The battle for a better Europe starts in Bournemouth

International Office_with textWith the EU-referendum likely to be less than a year away and the prospect of a Brexit a real and frightening possibility, the question of Britain’s role in Europe is more pressing than ever. The European Union was one of the most widely discussed issues at the conference, including the official launch of the Lib Dem Remain campaign.

In order to bring a more international perspective and explore the issues further, the Liberal Democrats International Office brought together a distinguished panel consisting of Sir Graham Watson, President of the ALDE Party and former Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, Former Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP and Lucy Thomas, Campaign Director for Business for a New Europe (BNE). The event was chaired by Baroness Julie Smith, Lib Dem Spokesperson on Defence in the House of Lords.

Opening the debate in front of a huge audience in a packed room, Iain Gill, Head of the Lib Dems International Office, emphasised the importance of EU membership to the UK, and the crucial role that liberal networks such as ALDE and Liberal International will play in campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU.

Sir Graham Watson stressed the benefits that membership of the European Union affords the UK, including job creation, investment into urban regeneration, protection of human rights and support for the arts. Making a passionate case for Britain to have a voice in the European Union, he urged Britons not to follow the example of Switzerland. “We need to have a say in EU matters for our own benefit,” he said. He deplored the negative attitude towards the EU, perpetuated by the Conservative government and the tabloid press, and urged a greater focus on education as a long-term approach to challenge Euroscepticism.

International Office European fringe BournemouthBringing a business perspective on the issue of a Brexit, Lucy Thomas asserted that “85% of businesses want to remain in the EU.” “London is the first-choice headquarters for businesses across Europe, and will most likely not continue being so if we were to exit from the EU,” she said.
As a well-known advocate of European federalism, Andrew Duff argued that the refugee crisis and financial turmoil in the Eurozone demand stronger EU governance. “We have established so much through the EU: Common Market, EU-wide treaties on social rights, the single currency. We cannot abandon this project.” While the other panellists and many in the audience may have disagreed on the viability of federalism, there was a common recognition that international problems at the economic, environmental and infrastructural level cannot be resolved by individual governments alone.

Recently asked by the Liberal Democrats Party Leader, Tim Farron, to lead to the EU referendum campaign, Catherine Bearder highlighted that the Liberal Democrats are the only unequivocally pro-EU party in the country, and the need for an effective fight to stay in the union. “The media do not sell the success of the EU in terms of trade, security and cooperation. The UK has grown because we have grown with our European neighbours,” she said.

With the Conservatives split over the EU once again and Labour’s position still unclear, the shrill voices of nationalism Euroscepticism are on the rise. It is therefore essential that the Liberal Democrats lead an inspiring and effective campaign to remain in the EU. The support of our sister-parties across ALDE and Liberal International will be vital to ensuring a positive result.

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30 Comments

  • Mick Taylor 8th Oct '15 - 10:33am

    Winning the referendum is the most important battle of our lifetimes. BREXIT is so obviously a dead end. Why would anyone deny themselves tariff-free access to the biggest market in the world, the ability to pursue criminals right across the EU, the joint capability to fight climate change, the safeguards to rights for all?
    There is a lot of fighting talk about how the EU would rush to offer deals to a UK outside the EU. Let’s consider this rationally. We have just had a bruising referendum in which the EU and its members have been pilloried and abused by the winners. The EU has been blamed for every ill known to man and a raft of lies and half truths have been told about the institution. Once BREXIT has been voted for the EU minus the UK will meet, without any UK representatives, and decide how we will leave and what, if any, relationship the UK will have with the EU. Is it reasonable to suppose they will feel kindly towards us? I think not. I very much doubt that they will be in the mood to grant us any concessions whatever. As Catherine Bearder put it, “do divorcing couples continue to share the kitchen?”. If we want to continue to trade with the EU, we will have to do it on their terms, only without the ability to influence what those terms will be. Our goods will become more expensive as we will face the common external tariff and unless they continue to meet EU standards will be inadmissible to the EU.
    On another issue altogether. UK citizens living and working in the EU will lose their right to do either. A vindictive EU might well say that they have to leave. Of course the UK might ask EU citizens working in the UK to leave too, but who will run the NHS and other services? The boot will be entirely on the EU foot. I know for certain that UK citizens living in the EU, or hoping to, are already seeking a second passport/nationality and that EU citizens living and working in the UK are doing the same.
    So don’t think you can sit back and watch the UK reject a move to leave. You can’t. If you take no other political action you must get off your bottom and devote time, energy and cash to the campaign to keep the UK in the EU. Don’t wait. Do it NOW.

