Tag Archives: eu

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.

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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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LibLink: Nick Clegg: The EU is facing a liberal insurgence. Now is not the time for Britain to leave

Nick Clegg has been writing for the Independent in the wake of the Dutch elections in which the racist populist Geert Wilders didn’t do as well as expected. He recounted a family gathering in the Netherlands at Christmas time.

What was striking when we were talking about the Dutch elections, however, was almost everyone around the table wanted to cast a vote that provided the best guarantee of keeping Wilders out of power. For most, that seemed to point towards supporting Mark Rutte, the affable and skilled Dutch PM, even if they’d never voted for him before.

It worked and the lesson, he finds, from D66’s success is not to pander to populism. Be yourself.

The polarisation of politics along new lines – no longer left vs right, but now open vs closed – is mobilising voters against right-wing populism. We are witnessing the beginnings of a liberal backlash against the backlash against liberalism. Of course, it wasn’t just Mark Rutte’s VVD which benefited, but other parties too.

D66, the second Liberal party in the Netherlands (lucky Dutch to have two liberal options) did well, surging to almost level pegging in the polls with Geert Wilders and adding seven seats to their tally in the Dutch Parliament. D66 are, ideologically, most similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain. Alexander Pechtold, their experienced leader, told me when we met how he was going to run an unapologetically pro-European campaign. He was not going to bend to the populist times. His decision paid off handsomely.

And he sees the chance of reforms that would make British voters want to stay in the EU.

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That extra special relationship

The Anglo-American Special Relationship is becoming the EXTRA Special Relationship – and not for the right reasons.

The Special Relationship is based on a shared historic, legal, cultural, and philosophical root buttressed by military and political alliances, a shared outlook of the world and intelligence services which are joined at the hip and just about every other part of the political anatomy.

The Extra Special Relationship is based on a shared pariah status, siege mentality and Britain and America’s  common need for friends in an increasingly friendless world.  The Brexit vote has isolated the UK from its former partners in continental Europe. Trump’s style plus his anti-Islamic, anti-EU, anti-free trade, anti-Nato, anti-Chinese and pro-Russian and pro-Israeli rhetoric has done the same.

On top of that, Prime Minister Theresa May needs a big trade deal to show that Brexit can work to Britain’s advantage. Trump is offering a massive bribe—the trade deal.

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One union liberalism

So now we know what Brexit means. Other than the famous tautology, it means we’re out of the Union, out of the market, out of the travel area, out of the customs union, everything. To cut a long story very short, it means I feel lied to.

Far from governing in the interests of both Remain and Leave voters, this government’s Brexit objectives leave pro-Europeans with no stake in the proceedings that will define this United Kingdom perhaps for the remaining duration of its existence. Worse, we are being asked to meekly unite behind the most trenchant version of the opposing viewpoint available.

A bitter enough pill for an individual to swallow, but in summarily rejecting any compromise at all, this government is also dismissing a substantial majority view formed in a nation backing European partnership.

Liberal Democrats in Scotland have been making a virtue out of being the only party in favour of two Unions, the only pro-EU, pro-UK party. Given the ascendant and hegemonic views of the SNP and the Tories, the probability of retaining both unions is low. Those parties hold power and will remain in power throughout the negotiations as no elections are due between then and now. By the time we get a chance to propose having cake and eating it to the electorate, it will be too late. There will be no cake.

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Trying (too hard) to curb EU free movement: A symptom of the EU-wide social democracy meltdown

Just as I was reading Nick Tyrone’s blog about Corbyn betraying the EU freedom of movement but wanting to have the EU cake nonetheless, another recently-elected Labour leader came on Dutch public radio. Note the date: Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.

I’m talking about former Amsterdam alderman and present Dutch minister of Social Affairs, the ambitious lawyer Lodewijk Asscher of the “Partij van de Arbeid”/PvdA, literally: “Labour Party”.

In the 1980s, when Labour under Michael Foot was going through its “Militant Tendency” phase, the then PvdA leaders, ex-prime minister (1973-’77) Den Uyl and coming prime minister (1994-2002) Wim Kok deplored that leftist populism and leftist political correctness gone wild. So both criticised it: British Labour, come to your senses.

Not today.

In the Dutch campaign that just got started for the General Election on 15th March, Mr. Asscher, who just two weeks ago won a party leadership contest, just said that he counted on “European Leftist support” (PvdA jargon: from fellow Labour and social democratic parties) to pursue his top-profile policy: curbing free movement of labour through the EU. When the radio presenter quoted a phrase Gordon Brown grew to regret: “Jobs for our labourers first”, Mr. Asscher readily agreed. And who does he expect to get support from?

