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Bremainers Ask Revisited – Part 5

Bremainers Ask Revisited – Part 5

As part of our regular Bremainers Ask feature, we occasionally ask previous contributors to comment on the latest political developments.

This month we are delighted to welcome back Naomi Smith, Ian Dunt and Jonathan Lis who have all agreed to comment on the current state of play of British politics and, in particular, Brexit.

This is what they had to say:

Naomi Smith

Naomi Smith

Naomi is Chief Executive Office of Best for Britain and host on the Oh God What Now podcast. She originally answered members’ questions in April 2020

Brexit remains far from done, and a positive we can all take is that this Government’s incompetence is beginning to visibly impede its ability to deliver it.

There are still many issues requiring long-term solutions which aren’t forthcoming from Boris Johnson’s Government. Frustratingly though, while it is easy to revel in their incompetence, British business is suffering as a result, which is something that we all expected but is incredibly difficult to watch, nonetheless

In terms of Brexit-related news to look out for in the media, the end of a grace period allowing chilled meats to move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland expires on 1 October. The key issue here is that the Government has given little indication of their long-term solution to fix it beyond this date. You may have seen this legislation dubbed in the media as the “sausage wars”, and though it may sound trivial when framed like that, it yet again underpins another Brexit failing. Lord Frost called for a “permanent solution” to the issue around chilled meats back in June, but no progress has been announced. We will have to watch this space to see what happens.

The above news is somewhat disappointing, but I do have some good news, which is that the UK Trade and Business Commission will be releasing its interim report in the coming months. The report details key issues on the sausage wars and more, alongside some forward-looking solutions that aim to improve what has been an enormously difficult period for us all. The Commission was launched back in April and is co-convened by Hilary Benn MP and Peter Norris of the Virgin Group. It exists as a cross-party group of Parliamentarians and leading business experts from across the UK.

The Commission has discussed a wide range of topics, and each meeting has always returned to the same inescapable fact; that Brexit isn’t working and is proving to be a real disaster. Whether the issues have been artists needing visas and work permits to tour Europe; the UK’s desperation to agree a poor free-trade deal with Australia; or the enormous challenges that SMEs are having in trying to export across the continent, it has shown that Brexit is not working and, unless the Government moves away from tactics of megaphone diplomacy and towards meaningful engagement, more issues will develop.

There is hope. The Government is having no choice but to listen to the work of the UK Trade and Business Commission. Truth and facts are unarguable, and in having experts show the Government what they are destroying in pursuing a damaging Brexit strategy, the Commission is gaining strength and traction. As we continue to focus on this important work, the road remains bumpy, but we are sure in our convictions that if we keep making the right noises, we may have a chance of better days ahead.

 

Ian Dunt

Ian is editor of Politics.co.uk, author of Brexit books What The Hell Happens Now and How To Be a Liberal and host on the Oh God What Now podcast. He originally answered members’ questions back in May 2020

Things aren’t as bad as we think.

You look around and they seem dreadful: a clown-car Prime Minister, the hardest possible version of Brexit, tens of thousands of needless deaths due to the Government’s catastrophically inept COVID response, entrenched cronyism, a barrage of authoritarian legislation and a stubborn Tory lead, no matter what they do. It looks bad.

But when you peer past the day-to-day news, there are glimmers of a more positive future.

Look at that Tory polling lead. It is stubborn, but it is also startlingly volatile. Last year, during the Dominic Cummings Barnard Castle debacle, it plummeted with alarming speed. There is currently a sustained decline in the wake of last month’s opening up, Boris Johnson’s culture war against the England football team and the Matt Hancock resignation.

Look at the recent comments between Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey and Labour Keir Starmer, which suggest that they seem comfortable working together – informally, behind the scenes – in order to maximise their chances of taking on the Conservatives at the next election. Look at the difficulties the Tories are having hanging on to their traditional seats in the south.

