key players, Loch Fyne, is talking about only being able to last another week. And all because the Government first of all pursued Brexit, did so in such a cack-handed manner that the decisions were only made about how the seafood industry would operate on Christmas bloody Eve with a week to go and then didn’t get its finger out to produce the relevant paperwork. This level of incompetence is pretty much standard practice for this lot.

It’s infuriating that the SNP constantly let the Tories off the hook by turning the question to independence. Keep it on the subject. Make them own the mess that they have made. Nope.

So what should have been an exchange on a crisis of the Tories’ making ended like this.

The fishing issue was covered a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have tuned into that debate, rather than bringing it up at business questions, but the Government are tackling this issue and dealing with it as quickly as possible. The key is that we have our fish back: they are now British fish, and they are better and happier fish for it.

Not exactly edifying, is it?

Earlier, the grown-ups were present. Our Alistair Carmichael  took the Government’s actions to pieces in an urgent question, laying bare the damage that they had done.

Boris Johnson had hinted at compensation yesterday, and his ministers have since spent their time trying to row back from that.

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What did the freedom of movement mean to me?

A couple of years ago, my daughter had a non-uniform day at school. She wasn’t sure what to wear, however at the end, she picked a Polish football top, with my nickname on it (ksiadz, which means in English priest), and a Croatian scarf (see the photo).

My kids were born into a truly European family. I am Polish and my wife comes originally from Croatia. Yes, I know; their European identity and sense of belonging to different cultures and traditions won’t be taken away, however it might affect our and their lives in the future. When I asked my daughter about the choice of her non-uniform day clothes, she simply said: “I like to call myself a foreigner”. I was pleasantly surprised.

I remember my life, as a student in Croatia, before Poland joined the EU. I remember that every once a month, I had to visit a local police station to prove that I was a genuine student. When we were living in Italy, my wife had to wait quite a long time for the study and a work permit.

The freedom of movement has been part of our lives for many years now. We have always cherished and appreciated the opportunity to live in different parts of Europe. Each experience opened up our horizons and made us more “rounded individuals” (at least, that’s what we both think!). The freedom of movement has played such a vital part in our lives. In actual fact, it was the WAY OF OUR LIFE. it enabled us to:

  • Travel freely without any restrictions
  • Work
  • Study and participate in a number of scholarship programmes
  • Gain additional qualifications
  • Enhance our live chances
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Kirsty Williams breaks ranks with Welsh Government to oppose Brexit trade deal

We’ve brought you reports from the Commons, the Lords and Holyrood debates on the Brexit trade deal today already.
In Wales, Lib Dem Education Minister Kirsty Williams broke ranks with her Labour colleagues to support an amendment to the government’s own motion which reaffirms the longstanding Liberal Democrat policy to vote against the deal. The amendment which Kirsty specifically voted for stated that she:
Does not support the UK Government’s deal and calls on Wales’ representatives in the UK Parliament to vote accordingly.
Labour dodged making a decision on this and abstained. But Wales’ sole Liberal Democrat voice stood up for her convictions,

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Lord Newby explains why we have opposed the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

And, to balance the red benches with the green, we bring you Dick Newby’s speech from the Lords. It is, fortunately, rather longer than that of our Leader in the Commons, thus allowing for a rather more complete exposition of our Party’s stance on the deal.

My Lords, some four and a half years after the referendum result, we can now see in the treaty that we are discussing today the outline shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, yet we have had no real opportunity to read it and no chance to consider its implications. It is the

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Willie Rennie: Our children will be astonished that this Government pursued big bang Brexit in the middle of a pandemic

The Scottish Parliament debated whether to give legislative consent to the Bill putting the new trade deal with the EU into operation.

Liberal Democrats voted against, and Willie Rennie explained why:

This debate needs a bit of realism. The deal is going through. It’s going to go through because Boris Johnson has an eighty-seat majority, he has his Euro Sceptics on board and even the bulk of the Labour Party is backing it.

So no deal has, finally, been taken off the table.

But just because we accept Brexit is happening, that there is a deal and it is going through does not mean we have to like it.

We are realistic but we won’t swallow all our deep reservations about Brexit and especially this deal.

In no way is anyone compelled to vote for something they think will be bad for the country.
And after all the Brexit chaos this Conservative Government have inflicted on millions of people for years and after the Scottish Conservatives promised they would never back a deal that gave separate treatment to Northern Ireland, that party is in no position to lecture anyone else today.

There should be no surprise that we can’t support the Conservatives on Brexit today because our support for Europe has been resolute for decades.

From the liberals support for yes in the ‘75 referendum, the Gang of Four in the 80s and Paddy Ashdown bailing out John Major to support the Maastricht Treaty in the 90s to our enthusiastic support for remain in 2016 and our advocacy of a people’s vote for the last four years.

People who believe in a strong relationship with Europe can count on us.

We do not use Europe as a weapon in another battle, to be discarded when no longer useful.

We believe in international partnership and cooperation especially with our closest neighbours.

It is why we support keeping the UK together and believe the lessons from Brexit should be the lessons for those who advocate independence.

