Ahead of a crucial vote on Europe at the Lib Dem’s spring conference, LAYLA MORAN outlines the party’s position on Brexit.
I don’t think many Liberal Democrat members will easily forget the crushing disappointment we felt when we saw the results of the referendum. I am sure many of you, like me, shed a tear or two that morning. Since then we have watched the future of the country hang in the balance, at the mercy of three different Prime Ministers.
Three different versions of our future were put forward – each it felt, bleaker – less open, less cooperative, less internationally focused, and less ambitious for our country – than the last.
And each time the Liberal Democrats were clear: we could not and would not support those deals.
That did not change in December. We opposed the damaging deal which Boris Johnson brought back from Brussels after months of botched negotiations.
We knew what this deal would bring. We warned against it.
But it gives me no pleasure to see the evidence mounting every day of just how bad the deal truly was.
It’s the only ‘free’ trade deal in history to put up new barriers to trade instead of pulling them down. The result is a country poorer and more isolated.
The Prime Minister may be deluded, but the British public are seeing through his bluff more and more.
£350m for the NHS soon became a miserable £3.50 per week pay rise for the nurse who saved his life. Michael Gove once said this country has had enough of experts. Now it seems it’s exports the Government has become adverse to, with a fall of 40% in January alone.
As Liberal Democrats, we must make it our mission to hold the Government to account for all of this.
The motion we’re looking to pass at conference this weekend will demonstrate clearly and unequivocally that we are still the most pro-European party in the United Kingdom, and that we want to reconnect with Europe and its institutions.
We shouldn’t be burning bridges with our European neighbours. We should be building them. It’s in everyone’s best interest for that to be the case.
It’s in the interests of the small businesses on our high streets, and our fishermen who are now tied up in reams of red tape. It’s also in the interests of our farmers who have been plunged into uncertainty around future financing and standards. And, of course, it’s in the interests of our young people, who have lost the opportunities like Erasmus that so many of us took for granted.
With an ascendant China, an ever-troublesome Russia and human rights and democracies under strain across the world, the Liberal Britain we envisage knows that we can never replace what we had with the Tories’ so-called “Global Britain”. We know that the UK’s natural place remains at the heart of Europe and, one day, as we reaffirmed last September, that will translate into playing a full part within the European Union as well.
This weekend, the Liberal Democrats are holding our Spring Conference. Our proposed policy motion on Europe lets us take the time to properly work out the path between where we are, and where we want to get to. How do we reconnect politically, strategically and operationally with our biggest trading partner?
And how do we develop a comprehensive roadmap of how we join the Customs Union, Single Market and other EU agencies and programmes?
How do we show people the huge benefits which come from closer working between the EU and the UK on so many issues? I am afraid that so much damage has been done that we first need to reconnect and rebuild.
Let me be unequivocally clear – our direction as an unashamedly pro-European party is resolute. To be liberal is to be internationalist to the core.
In the meantime, we mustn’t wait on that important work to call out the Government for the damage their threadbare deal is doing to our country.
The damage being done to people, to companies, to our education system, to our NHS and to our environment with every day of Boris Johnson’s incompetent leadership.
Boris Johnson promised to Get Brexit Done. And now our challenge to him is: make your Brexit work for the British people. And if you can’t, we can show you a better way.
And to those Lib Dem members reading this who joined the party over Brexit and are as frustrated as I am about where the country is now: the best revenge is served at the ballot box, including this May.
We – the Liberal Democrats – will endeavour to reverse the Tories’ damaging Brexit. We owe it to the British public and Europe to do so.