Tag Archives: brexit

How much does your constituency regret Brexit?

New data based on a survey by Focaldata for UnHerd maps current opinions on leaving the EU by constituency. Published on the third anniversary of the UK leaving the EU, it shows that opinion has shifted since the Brexit referendum. The survey estimates that half of in England, Scotland and Wales think it was wrong to leave the EU (54%) while only a quarter Brexit was the right move (28%).

Regretting leaving the EU is not the same as wanting to rejoin. But there is a growing swell of people who wish to rejoin as I discussed here on LDV on Sunday.

This MRP analysis is potentially very important as it gives a guide to where it is beneficial for Liberal Democrats to campaign on a pro-EU ticket. Whether that is campaigning to rejoin or to forge closer relations with the EU is a matter for campaign strategy, national and local policy.

In every constituency except three, more people think that Brexit was a mistake than think it was right. The three dissenters are in east Lincolnshire, and only Boston has more people thinking Brexit was nothing they regret.

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What has Brexit done for us?

Next Tuesday will be the third birthday of the UK’s exit from the EU. I can see nothing to celebrate though we might expect champagne corks to pop in Jacob Rees Mogg Land.

With hindsight it was like a pantomime. Campaigns of lies, deceptions and bluster. An Olympic competition for the biggest lie.

The referendum on 23 June 2016 saw a high turnout of 72.2%, with 48.1% against and a winning 51.9% in favour, though Scotland voted against. The UK duly left the EU at 11pm Friday 31 January 2020.

In the fantasy land occupied by Boris Johnson (now raking in the cash), Jacob Rees Mogg (now of GB news) and some newspapers, everything since then has been glorious. But that is a political fiction.

People realise that. In a poll published by the i this weekend, 49% of those that expressed a view wanted to rejoin the EU and 51% were against. That’s the closest margin yet.

The tide is turning against the Brexiteers.

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LibLink – Vince Cable: ‘Why don’t you speak up about Brexit ?’

Over on Medium, Vince Cable has written on the political ups and downs of talking about Brexit:

Aside from narrow, short-term, electoral calculus there is a deeper challenge to parties to define, in broad terms, their picture of the country’s identity and role in the world. The Labour Party was rescued from irrelevance when its leaders, especially under Blair and Brown, located Britain amongst the European Social Democracies. The Lib Dems were long at ease with being European. No alternative has emerged since Brexit. In many ways the country appears lost,

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Brexit non-opportunities

Peers are asked to give speeches at all sorts of occasions.  It’s particularly important for LibDem peers to accept invitations to a range of events while we have so few MPs, to maintain our visibility as a serious political party. So last Friday I spoke at the ‘Christmas Gala’ dinner of a UK bilateral Chamber of Commerce for one of the member states of the EU.

An official responsible for trade policy gave an upbeat presentation of the prospects for UK trade with EU countries.  I followed with a mildly critical interpretation of the situation, mentioning that I was a Liberal Democrat and had been sceptical of the promise of ‘Brexit Opportunities’ from the start, and a promise that the Lords would do everything it could to prevent the forthcoming Retained EU Law Bill from diverging too far from common regulations with the EU Single Market.

I was struck by the response from British business people there.  One rushed up to me after I had sat down to urge me and my colleagues to do everything we could to stop the government from deliberately diverging from EU regulations, as Jacob Rees Mogg and right-wing MPs are pressing it to do.  (I have passed his name on to our fund-raising team.)  Two others told me that their companies had now transferred staff and functions to Amsterdam, in order to operate within the EU Single Market; one added that his company is now paying more tax within the EU than in the UK as a result.  The sense of impatience with the bone-headedness of the Conservatives came across strongly.  Business people, it appears, are beginning to abandon the Conservative Party.

The message for Liberal Democrat activists is clear.  You should be visiting local employers to ask them how their business has been affected by Brexit, and how it would be affected by further barriers to trade with our neighbours created by deliberately incompatible standards and regulations being introduced.  And you should tell them that Liberal Democrats in both Houses will fight hard to limit the damage and bring the UK back to a closer relationship with the EU.  And you should tell the local voters how much the whole fiasco of pursuing the hardest possible Brexit, against the illusory promises made before the Referendum, is now costing local businesses and the national economy.

