Juliet Lodge has been a professor of EU politics at several universities in UK, NZ and EU. In the 1990s, she was named ‘EU Woman of Europe’ for her voluntary work. She has authored many books about the EU and is a regular contributor to Yorkshire Bylines. Juliet also co-convened the anti-Brexit group, Women4europe. She is currently working on EU Horizon projects on disinformation, leading work on ethics and AI.
Tracy Rolfe : What do you think is the best route to rejoin the EU and what do you think the timescale would be?
My sense is that many in the EU perceive our politicians to be way out of step with a public that is at worst indifferent rather than hostile to the EU, and at best increasingly and openly pro-European. There is appreciation of the desperate unfairness of Brexit on ordinary people, including Brexit voters, entitled to EU rights that the UK helped to create in 1986. The best route is not another referendum.
The timescale is unpredictable, given electoral variables here and in EU states, and the many other countries clamouring to join the EU (including Ukraine). I’d like to see us back in the EU tomorrow, and hopefully by 2030. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘best route’ in view of the hideous way in which our Brexiteer Governments connived in creating the worst of all possible Brexits, and given how they behave. It is hard to believe that they are as ignorant as their public face and party-oriented posturing suggests. They give the impression of preferring to side-step facts about the disastrous impact Brexit has on the UK and its citizens; seem uncurious about its impact on many in the EU; and in denial about how much Brexit has benefited our competitors.
Without a best route, politicians have to find a pragmatic way back. Any new Government must start by acknowledging the facts, come clean about the deceits, and prove its genuine commitment to being well-informed and working respectfully and cooperatively with our EU partners. A pragmatic way back doesn’t necessarily mean decades of delay, provided the foundations of a trusting and trustworthy relationship are cemented now. A new Government must capitalise immediately on the opportunities offered by the review of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement to restore trust in the UK and establish as close as possible relations, and work with the EU across the board. That demands openly acknowledging that we can’t achieve many policy goals alone. No country can. That’s why we joined the EU in the first place.
So, the first steps to working together are vital: paying our dues under, and participating in, the EU’s research programmes (such as Horizon), restoring Erasmus Plus and sector-specific freedom of movement, such as for musicians. But these are insufficient and discriminatory. What a future Government chooses to call what we need to do (rejoin the customs union or the single market, and restore mutual freedom of movement for all EU citizens, including Brits), is less important in the short term than being adult about what we lost and need to have. A grown-up leader should publicly and immediately work to ensure that families are able to travel and meet freely anytime, anywhere they wish; that good quality fresh food supplies are once more the norm; that trade flows free of bureaucratic barriers erected by the UK; and that our domestic and international security are once more improved by pragmatic cooperation and participation in programmes we helped to create and which we need. Our behaviour has to inspire respect and confidence in our ability to act honourably, upholding international law, and being the good partners we once were. We have to show that we understand and practise the values on which the EU was founded and thrives. That, itself, requires the UK to look closely at and address its own failings of democratic governance.
The UK has to prove that it can be trusted to be honest, open and accountable in upholding the rights and values and democratic practices we took for granted in the EU and which enabled us to flourish. In short, we have to show our value to the EU and offer constructive ideas for reform, dynamically confronting the many problems we must solve together in a spirit of open cooperation.
Steve Wilson :Many believe that the EU would be cautious about considering any UK application to rejoin. Do you agree?
Yes and no. Yes, because the Conservative Governments appear to have flippantly squandered achievements and wallow in toddler theatrics instead of genuinely seeking to have a constructive, working relationship with our closest allies and partners.
Yes, because there seems to have been a lack of understanding at the most basic level about how we worked when in the EU, and how the EU has worked (well) and developed progressive political agendas and policies without us. Yes, because purely from the point of view of presentation, too many Government and opposition politicians display deep ignorance about political realities in Europe and the UK’s increasingly irrelevant position in it.
And yes, because many feel that Article 50 should not be invoked frivolously in the expectation that its consequences can be overturned the moment things don’t quite accord with what the state who invoked it wanted. I feel that Article 50 should never have been included years later as an amendment to the original founding treaties. When the EU was created, there was no clause to leave it. European integration was the promise to work to solve problems together, in effect, forever.
No, because many EU leaders and politicians and officials, business and civil society representatives would welcome us back in the EU as soon as possible. Why? The UK co-created some of the greatest steps leading the EU to become what it is today: freedom of movement, the single market (warts and all), cooperation on defence and security, ErasmusPlus, health, climate, food and safety standards, police and judicial cooperation, and many more. The UK helped draft and agree some of the regulations which are acknowledged as genuine world standards, including the GDPR.
The friendship group created by Terry Reintke MEP is looking after ‘our star’ until we return to the EU as members. By then, many of those who knew the UK as a constructive EU member may have retired so we can’t just rely on them to be our advocate. But we can do our bit on a people-to-people basis to sustain, expand and deepen our links. Above all, we can show that a country outside the EU, which has a bigger pro-EU movement than any of the EU’s current members, is educated, interested, dynamic and a trustworthy partner who would add value to the EU.
It’s our job to educate ourselves in order to give our children a fighting chance of being in the EU, enjoying the opportunities that arise from having shared values and a commitment to democracy and working together with their European peers to improve the well-being of their communities. Isolation on a global stage is daft, on a regional stage it heralds oblivion.
Anon : As EU Woman of Europe in the 1990s, how far do you think women’s rights have come since then, and how much further do they need to move in order to equate to real equality with men?
