Tag Archives: brexit

Shattered Dreams – the human cost of Brexit

“£350m a week more for the NHS”.

That was the tagline used by the Leave Campaign to peddle Brexit. It was plastered over the official Brexit bus, promoted by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Major news outlets, including the BBC, debunked this, which revealed the UK was sending closer to £161m a week.

This falsehood was not the only lie perpetuated by the Leave Campaign.

They claimed working people would save money by not having to pay tax contributions – a report from the Resolution Foundation and LSE has since found that Brexit has exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis, with working people predicted to lose as much as £470 a year by 2030.

They claimed Britain would be free to reach out across the world and make trade deals that would make the EU pale in comparison – the Office for Budget Responsibility found that Brexit had a “significant adverse impact” on British trade, reducing by 15% compared to if the UK had stayed in the EU.

They claimed Britain’s fishing industries would thrive, promising renewed power related to regulation, access and quotas, with over 90% of fishermen opting to vote in favour of Brexit based on these claims – a report from the University of York, New Economics Foundation, University of Lincoln and marine consultancy service ABPmer has found that these “new powers” are at best below modest, and at worst non-existent. The report also includes findings from the UK Government’s Sea Fisheries Statistics 2020 report, highlighting that the fishing industry’s GDP fell by 29% between 2019 and 2020.

To cover everything said by the Leave Campaign or by the successive Tory governments defending Brexit would make this the next “War and Peace.” More importantly, what they have not said needs to be covered.

Leading Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson claim we have “reclaimed our sovereignty;” all at the cost of opportunity for future generations, European comradeship with our neighbours, the ability to decide policies on a continental scale, and our standing as a world leader? Former Home Secretary Priti Patel celebrated the ending of “Freedom of Movement,” which meant EU citizens would require a visa to enter the UK and vice versa. Who is this a win for? Certainly not for working people, students, or anyone looking to enrich their lives through experiencing other cultures.

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Reflections after a Conference – a challenge to the Lib Dems

Editor’s Note: Mick wrote this piece after the Brighton Conference in 2018 and sent it to me recently as he felt it was still relevant today. Apart from the fact that Brexit is now an (at least for now) inescapable reality, he’s right.  We need to be radical and punchy to deliver the liberal, fair, more equal society that we want to see. I’m reminded of the Liberal not Moderate t-shirts that some of us wore proudly around that Conference…

After a short period at the Lib Dem conference I am still in Brighton for a couple of days. Brighton is quite a good place to reflect on the state of the UK.

Thinking back, Brighton used to be in much better nick than it is now. Many pavements are cracked and broken, many of the houses and hotels look run down and in need of repair and renovation. The seafront is not particularly special and the West Pier is still a burned out shell. Here, in one of the UKs premier resorts, there are many homeless people on the streets and many beggars as well. Hardly the sort of Britain that we Liberal Democrats want to see!

Recycling largely takes place by means of unsightly bins strewn around the streets and the former green-run council’s recycling policies made a mockery of recycling anyway.

I suspect that much of this is the result of austerity, especially the massive cuts to the finances of the local council that no longer enable it to respond to the needs of the Brighton and Hove Community.

Brexit will hardly improve matters, because hotels and restaurants here rely heavily on European workers and they may not be available after March 2019.

Although I have no direct information, I suspect that housing is expensive and that many people, especially the young, have no hope of getting on the housing ladder and live in the private rented sector with its high prices and insecurity of tenure.

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Embrace the Elephant

The elephant is of course that big, and growing, elephant in the corner of the sitting room: Brexit. Now that Project Fear has become Project Here, it is time for us in the Lib Dems to be much more open about our belief that Britain’s place lies back at the heart of Europe.

Ever since the Brexit vote I’ve been reasonably sure this time would come. Voting to leave was a mistake, and its costs would sooner or later become apparent. The ideological nature of the vote was such that many people would cling stubbornly to their belief that it was right – for some years, I thought. But once it began to crumble, it would crumble quickly. I was right about the trajectory, wrong about the timing. I thought it would be at least another couple of years. (I didn’t allow for the damage to be so deep, or the government to be so negligent.)

