Tag Archives: eu

27 September 2020 – Conference day 3 press releases

  • Liberal Democrats challenge Government’s “power grab” planning proposals
  • Liberal Democrats adopt transformative racial justice plan
  • BBC licence fee should be set by independent body, Liberal Democrats say
  • Stalled talks with EU threaten climate action, Liberal Democrats warn
  • Stopping no-deal must be the priority, Liberal Democrats say

Liberal Democrats challenge Government’s “power grab” planning proposals

In a policy motion adopted today at the Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference, the Party has warned that the Government’s planning proposals will “disempower” councils and allow developers to “run roughshod” over local communities’ wishes.

The motion lays bare the risks of the Government’s proposals, which the Party argue amount to a Government “power grab” that will reduce investment in affordable housing, damage public scrutiny of planning decisions, and potentially undermine climate commitments.

By supporting the motion, the Liberal Democrat members reaffirmed their commitment to challenging the move through the Government’s consultation process and reject the “reduction of local control”.

Liberal Democrat Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson Tim Farron said:

Planning decisions have incredible power to shape the places we live for the better. Local people are clearly best placed to decide what “better” looks like in their area, and to know what their community really needs.

Yet the Conservatives’ planning power grab will disempower local people and local authorities alike, and lead to even fewer affordable homes being built. Instead of addressing the root cause of the housing crisis, the Tories’ proposals serve the interests of wealthy developers, giving them carte blanche to run roughshod over local communities’ wishes.

As this motion shows, the Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly object to these proposals. We’ll be doing everything in our power to ensure our voice is heard through the consultation process. We are also calling on the Government to act now to address the housing crisis, by matching the Liberal Democrats’ ambition to build 100,000 social homes for rent every year.

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Party’s new European policy – reaffirming our values

For the past few months via numerous zoom calls and countless redrafts, I have been heavily involved in formulating the Europe motion that was debated at Conference and fully endorsed the party’s new policy which was adopted overwhelmingly and stated our long term commitment to membership of the European Union unequivocally, that we believe Brexit to be wrong and that the EU is the UK’s natural home. I know for some that position probably doesn’t go far or fast enough, but as hard as it is to say – as someone who spent the past five years trying to prevent …

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Lib Dems back long term aspiration to rejoin EU

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home


Well, that was tense!

Of all the votes to have technical issues, it would just have to be the one between two hotly contested amendments, wouldn’t it?

Thankfully, the outcome wasn’t even close with 331 backing the more emphatic “Rejoin now” Amendment 1 and 1071  backing Amendment 2 proposed by Duncan Brack and eventually accepted by the leadership. It’s a huge number of people taking part and was the outcome I thought most likely but at times did not seem assured.

The debate was at times a bit fractious, with speeches on both sides going a bit over the top.

However, there were some very thoughtful and measured contributions which probably did more to persuade people.

There was a small moment of drama when Wera Hobhouse MP was called. It had been reported that she would support Amendment 1, but she confirmed straight away that she was supporting Amendment 2.

So what have we passed? You can read the main motion on page 11 here.

It’s as you would expect, pointing out the problems with Brexit, the Government’s appalling handling of it and affirming our support for freedom of movement, EU Citizens and all manner of food and environmental and security co-operation.

The contentious bit was this:

In the longer term, conference resolves to keep all options open for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including membership at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

The amendment passed changed that last bit to:

In the longer term, Conference resolves to support a longer term 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.

So here are some of the highlights of the debate in tweets:

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Ten former MEPs write….Why now is not the right time to campaign to rejoin the EU

This weekend at our party conference we will debate our Europe motion, clarifying the party’s policy on our relations with and towards the EU.

The main focus of debate between members is likely to be around  ‘r’. Not the COVID ‘r’, which we have all become used to, but the Brexit ‘r’ word – rejoin. 

We all remember the joy we felt last May when our representation in Europe went from one solitary MEP, Catherine Bearder, to a surprisingly fulsome group of 16 from right across the country – several of whom had not expected to be elected. 

It was a symbol of how strongly people felt about Brexit, and, thanks to a proportional electoral system, their commitment to EU membership was reflected in our election result. 

I can honestly say no one in the party, or outside it, regrets our departure from Europe more strongly than the 16 of us. 

But the world has changed since 31st January beyond what any of us could have imagined.

Hard though it is to accept, for those of us who fought tooth and nail to stop Brexit, most people’s attention is now far more  are now far more focused distracted by on COVID and the implications it is having for their families and jobs, the economy, education and our health and social care services. 

As a party, it would be wise for us  to focus on the fact that only 2% of UK voters now think Brexit is the most important issue facing us. We are back to the sort of numbers seen before the EU referendum was even a thing. Remember that? When no one ever talked about our relationship with Europe – except the Daily Mail!