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Brexit, economy and the UK workforce shortage

Some of us saw this coming, didn’t we? We’ve spent years, literally, talking about it. However, the topic of labour shortages and the impact (negative) of Brexit is coming back to us like a boomerang. It was absolutely fascinating to see an intervention from Lord Wolfson, the Boss of retailer Next, who said that Britain needs a different approach to migration. Wow, quite a “discovery”! And yet, there are still plenty of people who want us to “move on” and look ahead for a brighter and more prosperous future.

I am absolutely convinced that we have lost several years to come up with a good, sustainable and meaningful economical model to address some of these issues and the last few Conservative governments have failed to deliver on its “fantastic” Brexit promises.  A famous slogan “Take back control” is simply not working. It never meant to work! I understand – we might have voted against a greater political integration, however some people couldn’t foresee or didn’t want to admit that leaving the European Union, purely in business and financial terms, might cause a lot of damage to the UK economy.

A prominent Brexiteer, Lord Wolfson is currently struggling to recruit staff in his shops and retail units across the country, even though Britain’s unemployment is at record low levels. It wasn’t that difficult to predict, was it? However, Lord Wolfson is right; we need to find a different approach to economically productive migration and stop building “fortress Britain”. I would go further than that and I would argue that the government must stop its obsession with immigration and ill-driven ideology to reduce the number of people coming to Britain to do essential jobs in agriculture, social care sector or hospitality industry. Example? There are plenty! Only a few months ago, the government’s “creative approach” to workforce shortages meant a refusal of the aviation industry’s request to issue special immigration for foreign workers. Due to understaffing issues, many summer holidays had to be cancelled.

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Lib Dems should call out the emperor for having no clothes

At his first PMQs Sunak twice attempted to wrong-foot Sir Keir Starmer by accusing him of being insufficiently supportive of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

Unlike Mrs May and Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak was a Brexiter from the start. His performance at PMQs indicated that he remains a Leaver and is bullishly unrepentant. I think this provides the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team with a wonderful line of attack.

We now have a shedload of evidence that Brexit is having an adverse impact in all sorts of areas. Only last week the Financial Times issued an excellent video that catalogued the damage that Brexit is causing.

Additionally, we may note that that the YouGov polling tracker of how voters view Brexit showed on 19 October 54% as “wrong to leave” and only 34% as “right”. Dissatisfaction with Brexit has become palpable.

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Observations of an expat: Brexit is back

Britain’s political classes have finally recognised the elephant in the room. It is now safe again to utter the B-word.

Brexit was embraced (narrowly) first in the 2016 referendum and then again in the 2017 general election.

Political leaders decided that the issue was decided and to press for a return to the EU would damage electoral chances.

The Labour Party decided to work on the basis of trying to achieve the best of a bad job. The Liberal Democrats, who had led the charge against Brexit, remain committed to EU membership as a “long-term aim” but have shelved it for the short and medium term.

But then they had not foreseen the logical consequence of Brexit—the disastrous mini-premiership of Liz Truss.

They should have. Truss clearly stated her plans in her campaign for the Conservative Party leadership. And before that it was outlined in detail in the 2012 book “Britannia Unchained” written by Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng along with Chris Skidmore, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab – all ministers in Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done” government.

Truss has repeatedly stated that Britain is a “bloated state with high taxes and excessive regulation” and that the country’s workers are “among the worst idlers in the world” Her solution—and that of the libertarian right-wing of the Conservative Party—was cut taxes, throw out regulations, reduce public spending, and establish tax-free enterprise zones to attract foreign companies. Controlling immigration was not a core policy. It was a useful sidecar bandwagon which could be used to attract voters.

None of the above could be done as members of the European Union. Brussels is a maze of regulations designed to protect workers’ rights, the environment, consumer rights, freedom of movement and competition between member states and their companies.

The only way for the libertarian Tories to achieve their aims was by “taking back control” from Brussels.

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Reality moves us closer to Europe

As Britain’s nationalist government implodes after transitioning from a self-believer to a true believer at the helm, geopolitical reality has crept up on the political opportunism of the previous administration—and the narrow ideology of its successor.  

Dalliances with distant and divergent America, India, and Australia have proved to be no match for the integrated single European market on our doorstep.  A market of nearly half a billion people even without the United Kingdom, the value provided by the European Economic Area nations in goods, services, capital, and people—its four central pillars—can be seen more clearly now that we have been cut adrift.  The most immediately visible deficiencies are the goods and labour shortages now plaguing the UK.

