Being part of the EU does not make us less British. It’s just a safe place to be in a threatening and darkening world
On Friday we held a meeting in the Friends Meeting House to look at the legal and political implications of the most important issue facing our city and our council today. If and how we should exit the Common Market.
We were advised in this by some ‘experts’. I know that some people do not like experts but some of us do! Our experts were from Liverpool University and were led by their Professor in EU law, Michael Dougan. A fine team of people they were too.
As I said in summing up the meeting at its conclusion the meeting probably did not change the minds of people in the meeting. As Lib Dems (and we had a few none members there) we passionately believe in internationalism and that our place in Europe was an important way to achieve it. However having people who understand these issues and deal with them day in and day out at a very strategic level was of major assistance to us in shaping our political response to the issues our Cities face.
Perhaps the most important point that we concluded was that the Government either does not know what it is doing or isn’t telling us the truth. The fact is very clear to most people who actually think about it that the UK does not have a very good bargaining hand. We are 60,000,000 people they are 540,000,000 people. We need them more than they need us.
Secondly, they will quite naturally protect themselves and their remaining members first. That is what ‘clubs’ do.
Thirdly, BREXIT will cause real problems in Ireland. There will be no negotiations about whether or not there will be special arrangements for the Irish/Northern Irish Border. The EU always maintains ‘hard’ borders between member and none-member countries. That is just not up for negotiation because it would affect every border. The consequences of this on cross border trade and employment in Northern Ireland could be dreadful.
Fourthly there will be huge extra costs in bureaucracy at our ports and airport. There will be major increased checks on all goods as well as people entering and leaving the UK. This will need to provision of changed physical facilities at all ports, airports and for the Eurotunnel. There will also be the costs of people to check all these things and increased costs to business both from more waiting times with lorries and people not moving quickly and increased numbers of forms to fill.
Fifthly, there will be a consequence on trade because of the smallness of our domestic market and the tariffs that will be imposed at whatever level post Brexit. Already GM at Ellesmere Port has been put at risk as has Nissan in Sunderland.
Sixthly there will be a huge cost in bureaucracy of central government. Put simply the Government will have to either set in hand a large number of departmental activities to create legislation and regulation to deal with new circumstances and trends or it will need to do what Norway does. Norway effectively just sub contracts many of its environmental laws to EU expertise and pays the EU a ‘consultancy’ fee!
Seventhly the Commonwealth is not a solution to our problems. It would be possible to create a customs unions with the individual countries within the Commonwealth but most of them, frankly, have no likelihood of being fruitful because they are so poor. The Commonwealth is not a trading bloc so deals cannot be done with it as one discussion. Customs unions work best with countries which are close to each other. With the exception of Cyprus and Malta (which are of course in the EU) there are no local Commionwealth countries.
Eighthly the World Trading Organisation is not a good fall-back position for the UK. The WTO starts off with the position not that there are no trade barriers but from a premise that there are trading barriers which need to be overcome. The default position is a range of tariffs and restrictions where we currently have few or none. This will cost money.
Finally a trading arrangement with the USA is not a good idea now and will get even worse as Trump moves into full swing. We were given the example of meat. It could be reared in Canada, slaughtered in Mexico and processed in the USA or any combination of those. These matters because there are different health regulations in the USA than almost anywhere else. Do we want meat stuffed with hormones or chicken that is washed in chemicals? We might but not the EU who would insist on full certification for products flowing through our new super port into the EU.
I hope that I have captured these themes right but they are my interpretation and not 100% of what a fully-fledged Professor and team might say!
But the political arguments are absolutely clear to me and the Lib Dems. We recognise the result in June last year but:
- In the immediate term we must safeguard the futures of those 3,000,000 people from the EU who have settled here and contributed for years to our economy and tax base. They must not be sued as bargaining chips in a poker game which, even if the outcome is good, will cause them huge uncertainty in the next two years.
- We must have a second referendum to agree the terms of exit. Too many lies were told about £350 million a week for the NHS and European armies and that the EU would beg us to stay for a shaky advisory referendum won by a narrow margin to be the final say. Within two years it will be clearly seen that the consequences of BREXIT will be severe. That is unavoidable conclusion.
For better for worse we live in a Parliamentary Democracy. The spineless behaviour of most Labour MPs is a disgrace to their principles. The Tories are proceeding to vote for things which are the diametric opposite of what was in their manifesto in 2015. To hear Jeremy Corbyn praising an amendment in the Lords which was supported by Labour peers when he forced a 3 line whip on his MPs to vote against the same amendment in the Commons beggars belief. Or perhaps nothing beggars belief in today’s Labour Party.
The Lib Dems are the only Party which is both united and clear about where we stand on THE crucial issue of the day. That is why we have more members than ever in our history. That is why people are donating money to us to carry on with our message and our work.
The future of our Country has never been more at stake than it is at present outside the mayor wars of the last century. Liberal Democrats and I hope liberals of all sorts will work together on this defining issue. Of course if you want to join the Lib Dems you can do so at www.libdems.org.uk.