This month we asked 5 former MEPs, and previous contributors to Bremainers Ask, to give us their take on the current state of British politics and Brexit. This is what they had to say ……

Catherine Bearder – former LibDem MEP & leader of the LibDems in the EU

Now semi-retired, Catherine is active as a board member for the International Fund for Animal Welfare and

Unlock Democracy. She maintains strong connections to the Liberal Democrats, having recently been

elected Chair of the South Central region.

As MEPs many of us worked to stop or reverse Brexit. We would often say, “This is like a slow car crash. We can see the brick wall coming”. We tried so hard to stop it, but we lost and Brexit came about.

So, as Brexit unfolds two years on, I am changing my mind about it being a car crash. Not about Brexit, that will always be a disaster, but that it is actually not a car crash, more a nightmare journey.

Brexit feels to me much more like a lurch off the road onto an uncharted dirt track in what was once a smart, well-maintained car. We had all been journeying along together on the EU autobahn. We were sure of the road ahead and the benefits it would bring. So, our European colleagues and friends stayed on the sensible autobahn, they may have the odd near miss, but generally their direction is organised and safe, whilst we in Britain have turned off into the unknown. Our driver, Uncle Boris, shouts that he knows what’s best for us all, and that this is a great short cut to the sunlit uplands that he promised.

We all got caught in the storm of Covid, we Brits on our dirt track and the Europeans on the autobahn, just as we will be caught in the storm of climate change, but I’m pretty sure I know who will recover better and quicker and have a safer journey.

Little old UK will keep hitting potholes, the springs will break and the journey will become more and more unpleasant. Some of our passengers, Aunty Scotland and Cousin Ulster, may insist on getting out and running back to the EU autobahnto hitch a lift with others. But as long as Uncle Boris, Aunty Liz and their chums are controlling our car we will get slower and take longer to recover from Covid, and we will all be left hoping that the wheels won’t actually fall off, which will leave us stranded.

So, like so many others, I stopped being at the heart of Brexit at the point of Brexit. Like so many others I have been told to stay at home and stay safe.  I’ve felt so frustrated with only Twitter, Zoom and Netflix for company. I felt more and more powerless to help those that I know will be affected by Brexit, those Europeans who chose to live elsewhere and who still find their futures drastically affected, those young people whose opportunities have been reduced, those businesses who now find their costs skyrocketing due to the extra costs that Brexit has brought.

But I’m not defeated, as campaigning slowly starts to happen face-to-face again. I know we need to keep fighting to regain our place in the EU, and that’s what I will do. I believe we will do this in stages. By rejoining Erasmus and, gradually, the multitude of agencies, finally the Customs Union and Single Market, and by reforming our own democracy, till eventually we can ask, very, very nicely, if we can return.

There is a slipway back onto that safer, sensible EU road a way down this dirt track, we just need to watch for the signs and make sure that we have a different driver who has the sense to take us all back onto that EU road.

Molly Scott Cato – former Green Party MEP for SW England & Gibraltar

After the end of her role as an MEP, Molly returned to her academic life as a Professor of Green Economics and is closely monitoring any risk to environmental and climate standards as a result of Brexit. She has become active in the European Movement and was elected Vice Chair in December.

Molly Scott Cato MEP

After nearly four years of fighting Brexit, I came back to the UK utterly exhausted and incredibly sad. Ever since the referendum result, I have been wondering how the lies would unravel and what the damage would be to our politics. The past few years have demonstrated that clearly.

I have to confess that having been completely focused on my work as an MEP and making really important changes in terms of policy on climate, sustainable finance and other issues dear to my heart, it was very difficult to think of the best way to work in the interests of my country.

I chose to join the European Movement as the organisation most likely to lead us back into EU membership. But as many of us have found over the years, it is an organisation that has not lived up to its past glories and has been in urgent need of change. I’m proud to say I’m part of that change now, having been elected as vice chair shortly before Christmas.