By contrast, the much-vaunted post-Brexit trade agreements lie mired in the mud.  A deal with India is reported to be on the verge of collapse after Home Secretary Suella Braverman questioned the idea that Indian immigration—a prerequisite of any agreement—would be on the same basis as that recently accorded to Australia and New Zealand.

Tory anti-immigrant sentiment risks scuppering trade and barring badly needed workers as Braverman follows in Priti Patel’s footsteps as another immigration hardliner; despite also being the daughter of non-white, non-European newcomers, and surely aware of the great contributions Indian subcontinent and Ugandan Asian immigrants have made to the UK.

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Carmichael: Scottish Independence is a double dose of Brexit disease

Alistair Carmichael is in blistering form in a Scotsman article in which he argues that the SNP’s push for independence is like treating the Cold with Flu.

He compares Nicola Sturgeon’s pursuit of independence against all the evidence to Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s ideological trashing of the economy:

The accusation has never been that leaving the UK would be “too good” for our economy. The concern was that those advocating the nationalist cure-all were blithely or intentionally ignoring the harm to businesses and livelihoods.

In Brexit and the disruption of recent weeks, we have had an abject lesson in the harm caused by ignoring reality in favour of fervently held beliefs. The only surprise is the SNP think that these failures are an endorsement.

He reminds us all what the SNP Government does (or doesn’t) with the powers that they already have:

Set aside for a moment the cack-handed, indifferent approach taken by the SNP over the aspects of the economy they are already responsible for; the drip-drip of scandals around hundreds of millions spent on overdue ferries, the reckless gambling of our taxes in the Lochaber deal, or businesses’ struggles under their watch.

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Life resumes…..

It’s been an intense 11 days  since the Queen died.

For many people, a national bereavement takes a similar pattern to any other. The adrenaline gets you through to the funeral and it’s only afterwards that you have to adjust to the loss and its consequences. However we may feel about Queen Elizabeth’s legacy or, indeed, the institution of monarchy itself, it will take some time to get used to the new normal, not least because we have a brand new monarch and a brand new Government.

Anyone under the age of about 75 will not be able to remember having any other monarch than Queen Elizabeth. It’s  astonishing that we have had two Queens, covering 134 of the last 185 years. Both reigned during periods of intense social and economic change. I was thinking about this yesterday  as I woke up and looked up exactly how long they had been on the throne. Victoria had been on the throne for 63 years, 7 months and 2 days – and Elizabeth for 70 years, 7 months and 2 days. In all the wall to wall coverage I’ve absorbed since 8th September, I hadn’t heard that mentioned. Or maybe I’m the only one that finds it worthy of note.

We haven’t in any sort of memory had a new Head of State and Prime Minister in such quick succession. Elizabeth had wartime giant Winston Churchill as her first PM. When George V died, Stanley Baldwin was on his third prime ministerial stint. The last liberal Prime Minister, Asquith, had a couple of years under his belt before Edward VII died and Viscount Melbourne was extremely experienced when the 19 year old Victoria acceded.

The new King Charles has had decades to learn his trade and he has acknowledged that he can’t be as vocal on issues close to his heart as he was as Prince of Wales. A climate change denying Government is bound to be a test.

The cost of living emergency has not gone away. It is biting the most vulnerable every single day.  Inflation may have dipped a tiny bit down to 9.9% in August but households are still finding that the basics in life are a lot more expensive than they were last year before you even think about heating your house.

The last big political announcement was Liz Truss’s plan to deal with meteoric energy price rises. She intends to limit price rise so that the average household will pay no more than £2500. It’s likely you will pay more if you live in an energy inefficient, damp house. That includes many people on low incomes in private lets and social housing.

Ed Davey called Truss’s plan a “phony freeze” saying:

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Vince Cable: Labour and Liberal Democrat silence over Brexit will cost the country

Vince Cable has challenged Labour and the Liberal Democrats to speak up more about the damage Brexit is doing to our country o stop even more damage being inflicted.

The former Lib Dem Leader recently became President of the European Movement and writes in the Independent (£) that support for Brexit is collapsing.

Outside that goldfish bowl, opinion is shifting. An Opinium survey showed that 60 per cent of voters (including 40 per cent of Leave voters) think Brexit has “gone badly”. Ipsos found, in June, that 45 per cent of those surveyed (including 22 per cent of Leave voters) felt that Brexit had “made life worse”. Support for Brexit is collapsing, but its core support remains.