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How you can help save the Au Pair programme

Spending a year as an au pair in Berlin was one of the best years of my life. I made lasting friendships, learned a language and gained a lot of sympathy for the challenges of parenting. 

The experience of au pairing abroad at a young age has been enjoyed by young people for hundreds of years. Long before the Erasmus student exchange program was born, Europe’s youth have been swapping their home for a year in Rome, Paris or London. At the same time, thousands of families benefit from the au pair program with affordable childcare and the opportunity to exchange cultures and languages. 

German au pairs will continue to spend a life changing year in Paris, and Polish au pairs can enjoy a summer as an au pair in Dublin. In the UK, this is all about the come to a stop because of Brexit. 

According to the British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA), the number of au pairs coming to the UK has already plummeted by seventy-percent

This is because au pairs from EU member states have been able to arrive in the UK without a visa under the rule of free movement of people. As the Tory government is hellbent on putting a stop to free movement, the centuries old au pair program is collateral damage. 

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A longer read for the weekend: The case for an extension to the Brexit transition period

It’s hard to believe that something which had dominated our lives for so long – Brexit – has almost completely fallen off the radar.

After the shock of the December General Election, and the brutality of losing our jobs and heading home from Brussels in January, we former MEPs were geared up for the long haul of holding the government to account as it ground its way through tortuous post Brexit trade negotiations with the EU.

And when Boris Johnson spoke of ‘healing the rift’ between leavers and remainers, it seemed an impossible idea. 

Little did any of us think a global pandemic would sweep across the globe and make those two words almost redundant within weeks. We are now a people divided between frontline workers and those who stay at home, the vulnerable and those less at risk, the sick and the well.

But while many people have far more urgent things to concentrate on, it is vital that some of us don’t take our eyes off what’s happening with Brexit. The transition clock is ticking loudly and it’s only a few weeks until the UK has to decide whether it will ask for an extension to the transition period that is due to end on December 31. 

Senior Europeans say that while the case for an extension is overwhelming, there is little appetite for it on the UK side. And while the Government might be tempted to use COVID-19 to camouflage the disaster of a crash out from the single market and customs union at the end of the year, the costs will be high – and less affordable than ever. 

This government, picked for its adherence to the Brexit mantra rather than its ability to steer us out of the COVID-19 crisis, still seems hell bent on crashing out, rather than looking at the changed landscape we now find ourselves in and accepting that not only we, but other governments too, have other things to think about.

We are so far away from reaching an agreement with the EU that it is fantasy to assume it is now possible. The timeline was extremely tight to begin with, but after talks stalled due to illness and isolation, the prospect of a deal has become even less likely.

And the UK’s refusal to make their negotiating mandate public is infuriating EU capitals. They don’t even know what the UK side is aiming for.

“The problems are immense: the British texts, which are not made public, don’t cover a number of key priorities. Nothing substantial on a level playing field, no text whatsoever on fisheries so far, no recognition of the role of ECJ or ECHR, no commitments regarding climate change, no certainty in the protection of data… The Political declaration is forgotten,” said one senior European who is well aware of what’s happening in the negotiations. 

The source said there was nothing concrete so far on how the UK sees its relationship with EU security or defence policies but by contrast they are making huge demands about access to European data, with no strings attached. 

“More generally, there is an aggressive tone which hurts and doesn’t help. There are many reasons why the talks are only talks, and not proper negotiations. The risk of a no deal is serious and obviously a scenario which has some traction in London.” 

During a remote meeting of the UK-EU Friendship Group set up by MEPs before the UK contingent headed home, Polish MEP Radek Sikorski (EPP) said: “We should all prepare ourselves for a super hard Brexit at the end of this year.”

And French MEP Nathalie Loiseau (Renew Europe), said: “The pace of negotiations is pretty slow. There’s very little progress. We ask for no posturing ideology, but for care for individuals and businesses who will be affected by this.”

The feeling in Brussels is that the UK still wants an agreement with all the benefits, but with minimal obligations. Their language is couched in ideology and hubris. Never mind the details of what being a ‘third country’ means in reality, fulfilling an election promise still seems far more important – regardless of the fact that whole world order has fundamentally changed. 

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Von der Leyens promises to address some of the UK’s direst needs: Poverty, Social Security, Clean Air Cities

The speech by German minister Von der Leyen (VDL), the proposed president of the European Commission, appealing to the sceptical centre parties (Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens) in the European Parliament, brought the Brexit Party MEPs to howls of both approval and anguish, according to Dutch media.

When she regretfully accepted that the UK appears on the way out, Farage’s bench applauded wildly. But when she added that she is ready to extend negotiations beyond Halloween, those cheers instantly turned into jeers.