  • Neil Sandison 8th Oct '15 - 11:06am

    What the electorate will want to hear is how we would reform the EU to make it less of a supranational body .How it can support investment in new and innovative technologies that benefit member states, The EU role in climate change and pollution reduction measures particularly after the VW affair .Just saying everything is rosey in the Europe would fly in the face of what we are seeing on our TV screens .

  • I appeal to Tim and the party please do not let Nick Clegg anywhere near the debate. This is way too important an issue for people to take a party line or hold old grudges but Clegg is toxic to the voters. Please can the party ask or even order him to stay away.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Oct '15 - 12:07pm

    John Marriott 8th Oct ’15 – 10:15am We need to be realistic about what other parties do now and about history. The referendum will be a choice of two options, but there are many parties. The SNP will campaign to remain in for one set of reasons, the Labour campaign, led by Alan Johnson, will campaign to remain in, emphasising different priorities.
    In the referendum for devolution the SNP campaigned for YES, forecasting a step towards independence, others campaigned for YES arguing that devolution would prevent independence. They included Labour, who were in power at the UK level.

    David Butler and Austin Ranney’s book about referendums (and ‘propositions’ ) around the world was published by Macmillan Press, ISBN 0-69969-5, ISBN 00333-63368-7.

  • This is last century’s debate. The EU’s trading arrangements have been superseded by the UN and its agencies. The UK should be acting as a sovereign nation, forging trading treaties with the fast growing economies of the world.

    The EU is rapidly becoming a financial backwater. The Southern countries are all on the brink of financial collapse with record unemployment, huge debts and endlessly enforced austerity. France is a basket case. Even Germany is in decline, its manufacturing becoming less competitive due to having the greenest and therefore the most expensive energy costs on the planet.

    The currency is a proven failure. It divides Europe, causing resentment and social unrest.

    The Schengen countries are today reinstalling border controls having found the major flaw in that initiative.

    The EU foreign policy is a complete disaster. Expansionism on Russia’s borders by a Commission with grand military ambitions was mindless in the extreme.

    The massive democratic deficit within the EU is probably the greatest problem of all. Millions of people are being herded towards a federal future and loss of sovereignty. Many have never been consulted about joining the EU in the first place. Another crisis in Greece or any other EU state could spark continent wide unrest and rejection of the German dominated political elite.

    The sooner we get out, the better.

  • It seems we are re-running the Scottish Referendum. The In side needs to remember that it can’t score a convincing, lasting win by simply running Project Fear on a larger scale. It needs to add some passion and positivity to what is at the moment a very economic transactional case for staying. Meanwhile the Out side is retreading the Nationalist campaign, notably by pushing the idea that the larger remaining EU will somehow simply give the departing UK all the advantages that the current membership offers with none of the responsibilities attached.

    The contribution of President Hollande to the joint speech to the European Parliament yesterday is perhaps useful. In his closing remarks he said that you either want to strengthen Europe or you leave it. We in Britain should fight a referendum campaign that is not shy about what will be needed to make the Union succeed. That way, nobody can say they were lied to.

  • Peter, You are off thread. The thread sets the scene for how we best campaign for “Remain” (I can see that being interpreted very negatively, as “remains”, by the way). Your argument for the “Leave” side jars against all these ideas.

    T-J I couldn’t agree more with your call for a wider and more positive campaign for staying in. I believe Clegg lost against Farage pre-election at least partly because he deployed very narrow economic arguments, and neglected the social, the neighbourly, the common adversaries and needs for regulation.