This is a bad deal. The Prime Minister ran down the clock in the most cynical fashion to give parliamentarians just three working days to read, analyse, scrutinise and vote on 1246 pages of complex legal text. That is not good government.

Giving companies just a week to get ready is not good business. Where is the sensible easement arrangement?
We will be the first country in the world to put trade barriers up as a result of a trade deal.

The Prime Minister claims no quotas or tariffs on goods. But if the UK diverges, and that was the point of Brexit was it not, there will be heavy punitive tariffs and quotas. Those quotas and tariffs will hang around like a bad smell for years.

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Ed Davey condemns the Future Relationship Bill

Just before noon today, Ed Davey spoke in the Second Reading debate on the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, and we bring you his speech now. It should be noted that, due to the number of MPs wishing to speak, his intervention was limited to four minutes.

Watch here. The text is below:

Our country is gripped by two crises: Britain’s hospitals are overwhelmed and Britain’s economy is in the worst recession for 300 years. A responsible Government, faced with those crises for people’s health and jobs, would not pass this bad deal, for it will make British people poorer and British people less safe.

This is not really a trade deal at all; it is a loss of trade deal. It is the first trade deal in history to put up barriers to trade. Is that really the Government’s answer to British businesses fearing for their futures and British workers fearing for their jobs? We were told that leaving the EU would cut red tape, but the deal represents the biggest increase in red tape in British history, with 23 new committees to oversee this new trade bureaucracy, 50,000 new customs officials and 400 million new forms. Some analysts estimate the cost of this new red-tape burden for British business at over £20 billion every year. This is not the frictionless trade that the Prime Minister promised.

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Lib Dems to vote against Boris Johnson’s “threadbare” EU trade deal

Ed Davey has announced tonight, in news that will surprise few people, that the Liberal Democrats will be opposing Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal because it fails to deliver on the promises the Brexiteers made to the electorate and it makes the country so much worse off.

It’s not about tariffs. The whole point of being in the single market was not to have to bother with bureaucracy and red tape. Businesses who have been watching these ads saying that things are changing on 1st January (but we have no idea how) are going to find out for the first time in almost 30 years what a pain in the backside it is to have to fill in paperwork to trade with our closest neighbours.

We will no doubt be attacked for our stance as we will be told that the alternative is no deal and we’re against that. However this is going to to through tomorrow whether we like it or not given that most Tories and Labour MPs will vote for it. It is entirely consistent with our approach to Brexit.

There was a coherent case to be made for abstention on the grounds that it was at least better than no deal and it puts distance between us and the ultra nationalists both north and south of the border. Having said that, we’ve spent all my political life fighting off accusations of fence-sitting and being wishy-washy so do we really want to just sit on our hands? I’ve seen other people argue well that we should vote in favour, rather than abstain, for the same reason. However I think it is important that the Brexiteers are made to own this. When it all goes wrong, I don’t want them saying “but you voted for it.” We’ve come too far on our internationalist and open values to suddenly become shields for those who have taken us to this place.

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That was the year that was (with apologies to Ms Millicent Martin) – Part 1, Brexit

In his Christmas radio broadcast in 1939, the Queen’s father quoted the poem by Minnie Louise Haskins; “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year; ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’”. The answer came back; ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God’. Now, I have no problem with people putting their faith in the Almighty. Many of us today probably think that our salvation might rest more in our own hands. In many ways, what we have faced in 2020 and what are likely to face in 2021 in the form of a potentially existential threat, is not dissimilar to what my parents faced back in 1940, as my father was preparing to embark with the BEF for France and Belgium, fortunately to return a few months later via Dunkirk. As I wasn’t born until 1943, I’m pretty glad he did! For me and I suppose for many people, two issues dominated 2020 and, as neither has been resolved completely, are set to play a decisive rôle in 2021 as well. I’m sure that you can guess what these ‘issues’ are.

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Roger Roberts writes: Upgrading the port of Holyhead?

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Johnson’s government deserves no applause. In so many instances it has shown itself unable or unwilling even to recognise that problems exist. One of the issues that show how incompetent they are is that of the port of Holyhead. It is expected that, with the UK’s departure from the European Union that trade between the Irish Republic and the UK will be very different and with far more documentation required.

It is already announced that, in an attempt to avoid tariffs and time consuming form filling, one ferry line will be sailing directly from an Irish port to mainland Europe.

I asked the government how many vehicles were involved – the answer – HMG has not required any such estimate! Have they done something as simple as checking how many lorries are carried on ships arriving in Holyhead ?

On March 2 2020 the minister replied “The ports that are best prepared will have competitive advantage”. Was this a little hope? At that time Dublin had spent £30 million upgrading its port with extra warehousing, animal accommodation and so on. I contacted folk at Holyhead – not a penny spent on upgrading on this side of the Irish sea!