As long as the bulk of Brexit voters held to their beliefs, and, equally, as long as the bulk of the British population continued to be hoodwinked by the idea that to campaign for our beliefs was somehow undemocratic, we were probably right to soft pedal on it. I have thought for a long time that the backlash would outweigh the potential gains; but I believed we only needed to be patient.

Our policy has become clear with  “Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe”, though the mainstream media have been, as usual, exceedingly quiet about it. Our leadership on the whole has remained reticent, but now the time for reticence has passed. There was some indication of this at the spring conference – the European passages of Ed’s speech were highly optimistic and were loudly and enthusiastically applauded. (Not reported in the mainstream press of course – maybe Ed was counting on that.)

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The Liberal Democrats should oppose the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

Embed from Getty Images

Adam Smith in his seminal work The Wealth of Nations made the clear observation that trade ‘carried on with a neighbouring country is…more advantageous’ than that ‘with a distant country’ and he was even clearer that the most beneficial situation would come from ‘greater trade with continental Europe’ (Smith, 537).

Smith’s words are as true now as they were then but unfortunately the Conservative party (the supposed party of the economy who idealise Smith) have decided to ignore this. Ever since 2016 the determination to pursue hard Brexit has trumped all forms of economic credibility and common sense.

As with the imperialists of centuries ago who wanted to maximise trade with the Empire over our nearest neighbours the current crop of Tories have decided to pursue far flung trade deals to try and compensate for the barriers they have erected against the EU.

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The speech Ed Davey should have given at Spring Conference – my version

Ed Davey gave a speech at the York Spring Conference that received two standing ovations: one, as you’d expect, at the end; the other when he spoke about the “elephant in the room” – how our entire political establishment continues to ignore Brexit. However, after briefly mentioning red tape and improving relations, the speech rushed away from the topic and into the safe hands of president Putin.

It was a missed opportunity, as the standing ovation made plain. A previous article argued that far from being a liability, the issue of Europe and Brexit could be our party’s election thunderbolt.

It’s all very well to say that, but how do you navigate a topic as toxic as Brexit? What would Ed’s speech have looked like if we decided on a bolder approach?

Brave New World

It’s worth watching the speech to get a feel for where it was going – you can see it on YouTube in its entirety. Europe kicks at the 40-minute mark. But if you want to get closer to the action, start at 37-38 mins, where Ed Davey talks about a bolder approach to our economy.

Wait for the ovation to die down and then imagine for a second.

Because here is the rest of the speech Ed Davey should have given at Spring Conference.

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The speech Ed Davey should have given at Spring Conference

It’s been three years since we’ve met up in person, so Spring Conference was a joyous event. It was also a chance to get fired up about the future: something the party’s leadership was keen to make the most of.

And so for the closing speech, Ed Davey’s team pulled out all the stops. There were not one but two emails from top brass in the hours before, one from CEO Mike Dixon offering an “exclusive preview” of the text and another from national campaign chief Dave McCobb telling us how much a draft of the speech had inspired him. Both encouraged us to spread a live video link far and wide. It was clear this was a big push.

And it worked. Those of us in York packed the hall to hear the party leader speak and we were ready to be inspired. Ed Davey came out to rapturous applause, and we were off.

It was a carefully crafted and moving speech – especially when Ed spoke to the struggles he has faced from the loss of his father and mother when young and the challenges he continues to experience with his son. He spelt out clearly what it is to be a Liberal, and was unflinching in his criticism of the current government and their policies.

But it was another member of the party’s top team, president Mark Pack, that highlighted the speech’s most unusual aspect: it peaked in the middle.

The standing ovation was indeed remarkable. Coming after a long series of complaints about the Tories, Ed Davey paused and seized on an issue most dear to Liberals’ hearts…

There’s another historic, longstanding difference between the Liberal Democrat economic vision – and those of others. More relevant today than ever. I call it the elephant in the room of British politics. An elephant we always point to, even though other parties daren’t even whisper its name.

And then the kicker, that ended with Ed in full power stance:

So let me shout it, yet again: if you want to boost our economy, you have to repair our broken relationship with Europe.

