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It’s not too late to stop a no-deal Brexit – public health depends on it

Lib Dem leader hopeful warns against no-deal Brexit and the need to keep scrutinising government amid the coronavirus chaos. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

Lib Dem leadership hopeful LAYLA MORAN on the ongoing battle to avoid no-deal and head-off a damaging US trade deal

I have always been a proud European and internationalist. My mother is Palestinian and my father was an EU diplomat, so much of my childhood was spent growing up in Brussels and various countries around the world: Greece, Jordan, Jamaica and Ethiopia, for instance. As a result, I saw first-hand the important work the EU does to provide vital development aid, promoting human rights and democracy and protecting the environment.

So like so many people across the UK, I was heartbroken when the UK voted to leave the European Union four years ago. I very much hope that, in the future, the public will back joining the EU again.

But for me, being part of the EU was always about so much more than the achievements of its political institutions. It was also what it said about our country: one that is open to the world, works with its closest neighbours to tackle shared challenges and gives people the freedom to live, love and work overseas.

Those same values of openness and global cooperation are those that first attracted me to the Liberal Democrats. As party leader, I would ensure that we stood by those values in the years ahead.

For now though, the focus must be on tackling the threat of coronavirus and holding this Conservative government to account. Over the last two years, precious time and resources have been diverted from preparing for a pandemic to planning for no-deal. Even in February of this year, when Covid-19 was rapidly beginning to spread around the world, ministers appeared far more concerned with Brexit than this deadly disease. The government cannot afford to make the same mistake again when people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line. The response to the coronavirus must come first.

That means putting people before politics and extending the transition period. Pharmaceutical companies have warned the UK could face shortages of vital medicines if talks with the EU fail, as global supplies remain so low it would be difficult to replenish our stockpiles in time. The business community has also made it clear that many firms simply won’t survive if they have to cope with no-deal on top of the damage done by the coronavirus. To any competent and compassionate government, these stark warnings would set alarm bells ringing.

Yet even the threat of medicine shortages has not been enough to make the government change course. Instead, Boris Johnson has stubbornly refused the EU’s offer of an extension and is insisting on crashing Britain out at the end of this year come what may. This would be a monumental act of national self-harm. People and businesses have suffered enough this year. The last thing we need is the chaos of a no-deal Brexit this winter, particularly with the threat of a second wave of coronavirus.

Fortunately, it is not too late to stop it. I am working closely with like-minded MPs across parliament to force the government to stop putting ideology ahead of the national interest and extend the transition period. MPs have not been consulted on Brexit since before the pandemic hit in January. Given the scale of the damage done by coronavirus and the significant public support for an extension, parliament must now be given a say.

It is also crucial that we stop the government from lowering our food standards in their desperation to sign a trade deal with the US. It’s not surprising many people are concerned about US foods such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef entering our supermarkets. We’re used to world-leading European standards, and like many I take pride in eating high-quality food grown by our farmers. We must not let Donald Trump rewrite the rulebook that has protected us for decades. I will carry on the fight in parliament to keep substandard foods out of our ports and off our shelves or our school dining tables.

Finally, we need to make sure the UK takes part in EU-wide schemes to procure vital medical equipment such as ventilators and PPE. We can’t allow the government to prioritise Brexit over breathing, people’s lives and the needs of the NHS must come first. I wrote to the health secretary Matt Hancock back in March, urging him to reverse the short-sighted decision to opt out of these EU joint procurement schemes, which allow countries to pool together to secure much-needed supplies and equipment at a cheaper cost.

Since then the government has relented and agreed to take part in a more recent scheme. We now need to hold their feet to the fire and ensure the UK also takes part in similar joint European initiatives, including to develop and manufacture vaccines and help distribute them to poorer nations around the world.

There’s no doubt it’s been a difficult few years for pro-Europeans in the UK. But there is still a lot to play for. We can still stop the self-sabotage of a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year by extending the transition period. We can still protect our food standards and farmers from a Trumpian trade deal. And we can continue working with our European neighbours as we emerge from this crisis, including helping to secure global access to a vaccine. Millions of people across the UK still want to see a country that is outward-looking, open and compassionate. I will ensure the Lib Dems provide those people with a political voice.

Layla Moran is MP for Oxford West and Abingdon; she is a candidate in the Lib Dem leadership contest

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