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15 December 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Government’s failure to secure land at Holyhead for border checks is a shocking show of unpreparedness say Welsh Lib Dems
  • Labour’s failure to stand up for Wales and devolution in key amendment during Internal Market Bill is shocking say Welsh Lib Dems

Government’s failure to secure land at Holyhead for border checks is a shocking show of unpreparedness say Welsh Lib Dems

With just 16 days until the end of the transition period the UK Government has admitted it has failed to secure land at Holyhead to carry out the extra checks on vehicles entering the country leading to fears of gridlock in the area.

In answer to a question from Lib Dem Peer Roger Roberts the UK Government admitted that “No land has yet been purchased two potential sites have been identified in partnership with the Welsh Government and commercial discussions are under way.”

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EU Trade Deal: there are no good options left

European and British flags.

I hate 13th December. I really, really do.

On this day in 1984, my Grandma died, way too soon, at the age of 64. I still miss her.

And last year, in the early hours, any hope of avoiding Brexit evaporated as Boris Johnson got a majority that could have enabled him to govern with more wisdom and flexibility from the constraints of the reckless extremes of his party. He chose not to take that chance.

On top of it all, we lost Jo. I’m still not over that. She remains one of the most exceptionally talented people I have ever known. She’s proof that the best people don’t always win in politics.

An election once Jo had had the time to establish herself would, I suspect, have had a very different result.

We are where we are though. And it isn’t fun. 2020 has not excelled itself. A couple of bright spots – the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to be confirmed by the Electoral College tomorrow, the development of effective vaccines against Covid have not lifted the gloom by much.

Now the dreaded 13th December is the day we enter the final stage of the Brexit drama.

Whatever emerges from the EU negotiations over the next hours is going to be far from good. We’re looking at a catastrophic no deal or a damaging fig leaf of a deal that will hurt our businesses and cost people their jobs and homes. Let’s be clear. The Government is choosing this path. It had better options open to it. When we were gripped in the first wave of Covid, they could have done the responsible thing and requested an extension to the transition period. We’d have voted for it, so would the SNP. Labour probably would and the EU would almost certainly have granted it. The more excitable ERG types on the Conservative benches would have made a lot of noise, but we would have bought ourselves some time and stability.

I’ve always thought that the Brexit agenda was mostly about turning our economy into a low regulation, rights-free zone. This is why they are so resistant to any future improvements in things like environmental standards or workers’ rights. They dress it up as sovereignty, but it’s an oligarch’s charter really.

They manipulated people’s feeling of powerlessness with false promises of taking back control. The truth is that those people at the sharp end, the lowest paid and most vulnerable, will have less control than they had before.

There should be no problem with accepting the EU’s reasonable level playing field requirement in the trade deal. I doubt that there will be any major changes within the next few years anyway. These things take time to get through and would take even longer to actually come into force. If there were any changes, we could debate them and decide whether to accept them or take the consequences.

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Observations of an expat: Looking foolish

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Everyone hates to look foolish. To avoid this hugely embarrassing peril they will often go to great lengths ranging from self-deception to conspiracy theories to lies.

And the greater the personal investment in an untenable position the more difficult it is for the investor to change direction and face the chorus of “I told you so’s.”

Two of the most prominent examples of this foolishness are Brexit and Donald Trump. Millions of intelligent Americans have invested their political heart and soul in the Cult of Trump. They cannot comprehend the possibility of his losing the November presidential election. Therefore, their leader must be the victim of a massive fraud.

The numerous election officials – Republican and Democrat – who consistently maintain that the vote was the fairest in American history are evil participants in a Deep State conspiracy. They are in an unholy league with the courts that have repeatedly dismissed the Trump campaign claims of election chicanery.

The fact-filled brick wall that Trump supporters have bumped up against has led some of them to call for dangerously extreme measures. Pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has, for instance, called on President Trump to suspend the constitution, cancel the election result, declare martial law and then use the military to oversee fresh elections.

Britain’s Brexiteers are faring equally badly, although in a different way.

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A Europe policy for the Scottish elections: a humble suggestion

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I must begin with a disclaimer. I am not Scottish, I have no Scottish blood that I know of, and I have never lived in Scotland (the “Mc” in my surname is Irish, courtesy of a great-grandfather who left Galway in the Potato Famine and ended up in the Metropolitan Police). But I love Scotland. As a Lib Dem I campaigned in the 2014 referendum for Scotland to remain in the UK, and today I am as devastated as any Scot that we are leaving the European Union.

That certainly gives me no right to make any suggestion about what the people of Scotland should do at this juncture, so I float the following with due humility. It is an idea; it is not thought-through. If it is worth thinking about, there will be much devil and much detail to be grasped before it can be developed into a policy, but I throw it open for discussion in the party, north and south of the border.  Here goes.

In next year’s Scottish elections, we should campaign for Scotland to have the same status in the UK as Northern Ireland will have from 1 January 2021. It would mean Scotland remaining in the Single Market and having the same customs status as NI.

It would have the following advantages:

  • it would be democratic (giving at least some weight to the Scottish vote in 2016 to remain in the EU);
  • it would also respect the 2014 Scottish referendum decision to remain in the UK;
  • it would end the new invisible border in the Irish Sea between NI and Scotland (although leaving it in place for England and Wales).
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