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Vince Cable calls for end to EU free movement

Vince Cable writes for this week’s New Statesman arguing for the end to the EU’s free movement of people.

He builds on the themes he initially set out on an article for this site just after the referendum – which turned out to be our most read article of 2016.

In the New Statesman he writes:

As a liberal economist, I welcome freer trade and globalisation in general; and as a political liberal I oppose attempts to fence people in. I naturally value the freedom to travel around Europe for business or pleasure with minimal restriction.

But I have serious doubts that EU free movement is tenable or even desirable. First, the freedom is not a universal right, but selective. It does not apply to Indians, Jamaicans, Americans or Australians. They face complex and often harsh visa restrictions. One uncomfortable feature of the referendum was the large Brexit vote among British Asians, many of whom resented the contrast between the restrictions they face and the welcome mat laid out for Poles and Romanians.

He goes on to argue that while there are benefits to immigration, they are not as conclusive as we would like to think for the country. He sets out what he thinks is the way forward:

The argument for free movement has become tactical: it is part of a package that also contains the wider economic benefits of the single market. Those benefits are real, which is why the government must prioritise single market access and shared regulation. Yet that may not be possible to reconcile with restrictions on movement. The second-best option is customs union status, essential for supply chain industries.

I do not see much upside in Brexit, but one is the opportunity for a more rational immigration policy. First, it will involve legitimising the position of EU nationals already here. It must involve a more sensible way of dealing with overseas students, who are not immigrants and benefit the UK. The permeability of the Irish border must lead to a united Ireland in Europe. And, not least, there can be a narrative in which control on labour movements is matched by control on capital – halting the takeovers that suffocate the innovative companies on which the country’s future depends.

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What the Lib Dem PPCs got up to in Brussels

Earlier this autumn I was at the London AGM where Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder  gave a rousing speech. I was lucky enough to see her at the Newbie Pint at Conference, so I know how passionate she is. When Catherine mentioned that she was running a training event in Brussels aimed at PPCs, I leapt at the opportunity. And what an experience!

It was my first time to Brussels, the European Parliament was gladiatorial in size and the scope of what it does is extraordinary. Even for someone who is an ardent European (currently Brexit will remove it legally but not in birthright) I hadn’t understood the wealth of research, knowledge and resource that it provides. We were given a tour and a tutorial to have a better understanding of exactly how all the cogs work.  That should be taught in all schools.

Then we had the chance to meet lobbyists, MEPs and the Brussels Lib Dems. They were kind enough to host us for the evening for a wonderful night, doing what we do best, waxing lyrical about liberalism! We took in a light show in the heart of Brussels to celebrate St Nicholas Day, with some amusing videography from the enthusiastic Daisy Benson. 

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Farron: Theresa May marching towards Brexit without “plan or clue”

Yesterday, Sir Ivan Rogers’ resignation as the UK’s representative to the EU caused New Year shock waves. Last night, his resignation email to his colleagues was published. His assessment of the Government’s performance so far is not one which inspires confidence in ministers. He told his colleagues:

I hope you will continue to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking and that you will never be afraid to speak the truth to those in power.

And this paragraph can only be described as “take that, Liam Foa.”

As I have argued consistently at every level since June, many opportunities for the UK in the future will derive from the mere fact of having left and being free to take a different path. But others will depend entirely on the precise shape of deals we can negotiate in the years ahead. Contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities: increasing market access to other markets and consumer choice in our own, depends on the deals, multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral that we strike, and the terms that we agree. I shall advise my successor to continue to make these points.

Nick Clegg had already made his views clear yesterday, praising Ivan Rogers with whom he had worked for being “punctiliously objective” and “rigorous” in the advice he provided. 

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How could Liberal Democrats influence EU Reform?

This question has been raised by various contributors here lately, since the Referendum result revealed the depth of anti-EU feeling in the country. Some have wanted changes so radical that, if carried out, the EU would scarcely be recognisable afterwards. However, I realised that even those promoting more modest reforms had very varied ideas, which did not neatly split Leavers and Remainers either. Broadly, opinions seemed divided as to whether competency or constitutional reform was the main issue to be tackled.