    Of course, Peter, the UN (or a democratised version of it) will be needed for global democracy, but we need right now, to demonstrate that democracy can, does, and will work at a supranational level. We need to argue FOR good regulation, by the way, and cast aside the populist appeals to “bonfires of red tape” etc. Vince Cable’s recent performances on this have been highly unconvincing, incidentally.

  • The Lib Dem campaign must avoid cosying up to the Tories or Labour. We must make a resolutely positive and principled case; if necessary we should be prepared to puncture scare mongering tactics from either side.

    On the admittedly somewhat iffy assumption that the vote will keep the UK in the EU, we need to be able to show that our case was honest. In 1975 our literature did give the positive case and that did include the political impact that Europhobes claim they were not told about. They are rewriting history and although they will do it again we should spare them the amunition.

    It would be utterly wrong to go into a campaign apologetic for our support of the EU, ashamed fot being Liberals; it would be a mistake to try to keep Nick Clegg out of the way; he has his part to play and no one is suggesting that Nick Clegg should be the figurehead for the campaign. In fact we can take advantage that we are more or less sidelined and not the main players, by putting forward a proudly Liberal case.

  • The referendum will take place at a dynamic time which will challenge both sides. Cameron’s reform of the EU has always been nonsense but now it is being overtaken by other events. Fiscal and monetary integration should be completed in 2017. In the spring of that year, Juncker will publish his white paper for a two speed EU.

    Cameron will try to sell associate membership as his reform, though whether he will be convincing is another matter. The Eurozone will be heading for more integration, including a treasury, finance minister and tax raising powers and of course, further loss of sovereignty by member states.

    The full political purpose of the EU will be much more exposed in the run up to the referendum. Europhiles will have to come clean about their enthusiasm for the UK eventually becoming a region of the federation, since that is the longer term destination for associate members.

    I hope to see some honesty emerge after decades of politicians lying to the public about the true purpose of the EU.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Oct '15 - 6:35pm

    Nick Clegg had wide responibilities at the time and had not been an MEP for several years.
    In Manchester the Tories did not announce a date for the referendum, so April 2016 is now unlikely.

  • @Richard Underhill
    I totally agree about the date. I mentioned Juncker’s white paper in the Spring of 2017. Cameron cannot announce his reforms until Juncker confirms the details of his reforms.

    Hint: Cameron has not got any reforms to reveal.

  • I am a Liberal Democrat in spite of everything, and I am very European, with family in Paris and longtime links with Germany. But I cannot be uncritical of ‘Europe’, and I remember, as some people don’t, the horrendous consequences of campaigning as The Party of IN’. Where are our MEPs now, with the exception of Catherine Bearder? There has to be room in our campaigning for an awareness of European foibles, such as the Brussels/Strasbourg nonsense, the lack of audited accounts and the promotion to President of Jean Claude Juncker, whose little Luxembourg takes so much of the tax that belongs here

  • Paul, Europe is a wonderful continent with diverse countries and great people. I worked in Europe for part of each week for decades.

    The EU is a political project led by an elite who enjoy enormous power without the inconvenience of democratic accountability. Their ambition to create a federal country is not shared by the ordinary people of Europe. As in the UK, the ordinary people get on with their lives, largely unaware of the way their country’s sovereignty is systematically being dismantled.

  • Neil Sandison 9th Oct '15 - 10:18am

    There is nothing wrong with being a principled critical friend in our campaign .pro European but wanting see real change as others have said .We have a common enemy so able demonstrated by the far right and nationalist including UKIP in European parliament with their childish and vitriolic out bursts which make you ashamed that they are British. A few example of Farages outbursts and that of other far rights /nationalist on a election broadcasts would soon let the electorate know what their alternative really is like.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Oct '15 - 10:45am

    Peter 9th Oct ’15 – 9:21am We have been part of Europe from before the Ice Age. During the melt low lying areas were flooded. Since then a tunnel has been dug to France and someone has an option on a second one. They should dig it or surrender the option.