And in his response, Farage again trotted out the “EU = Soviet Eastern Bloc” trope, to which VDL responded “we can probably do without what you have got to say here”. Dutch media quoted VDL responding to Farage’s Orbanite allies:  “I didn’t expect to get your support”.

In her speech, and in the accompanying resignation of controversial EU insider/super-technocrat Martin Selmayr, many saw new points that address failings in the present EU procedures, decision-making and legislation:

  • Giving the European Parliament the right to initiative; possibly heralding a critical review of EU nomination, decision and policy making procedures;
  • Opening up a formal debate about transnational party lists and “Spitzenkandidaten” at the next European elections; and
  • Starting, in this Trumpian era, a debate in the EU Human & Civil Rights agenda about sexual violence and its female (and LGBTQ+) victims.

Which beggars the question: why leave the EU just when it finally addresses shortcomings and failures of its democracy and human rights?

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The Truth about Europe

I had the opportunity to visit the EU Parliament in Brussels last week with a group of PPCs. We were hosted by Sir Graham Watson, former Lib Dem MEP (1994-2014), and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Our group heard informative talks by the EU Commission’s Director General of Trade, by the Senior Advisor to Renew Europe (former ALDE) and by the Research Director from the European Policy Centre, amongst others.

Representing a constituency which voted Leave in the EU Referendum, I thought it would be useful to post some of the information sources on the workings of the EU. So much of the 2016 Referendum was shrouded in hearsay and untruths, here are the facts.

There is a great resource online, “What the EU does for me” which has information on EU projects in your area, briefings on EU policies, and a large section on how the EU affects various aspects of daily life. This website is a great place to start.

An issue which came up several times in our discussions was how to combat fake news. There are several websites which tackle the myriad untruths:

And here is a download of the June 2019 report on the EU’s action to fight fake news.

The ‘EU Citizenship Portal’ contains information about people’s rights and how to get involved in EU policy making. The ‘Have Your Say’ portal on the Europa website is for citizens and stakeholders to send their concerns and interests directly to policy-makers and decision makers.

European Citizens’ Initiatives (petitions) allow citizens to initiate legislation themselves, such as was the case with the Right2Water citizens’ initiative. The European Commission responds to all citizen correspondence it receives, in the language of the citizen contacting them.

We all know that in campaigning, emotional appeal works better than facts and figures. So for stories on how the EU makes a difference in people’s lives, check out the #EUandME campaign which includes short films highlighting European values and experiences.

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Our European Election campaign priorities

It seems inevitable that the elections to the European Parliament will be read as a vote on Brexit. That risks the election campaign being a rehash of the referendum,  alienating an electorate frustrated by #BrexitShambles, and putting the emphasis on whether we should be there rather than on what our we are electing people to do.

Instead of this, campaigning on the core of the programme of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe gives us a chance to shift the debate, adding something new and inviting supporters of Brexit to see things differently.

ALDE’s programme begins with a summary the British electorate would do well to hear:

In more than 60 years of European integration, the European Union has served us well in achieving peace, stability and prosperity. The EU has promoted and extended to half a billion people the four freedoms: the free movement of people, services, capital and goods across borders. We want the Union to play a key leadership role in tackling today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges.

As such, the ALDE Party believes in a Europe based on the fundamental Liberal principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. We believe in a fair, free and open society which harnesses the abilities of each and every one of its citizens to participate fully in society, presenting them with the opportunities to fulfil their potential, free from poverty, ignorance, and discrimination.

The full ALDE manifesto is something to be proud of. The core statements in the political programme strike a powerful chord: a prosperous Europe, sustainable development and peace in the world, renew the EU and building a transparent, democratic and accountable Europe. Nuancing the descriptions a little for a British audience:

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D’Hondt complain afterwards if you d’Hondt understand it…

Not everyone in the country takes a lot of interest in the intricate details of electoral systems, and that probably includes most politicians including the new Chukkers on the block, and almost all the media.

A lot of people know that you can have “first past the post” (FPTP which in practice usually means the candidate who has got closest to the post when the whistle goes) and “proportional representation” which includes all the other systems ever invented. And that’s about it.

The thing is that the way the votes are counted is one of the two things (together with how people vote) that decides who gets elected. Stalin is supposed to have said that what matters is not how people vote but who counts the votes. In the Euro elections, the counting takes place by a system known as d’Hondt after one Victor of that ilk who is (possibly) one of the most famous Belgians to have lived.

FPTP is designed for a binary choice. It works perfectly when there are only two candidates – or in a for-and-against referendum. In elections when there are lots of parties, all standing for different things, it’s hopeless. On the other hand, d’Hondt is designed for just that – it will allocate seats more or less proportionately between lots of parties standing for different things (though it discriminates against the smallest ones). It is useless at making a binary choice.