Competency arguments have focused on the EU’s painful attempts to deal with the vast influx of migrants and refugees of the last two or three years. As the Dublin Accord was quietly set aside and eastern EU states in the Schengen area set up physical barriers at their borders, it seemed doubtful that the EU’s basic rule of freedom of movement within its borders could be sustained. While states argued about migrant quotas, contributors looked on with scepticism mingled with dismay, What were the rules now, what sort of people could be free to move? Maybe the EU should allow free movement to workers rather than people in general? All this needs rethinking.

Constitutional reform questions have centred rather on the ‘democratic deficit’ of EU government: basically, that legislative powers appear to belong to the Council of Ministers, executive powers to the non-elected Commission, and not much power at all to the Parliament. Moreover, the whole institution and its courts appear remote to ordinary people, and repulsive as a trans-national body with sovereign powers over us.

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The Independent View: Urgent Call for European Commission to reconsider its Dublin Transfer recommendations.

In the same week that the world marked Human Rights Day, the European Commission announced plans to resume the so-called “Dublin transfers” of refugees back to Greece. If this recommendation is adopted at this week’s meeting of European leaders in Brussels (commencing in February of next year) EU member countries will start returning refugees who arrive on their territory back to the country of their first entry into the European Union, wherever that may be. Dublin transfers to Greece from other Member States have been suspended since 2011 following two judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which identified systemic deficiencies in the Greek asylum system. I have seen with my own eyes the desperation of the situation in Greece and it is far from pleasant. For the last year I have been been volunteering on the Aegean Island of Samos in Greece, I can confirm that to reinstate the Dublin transfers could result in a catastrophic degeneration in conditions which are already unsanitary, unsafe and badly over crowded. Grassroots organisations and volunteers on the ground in Greece are very concerned about these findings for a number of reasons outlined below.

Despite the EC’s claims that “significant improvements have been made in the reception of Refugees in Greece’’, in fact many sites in Greece remain badly overcrowded and unsanitary, with inadequate , shelter, food or medical provision, not to mention provision for minors and vulnerable groups and child safe spaces and psycho social activities. As the UN high commissioner Filippo Grandi highlighted in August, all of the EU member states need to do more to Help Greece help to manage the impact of the refugee crisis  “The challenges ( in Greece) are very serious, and we need to continue to address them together,” Grandi said. “Especially the living conditions, security in the refugee sites, and terrible overcrowding on the islands. These are all issues for which we continue to be at the disposal of the Greek government.” He also stressed the need for EU member states to speed up legal options such as family reunification and relocation through the EU’s official relocation programme.

The report stated that “with Dublin transfers suspended, there is an incentive for asylum seekers who arrive irregularly in Greece to seek to move irregularly on to other Member States (known as ‘secondary movements’), in the knowledge they will not be sent back to Greece.” However it is completely unfair that only one mechanism of the Dublin ruling which is being applied, when no moves are being made to force the schengen states to make good on their commitments to receive a quota of refugees. So far only 3,054 refugees have been relocated from Greece to other EU member states, while another 3,606 are scheduled to depart in the coming months. Still, support lags as member states have pledged only 8,003 spaces out of 66,400 committed. If the transfers are restarted Greece will once again be bearing the burden for the refugee crisis completely unsupported by other responsible Schengen states. This ‘pull factor’ ascertain is very tiring. I feel it would be far more pertinent to prioritise processing people’s asylum claims more quickly and efficiently rather than wasting time and money on sending people back to Greece, only to be processed again. It is my firm held belief that if they do this refugees and asylum seekers won’t be forced to move ‘irregularly’.It is the terrible, unsanitary and inhumane conditions in Greece & the lack of income supplement, social welfare, inadequate medical care and the glacial asylum processing system is what propels people to move illegally rather than waiting it out. I feel that authorities must work instead to speed up the relocation and family reunification transfers & to improve living conditions in Greece.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged | 4 Comments

Parliament needs to stand up to the Government on Article 50

Are there any Parliamentarians left in Parliament?  That was the question that kept occurring to me as I watched the submissions to the Supreme Court in the Article 50 case this week.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy an interesting court case as much as the next person. The Supreme Court will do an excellent job determining the law, and it has every right to do so. The problem is that it should not have been necessary for the court to consider the matter in the first place.

Parliament alone has the right to determine what the division of power between itself and the executive should be. As it has not acted to overrule the government’s claim that triggering Article 50 is an executive power, Parliament has implicitly accepted that the power is a prerogative. 

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 10 Comments

Want to stay an EU citizen? Now is the time to start lobbying for it

It has come sooner than we might have thought. But the first crunch parliamentary vote on Brexit is about to take place. Not in Westminster, but 200 miles to the east, in Brussels. And the British press is waking up to it.