I was also asked by the chair, Andrew Adonis, to conduct a diversity review to make sure that the European Movement truly represents the society that we will be when we re-join the EU. We have changed our constitution so that we have guaranteed that women and people of colour will be fairly represented in the organisation, and we are now expanding to become the mass movement we need to be to campaign for rejoin.

Brexit was such a painful process for the UK that many people have buried the memory and don’t want to think about it anymore, even though surveys show that more and more people recognise that they have not seen the benefits they were promised. Others, like the fisherman and farmers I represented in the South West, have seen the destruction to their livelihoods that the Remain campaign said was an inevitable consequence of leaving the single market.

The collapse of the Johnson regime under the weight of its own lies changes the rules of the game with regard to Brexit. First as a journalist and then as a politician, Johnson used lies about the EU as his stock in trade. The Brexiteers would not have won the referendum without Johnson as liar-in-chief. Now that he is revealed as a charlatan and a liar, it is time to reopen the question of whether the decision to leave the EU was the right one for the country.

Richard Corbett – former Labour Party MEP & leader of the Labour Party in the EU

Richard is currently representing the European Parliament in the secretariat of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Historically, British public opinion has sometimes shifted radically against something of great national importance that initially it supported: think of the 1938 Munich Agreement, the 1956 Suez fiasco or the 2003 intervention in Iraq.

What they have in common is that the assurances that were given – that they were the best course of action, relatively easy, and without negative consequences for Britain – proved to be completely wrong, with the public constantly and visibly reminded of that as subsequent events unfolded.

Might that happen with Brexit? After all, there is a similar gradual realisation that the promised sunlit uplands are not appearing, with new evidence and examples emerging every month to rub it in. On top of that, it is perhaps even clearer in the case of Brexit than in the aforementioned cases that its advocates were deliberately misleading the public – indeed blatantly lying to them.

Already, public opinion has not done what many had expected, namely, to rally behind the decision to leave the EU. Both following the referendum result (when many Remainer politicians, including the entire leadership of both main parties, declared that the result had to be accepted, despite its narrowness and questions about how it was secured) and again following actual departure from the EU, opinion has not rallied behind the decision but edged the other way. It has done so despite no prominent serving politician (in England at least) arguing the case anymore and despite the overwhelmingly pro-Brexit media.

The demographics of public support are also favourable, with younger generations being particularly unconvinced by Brexit.

As the drip, drip, drip of negative impacts continues, it is likely that opinion will continue to shift in that direction. And if prominent opposition politicians decide that there is mileage in this and start actually making the case that Brexit was a national error, then there is every chance that it will become the received wisdom.

When that happens, it will make things easier for a future Prime Minister to set Britain on a course to rebuild our fractured relations with our neighbours, repair the damage of Brexit and ultimately take back our lost seat in the EU.

Seb Dance – former Labour Party MEP

Seb will shortly be taking over the role of Deputy Mayor of London for Transport.

Happy New Year! It seems astonishing that two years have already passed since that fateful day when Britain finally, and much for the worse, left the EU. I will never forget the days of grim inevitability in between the General Election of 2019 and the final exit date, as the cadre of pro-EU British MEPs attempted to carry on their function of scrutinising European legislation whilst simultaneously trying to manage the fact that our entire worldview – indeed our very professional purpose – had just collapsed.

I will also never forget the huge warmth and solidarity from the many, many colleagues from the other 27 member states and from across the political spectrum. We might have just been made redundant by the electorate but we had never been made to feel more welcome by our friends.

Since then, everything has changed, but so too has nothing. Everything in the sense that all of our worlds have been turned upside down. Like everyone else we have been largely confined to our homes to keep the pandemic at bay. It’s quite a contrast from travelling twice a week to and from Brussels and Strasbourg. I was lucky in that I managed to have the foresight to book a long holiday just after we left. Little did I know it was to be my last long journey for a while!

But in many ways, nothing has changed at all. The government is still pretending it signed a completely different deal to the one we all fought very hard. They continue to deny the impact of Brexit on the UK’s place in the world, its economy, or its citizens. Their new tactic appears to be to not even mention it, in the hope that the raft of problems it throws up can be blamed on something else entirely. This is our biggest contemporary political challenge.