Yet it has for a long time been as clear as daylight that if we have EU elections next month they will be proxy for a new referendum on the UK’s EU membership. It would work if there were just two parties standing (though I suppose we would have to let the Labour lot in to provide a third choice for the fence-sitters.) In practice, there are going to be more serious contenders than ever. And there is a huge danger that Farage’s Brexit party will sweep up the Leavers and “top the poll” in both votes and seats, while the People’s Voters and Remainers are split umpteen ways.

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Article 50: Into extra time

I suspect I was far from the only Liberal Democrat who had a stiff drink pre-arranged for 11pm last night , to drown my sorrows if the UK did crash out of the European Union. The notice of a reprieve was quite short, but for Remainers the threat still hangs over us, like the sword of Damocles. As Article 50 moves into extra time, the EU has made clear that it is serious that 12 April is the next deadline, just two weeks away, when a No Deal scenario will snap into effect as the default option unless the British government manages to produce a rabbit out of the hat.

Alas, our zombie Prime Minister, Theresa May, is incapable of such magic. Indeed, she has already paraded her dead parrot of a Withdrawal Agreement three times to no effect, yesterday  afternoon serving it up without the accompanying political declaration. It was still defeated by nearly 60 votes, Nigel Dodds of the DUP declaring that his party would rather stay in the EU than agree to it.

The House of Commons vote was live-streamed to a packed The UK in a Changing Europe conference on “Article50: Two Years On” at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre opposite Parliament, prompting a big cheer from most of those present. But have we in fact now been granted anything more than another fortnight to enjoy the EU sun? Or are we heading for a new referendum at some stage, when, as polling guru Sir John Curtice told the conference, voters have polarised to two extreme alternatives: No Deal or Remain?

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My contribution to the EU Budget – the best tenner I ever spent

My annual tax report for the year 2017-18 arrived the other day.

It outlined to me what I get for the relatively low tax I pay every month.

The last item on the breakdown broke my heart.

“Contribution to the EU Budget – £10”

That’s all it costs.

For that I get:

Freedom to work and travel and live in 28 countries

The prosperity that being in the customs union and single market brings, with the added advantage that showing up with 27 of your mates when you are trying to do business with the likes of Donald Trump and the Chinese Government brings.

This country’s universities getting access to research funding to carry out investigations which will help us to learn more about how the world works and develop ways to fix its problems.

My son having the chance to study anywhere across the EU via the Erasmus programme

Joint arrangements on radioactive isotopes and the like through Euratom

Co-operation on security across the 28 member states

Protection of my employment rights, keeping me safe from the right wing small state instincts of most of the politicians who campaigned for Brexit. 

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LibLink: Vince Cable: Don’t let healthy scepticism about China become paranoia

A tasty breakfast

As Business Secretary, Vince Cable was responsible for global trade and had to deal with the growing economic might of China. He writes about this in an article for City AM.

He has a stark warning for those seeking a trade deal. It’s not going to be much fun without 27 of your mates to watch your back:

And while the EU with its combined heft is able to be both tough and constructive, Britain on its own will be a largely powerless supplicant. I suspect that the Chinese, seeing Britain desperate for a trade deal of its own, will

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The path to victory lies through Brexit Britain. As Remainers, we need to show them we’re on their side

This week in Parliament we might just have scored the first victory in our long march to a People’s Vote. Now, if a referendum is truly close at hand, the hard work must now start: we need to convince Brexit Britain that it ought to change its mind.

Sure, Remain’s supposedly got an eight-point lead in the opinion polls. But that was true in 2016… plus ça change?

To win, we must convince Leave voters in places like the East Midlands town of Wellingborough, where I live and had the pleasure to be Lib Dem candidate at the last General Election. In many ways this ought to be natural Remain territory: it’s a diverse town, with both a mosque and an ornate Hindu temple. Local voters elected New Labour in 1997, electing a MP who called for the legislation of cannabis, and we even host an annual Pride event in a town centre park. Yet we voted Leave by 63% and are represented by arch-Brexiteer and Sven-Goran Eriksson lookalike Peter Bone.

How did this happen? When you speak to ordinary voters, the mystery becomes clear. Yes, it is true that some voters talk of immigration, a lost identity or misplaced notions of ‘lost sovereignty’. For most Brexit voters, however, the root causes of Brexit are emphatically human: they feel let down and left behind by politicians in Westminster and (yes) Brussels, and they feel buffeted from the consequences of a fragile global economy. Above all they feel they’ve lost control.