Splashed across the front page of Saturday’s edition of The Times is the news that Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP who leads the Liberal group in the European Parliament, backs the idea of offering EU citizenship directly to Brits who want it post-Brexit. The Guardian and others have reported on it too (if you don’t have access through the paywall).

I first blogged about this idea last month, and wrote about it here in Lib Dem Voice earlier this month after learning that another Liberal MEP, Luxembourg’s Charles Goerens, had started to push for it.

Brexit might not yet happen, but on 8 December MEPs on the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee will cast the first votes on whether Brits might be able to opt back in to the EU as individuals in the event that it does.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 38 Comments

The new revolutionaries threaten our constitution

Yesterday evening I gave an interview to BBC local radio about the High Court judgement. It emerged that the station had been receiving emails from listeners saying it was time to take to the streets to protest.

It would have been easy to dismiss the emails as hysteria from a few right wing extremists but this morning’s tabloids clearly show that the British constitution is under attack from much of the traditional right.

The Daily Mail never ceases, of course, to push the boundaries of the unacceptable, as it has consistently since the 1930s. Today’s headline has the three judges (wigged, of course, but that it how they like to be photographed) over the headline ‘Enemies of the People’.

The Sun attacks the plaintiff as part of a ‘loaded foreign elite’. The Telegraph, which can know better, has ‘The Judges versus the people’.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 71 Comments

Is sovereignty just another source of likely disappointment for the Brexiteers?

Whilst there is a suspicion amongst the more ardent Remain supporter that Brexit was simply about immigration, there were those who claimed that, by voting to leave the European Union, we could reclaim our sovereignty, taking back control, as they put it.

Now, I’m in a sense relaxed about that, in that if that was their genuine wish, then it is at least philosophically consistent. Yes, the question of cost was never really discussed – like the Scottish independence campaign, the supposed benefits were in the headlines, the price in minuscule type, if it was ever mentioned at all. Fair enough, one might suppose – there is yet to be the political salesman that raises the relative drawbacks of their product.

But the problem is that sovereignty is a concept that, in a complex, inter-related world, is becoming increasingly blurred. Do nation states have the ability to “take back control” any more?

In his recent Ditchley Lecture, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke of the increasingly complex nature of jurisdiction, noting that the United States has signed more than 800 international agreements, most of which defer supervision of some element of our lives to transnational, unelected, unaccountable bodies – the internet being the most universal of its type – yet which go virtually unnoticed by the general public.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged | 39 Comments

Party members massively endorse Farron’s call for referendum on Brexit deal

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

So, here are the results of the Brexit jury.

We broke our readers in gently by asking them how they voted in the Referendum. The result will surprise nobody:

Remain: 94.06%

Leave:        5.94%

We wanted to gauge feeling in the party towards the elements of Tim Farron’s Plan for Europe:

First of all, we asked if members supported the call for a parliamentary vote on invoking Article 50. A staggering 86.41% were in favour and 13.59% were opposed.

The idea of a referendum on the final Brexit deal has been closely debated on Lib Dem Voice, but party members gave a whopping endorsement to the plan with 77.18% of respondents in favour and 22.82% against.

Finally, we asked what sort of arrangement people would like with the EU and the single market if we did end up leaving. An overwhelming majority, 79.16%, favoured the Norwegian style option with free movement of people and access to the single market. 

Posted in LDV Members poll | Also tagged | 9 Comments

Migration myths and unravelling of Brexit promises

The recent increase in hate crimes against Eastern Europeans in the UK has rightly been met with condemnation from across the political spectrum. Some dismiss this is a post-referendum spasm which will quickly ebb away. I fear that may not be the case and the Brexit decision may cause long-term damage to community cohesion and open a Pandora’s box of nasty populist politics. Let me explain why.

Brexiteer leaders – Farage, Fox, Johnson – made promises which are already unravelling. They told voters that leaving the EU would lead to better NHS services, improved job prospects and smaller class sizes. Those promises were largely based on migration myths which, unfortunately, many people believed.

Voters were promised that leaving the EU would lead to an improved NHS. Migrants were (wrongly) blamed as a drain on scarce NHS resources and that the UK cash contribution to the EU would be redirected to the NHS.

The reality is that the NHS is struggling because people are living longer, but often with multiple medical conditions and there has been a huge increase in conditions resulting from lifestyle choices. Neither of these is related to migration – these are home-grown problems – so leaving the EU will not resolve them and may make matters worse as it could discourage medical professionals from coming to work in the UK. 

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 18 Comments
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