  • We are unlikely to be a major player in this campaign unless Tim Farron can put forward a vision for the future of Europe that appeals to most voters. We have no policy – other than being the party of IN. No vision of the future of Europe is what torpedoed Nick Clegg in his debate with Farage. We mightn’t start by stating that we do not support any further expansion of the EUs external boders, I.e. No membership for Turkey or Ukraine. We might say we reject any notion of EU Armed Forces which would be in breach of the Lisbon Treaty, we might talk more about what we want the EU to do,; complete the Single Didital Market so we can all watch the BBC iplayer and Sky wherever we are in Europe, open the Financial services sector so London can prosper, complete the REFIT programme of regulations reforms, complete the Single Skies project and halve the cost of Air Traffic Control in Europe, saving £5bn/yr and 6% on every European flight. Etc. It is not IN/OUT but Where to?

  • Richard Underhill 9th Oct '15 - 11:44am

    Mike Biden 9th Oct ’15 – 10:58am Bournemouth conference passed a motion looking for improvements in Europe.
    The Tories at Manchester did not announce a date for the referendum.
    Their leader’s speech only included one reference, which was against ever closer union.
    Therefore a referendum in April 2016 is unlikely and we have time to develop policy further.
    Motion for York conference anyone?

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '15 - 1:40pm

    Paul King: The party of IN campaisn was a massive mistake, as was the Clegg/Farage debate. The European election campaign would have been an excellent opportunty for us to say how we wanted the EU to look as LIBERALS and what our MEPs had done, or tried to do, to achieve this specifically liberal vision of the EU. But our MEPs hardly featured at all; instead we had Clegg, Clegg, Clegg, when the guy was clearly toxic and the election should not have been about him at all because he wasn’t up for election, and it associated us with the Coalition when the party in the European parliament was not bound by the Coalition. Indeed we should have taken the fight to the Tories and emphasised that whatever was happening at Westminster there was no working relationship of any kind between our MEPs and their MEPs, and we should have drawn attention to their far-right sister parties.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '15 - 1:47pm

    Neil Sandison: Unfortunately, UKIP’s outbursts and general stupidity did not put people off voting for them in 2014. This is probably because voters have been persuaded by the media and the political class that MEPs don’t matter, so there’s no harm in voting for crazies as a protest. And the Lib Dem Euro election campaign did nothing to disabuse voters of that notion. Indeed Clegg agreed with Farage that MEPs don’t matter and that the EU debate is a binary one between uncritical support and withdrawal. We need to fight future European elections on what our MEP(s) do or intend to do, and publicly condemn the media and other politicians for not talking about the European Parliament; in doing so we would be challenging the media conspiracy of silence on European politics, rather than passively going along with it as we did last year.

  • Having a free trade deal with the EU is not a problem. They need it more than we do since we are net importers. Even Canada has such a deal with the EU. The arguments for remaining are out of date and have nothing to offer. It is a massive vote losing strategy because it makes the party look out of date and out of touch.

  • Denis Loretto 9th Oct '15 - 6:29pm

    Coming upon this thread, I think the most telling point is the first post by John Marriott. The last thing we want is a series of separate party political campaigns. Indeed we Lib Dems more than any party must recognise that the appalling setback in the General Election, from which we are doing our best to fight back, leaves us far too weak to attempt to claim overall leadership on this. It is good to see that the “leave” campaign is currently fracturing into at least two factions. We who know Britain’s future must be in the EU have to put together one powerful “Remain in” campaign (and by the way the word “remain” however awkward it sounds must be part of the title because that is what will be on the ballot paper). In my view the main leaders of this campaign should be non-politicians, including businessmen, trade unionists, academics, cultural leaders etc. Of course politicians must be included but I have to agree (despite my personal support for him) that Nick Clegg should not be in the front line nor should (please!) Peter Mandelson and other such figures who could prove divisive. Given that one “remain” campaign will be officially endorsed I guess something is going on towards this objective but I fear that it will fall short of what we really need.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Oct '15 - 9:58am

    Peter 8th Oct ’15 – 7:25pm “Hint: Cameron has not got any reforms to reveal.” Yes, that looks correct.
    Since then he has met the German Chancellor at Chequers.
    She has also done a double-act with the French president at the European Parliament.
    Denis Loretto 9th Oct ’15 – 6:29pm gives consistently wise advice, but we also need to factor in the Electoral Commission.