These are people who see ever more fragile employment, with an explosion in zero-hour contracts and ten years of pay restraint, coupled with impossible house prices. They see an education system failing to deliver practical skills, with FE colleges where funding has been cut to the bone and where those without a degree are ever more marginalised. In town centres they seem the places they are proud of become ever more empty, bereft of the brands with which they are familiar. And, as they struggle to take control over their lives, is it any wonder that the pledges and half-truths of the Leave campaign were so attractive?

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Lord William Wallace writes…Heading towards a real crisis?

When I first read a commentator in a serious newspaper saying, in the early summer, that the UK was heading towards a potential political and constitutional crisis, of the sort that we have not faced for a century, I thought that was an exaggeration.  Now I’m not so sure.  In the course of the next few weeks, if the Prime Minister’s attempts to achieve a deal to leave the EU which will at once satisfy enough members of her party, appeal to a number of Labour MPs as well, keep the DUP on board, and not provoke a run on the pound and a slump in business confidence, collapse, with less than six months to go before the UK is due to leave, British politics – and the British economy – will be in unknown territory.

The atmosphere in Westminster is surreal.  I ran into two senior Conservatives with whom I have worked this week, both of whom remarked bitterly to me about the behaviour of colleagues within their own party.  Confusion, bitter rivalries, and for some despair, grip many MPs within the Labour Party as well.  Neither House is busy; legislation is thin, while we all wait for the government to send us the weight of bills and statutory instruments needed to arrive at an orderly transition at the end of March.  It’s now almost too late to manage that without emergency sessions and extended sittings.  Even the  trade bill, which has been through the Commons and had its second reading in the Lords, is now stalled until some clarity emerges on what sort of future relationship it needs to cover.  And behind that stretches a succession of bills and statutory instruments, promised for last Spring and postponed by the government’s own failure to agree.

The government statement on Tuesday, as Parliament returned, talked of a possible ‘delay between the end of the implementation period and the entry into force of the treaty on our future relationship.’  That suggests that the current uncertainty, which is leading banks and companies to start moving investment and staff out of Britain, could lead after the 21-month transition period, to a void without an agreed framework. Most trade experts say that it will take 3-5 years to negotiate a treaty which will then require ratification by 27 EU states as well as the UK.  The battle within the Conservatives about whether any ‘temporary’ arrangements should be strictly time-limited is about what happens in 2021, with the ideologues determined that we drop out of current arrangements then, and the pragmatists within the government (yes, there are still a few) recognising that our economy – and our security and foreign policy – need certainty about some continuing framework.

Meanwhile, panic preparations are underway to prepare for a ‘No Deal’ outcome, which begins to look quite possible.  You will have heard of the start of work on lorry parks stretching back for Dover – for up to 10,000 lorries, potentially tying up a significant part of the freight transport fleet.  Stories from Whitehall say that officials are being pulled out of their regular duties into emergency teams to prepare for a No Deal scenario.  Across the water, the DUP is threatening to bring down the government, while the SNP is preparing to campaign for a second independence referendum if the UK crashes out of the EU – which they would probably win. The possibility that the UK might break up, with Northern Ireland opinion moving towards favouring unification with Dublin and Scotland going it alone, looks real.

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Vince: PM’s plan weakens Britain

I should have actually written it on here, but I reckoned that the number of Cabinet ministers resigning today would be zero. Whether that holds up when they start to get grief from their constituency associations is yet to be seen.

It was always clear that whatever came out of the Chequers summit today would be less than what we have already.

We can’t get as good a deal as we get from being a full member of the European Union. We should be in there shaping hhe EU response to the challenges facing us all whether they be on security or …

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How Britain staying in can help hold the EU together

 Little by little, the Brexiteers are losing their battle to force our country out of the EU. Although it isn’t yet generally recognised that the vaunted ‘will of the people’ is being exploited by wealthy individuals who have no interest in the economic well-being of ordinary citizens,  moderate pragmatists in both the UK and the EU seem to be strengthening our ties, to mutual benefit – all the more desirable, in a time of trade war.

First, there was the acceptance by Mrs May’s government that things will stay the same, in UK  contributions and rule-keeping and access, throughout a ‘transition period’ up to the end of 2020. Now we hear that the EU Council, representing the individual states, has invited Britain to help determine the EU’s budget up to 2027, in the expectation that we will still be paying large sums to Brussels for years after Brexit.

According to a report in The Times on Tuesday, our government is accepting this invitation, to the fury of both Brexiteers and, interestingly, the EU Commission, which has just presented its seven-year budget proposals for the years 2021- 2028. The Commission is proposing that the gap in finances caused by Britain’s departure should be filled by higher national contributions and spending cuts. The Council apparently prefers to keep Britain’s contributions flowing in. If so, May’s wish for ‘greatest possible access to the single market’ could be granted for several more years, at a suitable price.