Events are not set in stone. This Government has severe weaknesses which will be highlighted, not hidden, by the end of the pandemic.

This is also true for Brexit. The moment of defeat is now behind us. The requirement now is to work out how we build a closer relationship with the EU and then eventually get back in.

That process starts with a narrative. This will not come as a bolt out of thin air. It will emerge over years. And yet you can see it coming together now. How long has it been since you heard a positive story about Brexit? Months. The last one was the attempt to suggest that Britain’s fast vaccine roll-out was a result of having left the EU. This was nonsense, of course, and is now anyway redundant given some European countries have sped ahead of us. But it was generally accepted by many people. Before that, it’s hard to think of any.

There are, however, plenty of negative stories about Brexit: The sudden potential for disorder in Northern Ireland, the barriers to trade within the UK, empty supermarket shelves, outraged farmers and agricultural exporters, exorbitant customs costs, visa charges for holiday-makers. The list goes on and on. It’s a drip-drip-drip of negativity.

It’s easy to sneer when people say this wasn’t the Brexit they voted for. But in fact each time this is said, it reflects another potential convert. Most Leave voters will never say Brexit was wrong. But they can be convinced that it is not going well, and that a future Government needs to fix the relationship, which will inevitably entail us moving closer.

That journey will start with a narrative, of Brexit being a failure. And that is precisely the narrative which is emerging now, slowly, in a long and shallow wave of daily disparate news reports.

Things look bad and it’s easy to get depressed about it. But the Government is weaker than it seems, the public are more open minded than they appear, and in the long term, there are good reasons to be optimistic.

Jonathan Lis

Jonathan is deputy director of the pro-EU think tank British Influence, and a political writer and commentator. He answered our members’ questions in September 2020

The news stories are beginning to dribble in, but few people are listening and even fewer joining the dots. Stories that would ordinarily resonate with the public on different levels – a shortage of blood testing vials, empty supermarket shelves, no milkshakes at McDonalds – aren’t hitting home.

Part of the reason is COVID. It is very easy for the Government and its media cheerleaders to associate shortages with the pandemic because the virus has impacted us in so many different ways already. Less easy to explain is why these shortages did not happen during the first nine months of coronavirus, when we were de facto full members of the EU.

Another part of the reason is Brexit fatigue. There is a feeling, widely shared even by many Remainers, that Brexit has happened and cannot be relitigated. Many people wonder what good can come from ‘I told you so’: it provides little satisfaction to the people saying it, and only alienates the people they are saying it to. Certainly, there is no electoral mileage in telling voters that they didn’t listen to all the warnings and got it wrong. This fatigue, incidentally, also stretches to commentators. I know personally that, after almost six years of endless debate, I feel exhausted by Brexit, and don’t much enjoy writing about it anymore. If that’s the opinion of a former Remain activist, how can we expect ordinary members of the public to busy themselves with it?

The third reason, though, should spur us on. Namely, the insidious pact between the Government and parts of the media to actively deny the role of Brexit in the current and future difficulties. The problems are not happening, or they are nothing to do with the EU, or do not remotely prove that the Brexiters were wrong. It is in everyone’s interests that we tell the truth about what happened, what’s happening now and what is still to happen. It’s the only way we can safeguard truth and integrity in public discourse.

We are delighted to announce that Peter Jukes – author, playwright, blogger, screenwriter, literary critic and executive editor of Byline Times – has agreed to answer your questions for our September newsletter. Please let us have any questions you have for Peter by Saturday 4 September by e-mail at enquiries@bremaininspain.com

Bremainers Ask………. Anna Bird, CEO European Movement UK

Bremainers Ask………. Anna Bird, CEO European Movement UK

Anna Bird is the CEO of the European Movement UK. She joined the European Movement in September 2020, having previously led political influencing campaigns at Scope, the Fawcett Society and Mind. Anna is a passionate Europhile, a European Studies graduate and Erasmus alumnus, who studied in France and Italy and started her career as a stagiaire in the European Parliament.