Boom

The room uprooted itself in approval. Rafters swayed and seats shook as the audience leapt to its feet and roared. Our leader was finally calling out the disaster that has been Brexit. After years of excuses and gaslighting from the political establishment and the press, there was no way out of it.

We as Lib Dems had warned and bellowed and fought and been proven right. Only we had a clean record on Europe and finally we were going to acknowledge that reality and, better, use it to blow away shameless political rivals.

The decision to called out this “elephant in the room” was rewarded with a minute-long standing ovation given with such conviction that even the man that delivered it was surprised. And as it began to die down, we waited with bated breath to hear how the party’s best and smartest had figured out how to navigate the difficult realities of Brexit with what we know to be true. We waited to be given our marching orders, receive our rallying cry…

…And then it became clear that the sentence that had forced us to our feet was not a headline but just part of a paragraph.

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I have about twenty years left

I have about twenty years or so left on this planet. I very much hope that before I shuffle off, the UK will have rejoined the EU. I think it will be touch and go whether we manage it. Apologies to our more enthusiastic Europhiles if that disappoints you, but I think it is realistic.

The EU needs to see a steady majority in favour of joining over a period of time. We don’t have that stable majority yet, though I expect we will. It will then need to remain stable for a number of years (particularly important for us, given Britain’s current and immediate past tendencies towards exceptionalism and fascism). Then the process of accession will take several years even if, in the meantime, we have laid the groundwork by joining the EEA, rejoining the single market, rejoining Horizon, or whatever we choose to do.

It will take a lot of work, and although we are enthusiastic about this ourselves, it is very difficult to persuade other people of an objective that may be fifteen or twenty years off. So it is not necessarily helpful to make a greater noise about wanting to rejoin, as some would have us do. It may make more sense for us to stand for an intermediate objective, one which is necessary for this country, as well as necessary if we are to have any realistic prospect of rejoining.

If we are to hope to rejoin, we need to make this country different to what it is now. We actually need to do that anyway. Regardless of our chances of joining the EU, I do not want to live in a country where millions rely on foodbanks to fend off starvation while the Prime Minister changes the grid to have electricity delivered to his swimming pool; a country where a previous Prime Minister seeks to ennoble his wife-beating father; a country where the Home Secretary uses language about asylum seekers reminiscent of 1930s Germany (yes, I will say that, because it is true); a country where the heroism of NHS staff is rewarded with applause but not with a pay rise.

So I propose a slogan: “Let’s fix this country”. Let’s fix things so that they actually work for the people and not just the elite.

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Lib Dems and Europe – Scotland shows the way

We know that if the UK were in the European Union, GDP would now be £120bn higher, and tax revenues £40bn higher every year. We know that the UK is the only major European economy not to have returned to its pre-pandemic size. And polling shows us that there is a growing majority view that Brexit was a mistake which has delivered negligible benefits and has done substantial damage to Britain. Yet the Party’s leadership at Federal level still does not seem keen to explain these things to voters, nor to offer leadership to the large number of people across Britain for whom becoming part of the EU again is a political and economic priority.

Grassroots members, fortunately, see things differently. On Saturday, the Scottish LibDem conference in Dundee considered a motion calling for the party to re-commit itself to re-joining the EU. Conference unanimously supported the motion, which also called on the UK government to develop a roadmap towards re-joining the EU and initially re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union. Speaker after speaker stressed internationalism as a fundamental thread of Liberalism, and the personal, cultural, and economic gains that would accrue if the UK could work its way back to full membership of the European Union. There were calls for MPs and MSPs to mount a communications campaign explaining the benefits of membership, and for activists and party members to support this.

The motion ended with a call for Liberal Democrats to put campaigning for our European future at the heart of our approach. Gratifyingly, Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton gave a speech on the same day in which he committed himself wholeheartedly to a European future and stressed the importance of internationalism to his Liberalism.

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Has Sunak killed the United Kingdom?

On 27th February 2023 Rishi Sunak announced a decisive breakthrough in negotiations with the EU on trade with Northern Ireland, but is this a successful deal for NI, or does this deal signal the final knife through the heart of the United Kingdom?