Yet this is surely just another sip from a poisoned chalice for Remainers. As with the transition period, acceptance of a further period of ‘belonging’ – like a foster-child bound to leave ‘home’ eventually – obscures the fatal date of the end of March next year when we are pledged to leave. Later rather than sooner, all the ills of severance from our greatest trading partner must happen, unless the British people are given the chance to vote to stay in through a referendum on the deal arranged this year. 

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Brexit: what will happen to the European Social Fund?

The Work and Pensions Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the future of the European Social Fund.

This fund provides £500 million each year

“for employment support programmes for people who struggle to access and benefit from mainstream support.  This includes disabled people, ex-offenders, and the long-term unemployed.

The future of ESF-type funding after Brexit is currently uncertain. Leaving the European Union could offer the UK an opportunity to design its own, improved version of the funding. The Committee is considering the case for a successor fund to the ESF, and what this fund might look like.

The report released yesterday says the government will create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) which “will serve a similar purpose to the existing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI—of which ESF is one)”.

But will it?

Witnesses in the inquiry emphasised that the transition between European Social Fund monies and future funding must be “seamless and immediate”. A gap in funding would be a ‘nightmare scenario”. 

Just one example given was the testimony by Steve Hawkins, Chief Executive of Pluss. This is a Community Interest Company who supports people with disabilities in finding employment. Mr Hawkins outlined some of the issues faced:

Rural isolation, for example, where people are further away and require additional support, whether it be housing issues, transportation needs, training or confidence building, a whole range of things that need to be addressed fundamentally before they are in a position to sit in front of an interview panel and secure a job.

The Work and Pensions Committee says:

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Why we should “Stay” and not “stop Brexit”

Much of our campaign since the 2017 general election has revolved around the “Exit from Brexit”. We need to win over Remainers; by having a clear and repeated anti-Brexit position, the electorate will know what we stand for.

There are a few problems.

Firstly, we are not “anti-Brexit”, we are pro-EU. Every time we say “Brexit”, we evoke certain thought patterns within the minds of voters, particularly the so-called ReLeavers (those who voted Remain but feel we should Leave because of the referendum).

We normalise Brexit. We make it seem mainstream. In an effort to be radical outsiders, we make Liberal Democrats seem like they want to do something weird that nobody voted for. As such, we should avoid the term at all possible costs. For starters, Tom Brake should no longer be our Brexit Spokesperson but our EU Spokesperson.

Secondly, “stop Brexit” terminology forces our current campaign to be negative.

Thirdly, in many areas of the country, we are trying to win over Leave voters.

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How Brexit could strengthen us

Amid all the bad news about Brexit – the lies on the bus, the shrinking economy, the paralysed opposition, we are prone to forget the benefits it is bringing us. I am talking about our understanding of the European Union. Politicians who have for years loftily ignored it are at last being forced to find out a bit about how it works. Large numbers of the population who had hardly heard of the EU before the referendum are gaining some glimmer of what it’s all about.

So a nation for years isolated …

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The final deal: what would we say?

If there is a referendum on the final deal about leaving the European Union, what would we say? Here is my starter:

Background

We recognise that the vote to leave the EU was fuelled (in part) by dissatisfaction with growing levels of inequality, and felt pressure on cultural values and identity. So we need to address a) the reasons why staying in the EU is better than leaving, as well as b) how we are going to address inequality in the UK and the identity issues tied up with some of our suspicion of foreigners. I think it is also important to make the point that staying in the EU is not the goal. It is a step towards our goal of ensuring that this country works for everyone, and not just the élite.


This is not just about the EU, it is about how we run this country, and about the fact that we can run this country better for the benefit of everybody in the EU rather than out of the EU.

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For liberal, independent voices

This is a liberal site, a place for discussion amongst liberals, and those who are supporters or members of the Liberal Democrats. But it is an independent site, and welcomes those with different views , as long as there is respect.

On the most important decision and issue for many, currently, it is the moment for liberal and independent voices.

The decision and display of and by Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, to push for, as a declaration of intent for coalition, ” a united States of Europe ” has changed the nature of this debate for Liberals and any of an independent disposition. He goes so far as to , more than imply, but to encourage those states who do not agree to leave the EU. This attitude and all that goes with it, spells the destruction of the EU as it is, and changes the naysayers of Brexit, and those who voted Remain, myself included, to reconsider.

I am no Europhile. Nor am I a Eurosceptic. I am a Europragmatist. I have, as one of part Italian and Irish origin, a view,  in no way as sentimental, in favour of the EU project. It is  in my view, a project. It is not, nor should it be a state, super, or not. We cannot be supporters of individuals and nations, of localism in our Liberalism, and back the creation of a superstate, a continent as a country, a Leviathan.