  • Denis Loretto 10th Oct '15 - 11:06am

    The news about Stuart Rose sounds good to me and we must hope for as good launch of the pro campaign on Monday.

    Last night I watched a lot of the EU parliamentary meeting mentioned by Richard Underhill (I really should get out more!). It was a deeply depressing occasion for a pro EU Brit. Here was the first time since 1989 – when Kohl and Mitterand stood together in the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall – that the leaders of these two great countries came to speak and to listen to the European Parliament. They did not deny that Europe faced problems but the thrust of their speeches was the crucial need for these problems to be tackled at European level and the positive opportunities for pushing forward the European project. They stood shoulder to shoulder and promised to continue giving joint leadership. There was no mention of Britain either by them or by the leaders of the Parliamentary groupings who spoke after them and in the main fully supported what they said – unsurprisingly Liberal Group leader Guy Verhofstadt was in particularly good form. There were of course naysayers including Marine le Pen and Nigel Farage, who was as far as I could see the only Brit who spoke. His usual performance included calling the French “pipsqueaks” . Indeed Hollande in his closing statement felt goaded into saying something like “If these people want to leave the EU let them leave. We will continue without them.” In other words Farage was impliedly speaking for the UK ! Given that Cameron only addresses European issues by constantly asking for special consideration for his version of the UK;s interests one can hardly blame Hollande, much though he would have been better not rising to Farage’s spiteful contribution. I was only left to think – how much stronger would it have been to have a triumvirate standing together before the Parliament. I need hardly say who the third member should have been.

    We must fight and win the forthcoming referendum.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Oct '15 - 3:01pm

    Greg Clark MP was in Waitrose in Paddock Wood for a constituency surgery. Nobody had bothered to turn up, except for a young couple who had a large box marked TTIP. They wanted to lobby him, but were not sure what he looked like. He was wandering around with a basket.
    i explained to them that David Cameron had boasted at the Tory conference that TTIP was his idea, but that it was unlikely to happen quickly and maybe not at all, because President Obama has negotiated TTP. Getting approval through a variety of Pacific legislatures from Canada, Japan, Vietnam, etc will be difficult and may take a while (according to the FT). i also told them that it is very unlikely that the USA will ever give up the subsidies they give to cotton producers.

  • To follow from Denis Loretto’s excellent post of 9th Oct (delayed 1 day by “flood control”!): We should remind ourselves why Michael Foot lost so badly for Labour, and why right-wing parties so often run “compassionate conservative” candidates despite hankering after stronger meat. The reason is that elections are won by appealing to the centre ground. A pitch that gets reluctant support from many is more successful than a pitch which gets the enthusiastic support of a few.

    On Europe, unusually, we are the “extremists”!

    Now, if you like Corbynism, you will probably say that you don’t care about making compromises to maximise the vote. You would rather fight at long odds with Jeremy than win a victory with Tony Blair, because you don’t believe in what Blair will do if he wins. And you would have a point.

    However, we’re not in the same position. We’re not electing a leader. We aren’t choosing between Corbyn and Blair. We just want to stay in Europe. Once we’ve cleared that hurdle, we can argue about what we’re doing there.

    Let’s do the In campaign a favour, and not shout too loud over Europe. There are plenty of other things to campaign about instead!

  • Ten years ago I would have voted to remain part of the EU. This has slowly changed. I now believe the EU is an undemocratic institution slowly taking power away from it’s members and rapidly becoming a superstate.

    The way the ECB refused to do quantitative easing to help the southern European countries and the way Greece was treated now make me believe that we should have no part in the EU.

    Other than free trade which can be done with agreements I don’t believe membership of the European Union has brought us many benefits at all.

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