I’m looking forward to a new chapter in my life. I will shortly become the new Deputy Mayor of London for Transport; a role which I am honoured to be asked to fulfil. I still believe London to be the best place in the world, and I want to do all I can to keep it that way.

In whatever path we choose for ourselves, pro-Europeans must keep the pressure up in the UK and across the EU. We are only scratching the surface of Brexit’s impact on peoples’ lives and, once the effects of the pandemic become less immediate, the impact of Brexit will hit harder. If the Brexiters’ plan to ignore it succeeds, we will have no explanation for people as to why life is getting harder, and we will have no concrete solutions to offer them.

There is nothing inevitable about Britain staying out of the EU, just as there was nothing inevitable about Britain staying in. If we are serious about finding proper solutions to real problems then we will have no choice but to confront the reality of Brexit. I’m frustrated by the apparent lack of willingness to do that in the UK, but I also believe in the inherent unsustainability of nonsense. Sure, it might seem superficially attractive at first. But anything built on lies and subterfuge will – like a house of cards – come tumbling down eventually.

Julie Ward – former Labour Party MEP

Over the past two years, Julie has continued to support pro-EU groups at home and abroad, and campaigns for electoral reform. She is on the board of Culture Action Europe and is Arts Lead on an education project for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.  She is also a director of the UK’s national festival of sustainability, the Festival of Thrift. Julie is actively involved in climate change campaigns, such as Culture Declares Emergency, and is co-founder of a campaign to close down a abhorrent detention centre for female asylum seekers in County Durham.

The effects of a hard-right Tory Brexit have been largely masked by Covid. However, the Office for Budget Responsibility stated that Brexit will be responsible for a 4% reduction in GDP with the pandemic adding a further 2% to this sorry statistic. As usual, the poorest will pay the greatest price, with household costs set to rise astronomically in the coming months.

Roaming charges are being reinstated by most mobile phone providers and supply chains have been affected by the introduction of new customs checks. Meanwhile young people are denied the freedom to live, work and study across the EU, with the loss of Erasmus+ being perhaps the meanest act of betrayal by Boris Johnson’s government. The Turing Scheme is a miserable replacement which fails to deliver an equivalent breadth of benefits. In true Tory style the contract for managing Turing has just been outsourced to private company Capita, who were responsible for huge defence, education, health and benefits administration failures, including the cervical cancer screening scandal.

‘Get Brexit Done’ was a simplistic, populist slogan that appealed to a weary citizenry but Brexit is far from done, and ongoing spats between the UK and EU regarding the Northern Ireland protocol demonstrate the limits for wiggle room in a rules-based world. I knew it would all come down to dead meat, and the so-called ‘sausage wars’ were a point in case. However, the EU is an honest if pedantic broker, whereas successive UK Brexit ministers have all played fast and loose with the law. Lord Frost couldn’t be bothered to turn up to parliamentary committee meetings to give an account of his (lack of) progress regarding touring visas for musicians, and Liz Truss seems to have conveniently forgotten all the reasons why she backed the Remain campaign.

We are in a sorry state and have become the laughing stock of the world. Far from being ‘world leading’, we are verging on becoming a failed state. Our PM is an acknowledged serial liar funded by Russian oligarchs and climate-change deniers, now at war with his own party. By the time you read this we may know the results of Sue Gray’s enquiry into Downing Street parties. Johnson might even be forced to give up the premiership but, as Jonathan Freedland recently wrote in the Guardian, the Conservative Party is infected by a virus called Brexit.

Despite this catalogue of disasters, I remain hopeful that the next generation will rise to the challenge of rehabilitating our once-great country, using campaigning skills learned from #FridaysForFuture and taking us back to the heart of Europe where we belong.


Coming soon …………

In next month’s Bremainers Ask, we will be featuring Will Hutton, Observer columnist. Will is a regular contributor to pro-EU campaign group activities and a critical commentator on Brexit. If you would like to contribute a question for consideration, please email: no later than Sunday 6 February.