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Vince: Lib Dems demand an exit from Brexit referendum

Here’s Vince addressing the considerable crowds at the #stopBrexitManchester march. This is what he had to say.

We are in Manchester because the Conservative Party are here and we want them to hear our voices – to tell Theresa May and Boris Johnson that we are not ‘citizens of nowhere’, but people who are proud to be British, and proud to be European.

We must tell the government what is at stake here.

Take the great research institutions in

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Discussing the European Refugee ‘Crisis’ and the UK’s Responsibilities.

We had a very well attended fringe meeting in Bournemouth on this important issue – helped and sustained by the great Dorset  High Tea, kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, 22 million of whom are refugees who have left their country of origin. Over half of refugees are children. Nearly 90% of refugees currently reside in states bordering conflict zones in the global south. A relatively minimal amount have sought and been granted safety in western European states. This insightful and fascinating fringe event explored and analysed the European response to refugee flows and the UK’s involvement in that response and their policies towards refugees.

Professor Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics at Middlesex university, opened the discussion with the serious concern that there is very little critical evaluation or accountability of the EU and UK policies towards refugees. Aid and humanitarian polices are not currently based on enough evidence of effectiveness, and decision-making is poorly informed. Numerous reports have condemned French and in particular UK policies as failing to protect refugee children, failing to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants, and the failure of EU’s policy of containment.

Professor Blitz emphasised a note of caution in using the term European refugee ‘crisis’ as it fails to acknowledge that crossings of the Mediterranean and informal settlements have been occurring for over a decade, and the term can invite a reactionary ill-informed response rather than a well-considered and sustainable legal and political framework through which to aid and settle refugees.

A reactionary response aptly describes the majority of EU states’ policies towards the influx of refugees and migrants from 2015-2016 (Germany being a notable exception). European states responded with border enforcement, increased passport control between Schengen area countries, and the construction of fences (notable examples being the 180km fences on the Hungarian border as well as like blockades at Idomeni and Calais). These measures reflect an ‘inhospitality towards migrants’, leave thousands of refugees and migrants stranded on borders. They also have a knock on effect on Lebanon and Jordan who have similarly reinforced border controls in relation to Syrians. 

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Reintroducing Liberal Leave

 

Liberal Leave was formed as a part of Vote Leave during the EU referendum. It had the slogan “Liberal. Democratic. Internationalist.” and it mainly operated through social media. The most high-profile figure in the Group was an ex-MP called Paul Keetch who wrote an article in the Independent called “Think that if you are liberal you should vote to stay in the EU? Think again”. I was part of that group during the EU referendum and I now chair it.

I have tried to change the group so it is about a compromise between Remain and Leave, one that can be found in the ‘Icelandic option’ which differs from the ‘Norway option’ due to its use of safeguard measures. Compromise is what I feel Brexit should now be about, because otherwise hard-line groups on either side will shape it for us in the years to come.

We are against a second referendum. The argument used by Tim Farron during the recent election campaign was that we didn’t vote for a destination, just to leave the EU and that’s right. Therefore, we should have a referendum on just that, the destination. Do we want to remain members of the single market and do we want to remain members of the customs union? We should ask that rather than replaying the EU referendum.

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The narrow-mindedness of Theresa May as prime minister in a transforming world

While watching the Theresa May profile by Tory and newspaper “sketch” writer Matthew Parris on BBC Newsnight on the eve of the General Election  I was alarmed by hearing various people interviewed by Parris repeating objections to May’s breath of knowledge and policy interest I had earlier encountered in the Economist editorial and Bagehot column about her.

In his column in The Economist of 27th May,  Bagehot writes that in the social care U-turn fiasco, two worrying trends in May’s approach of being (prime) minister and politician came together with an aspect of her policy interests and knowledge.

Firstly, he says it is an “established impression” that May knows “precious little about business and economics”, and doesn’t mind that omission, doesn’t try to remedy it.  In the Economist editorial endorsing not the Tories or Labour but us Lib Dems  the paper also mentions her ignoring the economic aspect (“starving the economy of the skills it needs to prosper”) of a purely numbers-based restriction of immigration.

In the Newsnight profile, the point about economics was brought forward both by her former Cabinet colleague Nick Clegg, and by baroness Camilla Cavendish, ex-McKinsey consultant and prominent journalist with The Times before being in Camerons No. 10 Policy unit (2015-‘6). Clegg said he was struck by her lack of interest in economic aspects of for example immigration policy, while obsessing about immigration numbers. Vince Cable, former business secretary, made the same point  in this campaign, criticizing May’s cavalier pushing of a hard Brexit in spite of the thousands of jobs in London in branches of companies whose HQ is on the EU continent.