Women’s rights have come a long way, but nowhere near far enough. Worse, we seem to be going backwards. Brexit seems to have unleashed in the UK more misogyny and an erosion of workers’ rights, inflexible working, discriminatory conditions (and little apparent attention to equal pay and opportunities for females); erosion of paternity and maternity rights, de-professionalisation of skills, exploitative practices in the gig-economy, lack of free post-school education, lack of access to EU funding for pre-school and lifelong learning, protection against domestic violence, stalling moves to a better work-life balance, undermining of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Brexit impoverished us all culturally, educationally and in terms of what we thought the UK stood for: tolerance and reasonableness.
Valerie Chaplin : Nationalism and the far-right thrive on disinformation and make us question truth and facts. How, in an increasingly digital world, do we combat this?
This area is recognised by the EU as a threat to its way of life. Accordingly, it has media literacy projects (which the UK could emulate) and programmes, such as the EuvsDisinfo project, to raise awareness and strengthen social resilience among young people as well as the public at large, and to improve rapid alerts across the EU to disinformation that represents a threat to democracy, health, the environment and security. Whereas hate speech is unlawful, disinformation is not. The EU insists that any of its measures to combat both should not undermine the freedom of opinion and expression enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The EU is investing in multinational, multi-disciplinary research teams to identify and combat disinformation without losing the potential benefits that AI may bring. The UK Government has excluded Britons from these teams. It cannot credibly combat manipulation of people for nefarious purposes while ignoring the standards set by the EU and the work it is doing. It must participate in work undertaken by those sharing common goals and values, and commit to upholding the human rights we took for granted in the EU. This does not preclude wider international cooperation, but it does mean understanding, pooling and sharing knowledge, jointly funding the kind of facilities and programmes we all need but cannot fund as individual states alone. It means working with our close neighbours to combat the challenges you mention.
There are innumerable initiatives afoot in the EU already: this year will see the EU advancing the adoption of a (reformed) AI Act which is widely regarded as setting global standards. This complements laws on the digital single market, and measures to combat extremism and disinformation. All must be seen against the backdrop of the next European Parliament elections in 2024 and concerns that hostile actors, foreign interests and non-dom media will use AI to manipulate ‘facts’, the news, citizens’ perceptions and even the results.
We all have to be vigilant, think critically, and know how to access legitimate fact checkers and assess independent reporting in order to improve our own understanding and knowledge, and we must show our children and families how to do the same. Above all, we need to join in media literacy projects and collaborate with the EU.
Matt Burton : Why are attitudes to compulsory ID/biometric cards so different in the UK compared to the EU?
I don’t know. Carrying ID cards in the first and second world wars was associated with national emergencies. In May 1952 they were scrapped. The UK Parliament reported on them in the 1990s. The Labour Identity Cards Bill (2004) was dropped owing to the timing of the 2005 general election. While another Act created the basis for a national identity register in 2006, this was scrapped in 2010.
Attitudes differ perhaps to those in the EU for many reasons, many associated with concern over state misuse of them; poor data handling and storage or even onward sale of data by the state and its private sector partners; fraud; and maybe an illusion that to be free means to be free of such a document. In practice, most adults have some form of official paper, plastic or digital ID – a covid vaccination card, NHS number, national insurance and tax numbers, bank cards, travel cards, student cards, loyalty cards, passports, driving licences being among the most common, and many of them biometric ones.
Legitimate questions as to the purpose of ID requirements introduced for recent local elections need to be resolved. The UK deviates from many EU norms in its seemingly laxer approach to biometric and AI tracking and surveillance of people.
David Eldridge : How has leaving the Horizon programme affected the UK, and what would be the process to rejoin it?
Disastrously. High level researchers have left (brain drain). UK universities have lost significant funding and hence a degree of research autonomy. Horizon’s budget for 2021-27 is €95.5 bn, including €5.4 bn from the NextGenerationEU to boost recovery and resilience. Worse, staff have lost the opportunity to take part in collaborative innovative research on matters from sustainable energy, AI and space research, to oceans, climate, industry, agriculture, culture and creativity, key enabling technologies, quantum security, robotics, combating disinformation, new treatments for diseases, means and therapies to restore lost abilities (e.g. through brain injury) or improve the lives of the most vulnerable.
The Government rejected the chance to rejoin Horizon because it did not want to pay its contribution to the research budget, as all partners do. This is likely to be resolved, but against a background of the EU’s overall general budgetary constraint. The EU’s budget covers things that cannot be achieved by states individually. The EU’s 2021-2027 long-term budget is €1.2 trillion and an additional €800 billion is available in the so-called NextGenerationEU recovery instrument for 2021-2026.
The priorities are building a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe. The UK has a role to play and it’s alarming that any Government would deny its people a chance to fulfil that.
Sue Scarrott : Do you foresee this Government continuing its journey along the road of divergence and isolation from the EU before the next GE? Or, alternatively, will it seek to limit the Brexit damage as public opinion changes?
This Government is likely to continue to diverge as deeply as it can and for as long as the current electoral and weak parliamentary system allow. It may moderate its position in order to show that whoever happens to be Prime Minister come the general election is potentially a more popular leader than any of his/her opponents, and rely on personalities and glib sound bites to win votes. It is unlikely to be disposed openly to taking steps to limit Brexit damage, even though the TCA review provides a good opportunity to acknowledge and remedy what isn’t working. Even then, voters must remember how fast the Governments has U-turned on commitments (such as the infamous claim of 40 new hospitals) and think critically before voting. In the background, talks have been progressing on many fronts – including security, migration and trade – few of which get covered by UK media.
Dr Mike Galsworthy is Chair of European Movement UK and co-founder of Scientists for EU/Healthier in the EU. He is also a media commentator about the effects of Brexit on the scientific community in the United Kingdom and a presenter on Byline TV. If you wish to put a question to Mike, please send it to email@example.com no later than Wednesday 7 June.