Thanks to Sunak’s deal we now have a United Kingdom of two halves. In Great Britain our businesses continue to suffer the indignities of Brexit, with their access to the European markets at best restricted and at worse blocked, whilst in Northern Ireland businesses now have far fewer restrictions on their access to that market.

Sunak, in his own words, made clear that “If we get this right, if we get this framework implemented, if we get the executive back up and running here, Northern Ireland is in the unbelievably special position – unique position in the entire world, European continent – in having privileged access, not just to the UK home market, which is enormous, the fifth biggest in the world, but also the European Union single market. Nobody else has that. No one. Only you guys. Only here. And that is the prize.”

What Sunak has done is created a clear and irrevocable split between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which, whilst initially will be lauded, will rapidly turn to discontent in Great Britain, starting in Scotland and Wales, but in the longer term also in the Regions of England.

Sunak even acknowledged the divide when he stated that “I can tell you, when I go around the world and talk to businesses, they know. They’re like, ‘That’s interesting, if you guys get this sorted, then we want to invest in Northern Ireland.’”

“Because nowhere else does that exist. That’s like the world’s most exciting economic zone.”

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Poll highlights need for Lib Dems to develop compelling narrative

A poll of “blue wall” seats this week should make senior Lib Dems charged with delivering our next election campaign pause for thought.

Field work carried out by Redfield and Wilton Strategies last weekend shows Labour 7 points ahead of the Tories in seats the Conservatives currently hold in the south of England, but the party of Government gaining 2% and us going down 2% since the last poll a couple of weeks before.

Of the 42 seats that Redfield and Wilton count as the Blue Wall, there are not that many that we are seriously targeting so our 17% polling figure should not alarm us too much. However, the Tories are fixing their attention and massive resources on defending those seats and will not miss the opportunity to persuade people that these seats are between them and Labour not them and us. We will obviously be countering that where we are strong with local messaging so that people are in no doubt that it’s a two horse race between us and the Conservatives. We’ve been building very strong foundations in those seats over the past few years. However, we don’t want even a few people in the likes of Winchester and Esher and Walton thinking that they should be voting Labour to get rid of the Tories. If they do, then we’ll have Tory MPs, and surely nobody wants the likes of Dominic Raab in Parliament for another five years.

As Lib Dems we know the importance of targeting our resources very carefully. This, however, shouldn’t come completely at the expense of our national poll rating. The national mood music is very important both in our target seats and beyond. We need to be thinking about the political landscape for the next election and the one after that. Only by getting ourselves into more second places can we hope to properly break through. There is no point in winning a handful of seats in 2024 and ending up with the north face of the electoral Eiger to climb everywhere else.

Our national poll rating remains stubbornly low. We haven’t recovered from our coalition lows, except for that brief period when we were actually saying things that excited people in the early part of 2019. Capturing the imagination with a strong message and giving people a reason to vote for us is a good thing and we shouldn’t shy away from it.

We seem to be so terrified of saying anything that might upset the voters in the blue wall that we end up not saying anything at all. And those progressive minded voters who we need to  back us need to hear us talk about the things that matter to them too. And in truth, the things that matter to them matter to us.

I sense a frustration amongst activists in Labour facing areas that the increasingly centralised national Lib Dem campaign machine is not bothered enough with them.

We need to recover our boldness, passion and sense of indignation at what the Tories have done to this country super quick. We need to start using the P word, the S word the B word and the C word to show how the country can be a much better and happier place to live. We need to talk about ending poverty. We need to sympathise with the aims of our public sector workers who are striking for a decent pay rise and less stressful working conditions. We need to be much more robust in talking about the failures of Brexit which are damaging virtually every aspect of our lives. And we need to win the culture wars, not stand cowed as people are marginalised and demonised by the right wing media.

As Liberal Democrats we care deeply and instinctively about inequality and tearing down the barriers that people face that suck opportunity from them. That everyone should have enough food, safe and warm shelter and the resources to participate in life to the full should not be as controversial as the right wing media makes out every day, yet we don’t challenge them enough. We should be riding a coach and horses through the  Conservative narrative which sets people against each other. We want people to have a decent share of the pie, not fight each other for an ever decreasing pile of stale crumbs. So we need to start talking about ending poverty and giving people a fair crack of the whip.

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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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