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May’s hard Brexit is dead. Now let’s bury Brexit

Brexiters claim that 82% of voters supporting the Tories and Labour validated Brexit in last week’s General Election. This has a grain of truth in it. However subsequent polls found issues such as health, the economy, and security were more important to voters. Furthermore, the election marked a return to two party politics in which smaller parties, including ours, were squeezed. A vote for Labour was not necessarily a vote for its ambiguous Brexit stance, but arguably one for hope and an end to Tory austerity.

Shielded from many by her two former advisers and campaign managers, yet at the same time vulnerable to Tory ideological Europhobes, May’s closet premiership progressed an empty Hard Brexit. Instead of trying to unite a divided country after the 2016 referendum by reaching out to the 48% voting remain, May divided the country further by progressing a Hard Brexit which few voted for. Fully aware that half of voters wanted to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union as do most businesses, she seemed unbothered about harming the economy for the sake of meeting unrealistic immigration targets which were consistently missed when she was Home Secretary. Businesses could only engage with Government Ministers if they were enthusiastic about Brexit’s (unknown) opportunities. Her General Election bid for a personal blank cheque on Brexit (and seemingly everything else), possibly along the lines of the Canada-EU deal, left the electorate cold. So last week the people called time on her ‘bunker’ Brexit. So too it appears has business, her Cabinet, and parliamentarians.

A weakened May is now in discussion with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her minority Government. Meanwhile her Brexit secretary makes contradictory statements saying last Friday that the Government has lost its mandate for leaving the Single Market and Customs Union whilst implying the opposite on Radio 4’s Today. However, the DUP wants to avoid a hard Irish border, a demand which appears incompatible with the Tory manifesto pledge to leave the EU customs union. Similarly, the Scottish Conservatives want an ‘open’ Brexit, which appears to conflict with the Tory manifesto pledge to leave the EU Single Market. The two, with 10 and 13 seats respectively, effectively could each veto a Hard Brexit. But let us not forget the newly emboldened, but hitherto pusillanimous, pro-European Tories. Under the new parliamentary arithmetic, a handful of them could also frustrate Hard Brexit.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged and | 19 Comments

Conundrum of referendums and why we need another one

Referendums? Are you really so dumb? Surely it should be referenda? All right, I openly admit that I’m no expert on referendums, or referenda, my background being in science and medicine. The following thoughts are strictly those of a layman, but they should be relatively light on establishment bias and received wisdom.

I see five problems and a conundrum

The first problem is that referenda are subject to ‘populist’ forces. What is meant by that?

Suppose there was a referendum on whether we wanted to pay taxes. The populist lobby, attuned to the visceral nature of taxation, would urge us to take back control of our own money. Why let faceless bureaucrats in the government tell us what to do with it? The people should decide how much to give to public services, the armed forces and so on.

In an ideal world of sensible altruistic people, that might work. More likely, the country would go bankrupt.

The second drawback of any referendum is that it polarises and divides with the efficiency of a football match. Supporters flock to opposing sides, whatever the question at issue. Had the question on the ballot paper been “Should be EU remain as it is or move towards greater integration?”, we would now be a nation of remainers pitted against integrationists. A better sort of division, but still a divided nation.

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Baroness Joan Walmsley writes….Tories ensure more taxation without representation

It was Thomas Mayhew, minister of the West Church in Martha’s Vineyard, who coined the slogan “No taxation without representation” in 1750, capturing in that phrase one of the major causes of the American civil war.

Of course, this phrase reflected a clause of the Magna Carta, written in 1215.

British citizens who live outside of the United Kingdom are currently entitled to vote in elections for only 15 years after leaving the UK, but the Conservatives promised to extend this to lifetime enfranchisement in their 2015 election manifesto. The Tories said they were intent on “scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting” and would introduce “votes for life”, opening up registration to more of the five million Britons who live abroad. (There are currently less than a quarter of a million overseas residents registered to vote.)

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Farron: May taken to Tusk

The Lib Dem Press Office has had its Weetabix this morning. Not only did it get its punchy analysis of the EU’s statement about the Brexit negotiations out quickly, but it came up with a pretty eye-catching headline.

Here’s what Tim Farron had to say about the EU statement – and it does not reflect well on Theresa May and her Brexiteers:

These guidelines show the strength of the EU in these negotiations, and the carelessness of the UK government in isolating themselves from our European allies.

The terms are clear: no sector by sector deals, no bilateral negotiations and no new trade deal until the withdrawal terms are agreed. This leaves no doubt that Davis’ comments about special arrangements for the car industry or financial sector are worthless.

It is still possible for the British people to stop a Hard Brexit and keep us in the Single Market. And if they want, it is still possible for the British people to choose to remain in the European Union. The Liberal Democrats are the only party opposing this hard, destructive Brexit.

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