He lists the damage that Brexit has already done:

The economy is measurably smaller than it otherwise would be. Investment, hit by Brexit uncertainty, still hasn’t recovered. Trade is down. Sectors badly hit by Brexit-induced labour shortages are still struggling. Alternative visa arrangements are not in place. And inflation is worse than it should be.

And if that isn’t bad enough:

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The stark reality of ending freedom of movement

The summer holidays are always a time of intensive traveling for me and my family. It is usually a logistical challenge to try and visit both families in Poland and Croatia. For most of us, the “pandemic years” meant moving around was even more challenging. However due to a different set of unforeseen circumstances, we might have forgotten that visiting a family in Europe could easily become a real nightmare.

I landed in Warsaw on Friday, 29th July. As expected, there were long queues at the airport. A lot of people travel to Poland to either visit their family or spend some time exploring the spectacular nature, national parks and tasting delicious cuisine that Poland has to offer.

While waiting for my passport to be checked, I noticed a small group of people, British passport holders, with an elderly gentleman, who were told: “You are in the wrong queue”. This, as well as the recent debacle at the ferry crossing in Dover, clearly demonstrates what ending the freedom of movement looks like in practice. What a stark reality of what Brexit does to people. I must admit that I was quite surprised. 

Later on, after “digesting” the whole situation, I remembered a “historic speech” made by Priti Patel, who said: “After many years of campaigning, I am delighted that the Immigration Bill, which will end free movement on 31st December, has today passed through Parliament. We are delivering on the will of the British people”. In my view, Ms Patel forgot to add that this policy will work both ways.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The sanctions gamble

Ukraine and Russia are engaged in a weapons war. The West in Russia are engaged in an economic war of attrition. The West’s main weapon is sanctions. Putin’s main weapons are European dependence on Russian oil and gas, food supplies to millions and the perceived decadence of Western populations. Europe had hoped to build up a reserve of stored gas supplies for the winter by importing as much Russian gas as possible until December. But Putin this week scuppered that plan by cutting piped exports by 80 percent. Germany has stopped lighting public buildings at night and has turned off the hot water in public sports centres. The price of energy is rocketing around the world, fuelling inflation and costing jobs.  There is a real prospect of energy rationing in Europe and possibly further afield. But what about Russia? Putin has admitted that Western sanctions are “a huge challenge.” The Mayor of Moscow has said the city has lost 200,000 jobs. Businesses have been forced to close and inflation in Russia is 16 percent. Analysts at Yale University this week reported that “imports have collapsed” and domestic production has come to a “complete standstill.” But here is the rub, Putin believes that Russians are tougher than their European and American counterparts. Western support for sanctions will collapse, Putin believes, when European and American consumers can no longer afford their long car journeys, overheated homes, exotic foods and multiple holidays. It’s a gamble. For both sides.

Pelosi visit threatens Xi’s position

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a two-hour face to face in cyberspace this week. They discussed Ukraine, climate change and lifting some of the Trump era tariffs. But top of the list was Taiwan and the proposed trip to the disputed island by Speaker of the House of Representatives, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have vowed “resolute and forceful measures” if the visit goes ahead. The Ministry of Defense has threatened that the “Chinese military will never sit idly by.” In Taiwan, the authorities have been conducting air raid drills. At the heart of the problem is China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and its stated willingness to use force to impose it. To date, however, Beijing’s emphasis has been on diplomatic pressure. It has successfully isolated the Taipei government by hounding other nations to break off relations and blocking Taiwan’s membership of international bodies. Anything that smacks of international recognition of Taiwan is strongly opposed by Beijing, and a visit by a high-profile American politician who is third in line to the presidency is extremely high profile—especially given Ms Pelosi’s strong anti-Beijing position. She has repeatedly attacked the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record, entertained the Dalai Lama, unfurled a pro-democracy banner in Tiananmen Square and supported Hong Kong demonstrators. In short, she is not well-liked in Beijing.  But there are other problems related to President Xi’s position within the Chinese Communist Party. It is not strong at the moment. He is viewed by many as having badly managed the covid pandemic and China’s response to the war in Ukraine. In October the Party will hold its national congress at which Xi is expected to be voted a third term. It is important that the vote is a general acclamation rather than a mere majority vote. Failure to stand firm on Taiwan—added to covid and Ukraine—could undermine that.

The Brexit Conundrum

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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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