Alan Brown : European Movement describes Brexit as a historic, national mistake and says it “will fight to rejoin the EU as soon as it is politically possible”. Given that no political opposition party wants to talk about the Brexit mistake, how will it ever be ”politically possible” to rejoin, or even achieve a version of the single market?

It’s our job to make it politically possible. We can’t rely on the political parties, that’s abundantly clear!

How do we do it? We have to expose to the public the huge harm that is being done by this Brexit deal. By using local issues and human stories, we can make the impact of Brexit resonate with people at an emotional level, not just a rational one. We’re providing the tools for our local groups to do just that.

And then we need to offer hope and the possibility of something different. We talk at the European Movement about building back step by step. Some of these steps might include: rejoining Erasmus, securing a deal on veterinary standards, getting an EU-wide visa waiver for touring artists … we’re campaigning on all these issues.

Clearly, this government’s Brexit just isn’t working. We’re seeing that in the empty shelves in the supermarkets, the tension in Northern Ireland and workforce shortages. So, change is inevitable. That provides an opportunity to move us closer to the end goal.

 

Valerie Chaplin :You have over 100 groups around the UK, that campaign for upholding citizens’ rights etc. Which UK citizens’ groups do you work with in the EU 27?

Well… Bremain in Spain, obviously! You are a valued EM affiliate. As a member of European Movement International we have links to citizens groups across all EU member states and beyond. And we met just this week to explore opportunities with British in Europe, who are doing great work advocating for UK citizens in Brussels.

There’s no doubt much more we could and should do to build our links across the EU with UK citizens’ groups, and to be able to offer more to our members who live on the continent. Any suggestions for how to do that – I’m all ears.

 

european movement

Steven Wilson : European Movement have a reputation for being middle-aged, male and white. How do you intend to encourage more diversity in the organisation?

If we want to stay relevant, this has to be a top priority and as a lifelong equality campaigner, this matters to me very much. One of my first actions was to propose 3 new candidates to join EM’s Executive Committee to improve diversity at the top table. I was delighted that the National Council approved the nominations of Molly Scott Cato, Jane Thomas and Sajjad Karim, and all three have made an outstanding contribution in the few months since they joined. 

As CEO, I have started to embed an inclusive, flexible working environment (as a mum to two young children this is vital for me, but it works well for others in the team who juggle caring responsibilities, needy dogs and political and non-exec roles alongside their day jobs!)

And I’m working with Andrew (Adonis, our chair) and Molly on much deeper reform of our governance structures, so that diversity is ‘baked in’ for the future. The proposals would ensure a much larger National Council in which no less than 40% of seats go to women and there are reserved places for people from Black and Minority ethnic communities and young people. Alongside this we intend to recruit a diversity officer to the board, who will work with appointed diversity leads in our local groups, to build a diverse pipeline of campaigners, ambassadors and leaders for our movement.

We’ve got a long way to go but change is afoot – and importantly, it’s already making the EM a much more vibrant, creative and fun place to be.

 

Anon : Can the government be defeated at the next election, and if so, how?

I tend to leave the political punditry to others in the European Movement, so I don’t know that I’m the best person to answer this question! But 130,000 people have died during the pandemic, key industries have been betrayed over Brexit, the peace process in Northern Ireland has been undermined – these are all conscious choices made by this government, a shameful legacy for Boris Johnson, and this will be the backdrop to the next election.

I hope that progressive parties will work together to oust this government, and I also hope and expect that any future Tory leader will want to signal distance from this regime and will soften its stance somewhat on our relationship with the EU, if only to mitigate the economic impact of this hard Brexit deal. But we have to play our part for these things to happen. We need to hold this government to account robustly and prevent the impact of Brexit being swept under the Covid carpet. We can give a platform to politicians from across the political spectrum who are willing to call out the harm that is being done and those willing to voice pro-EU views. We need to organise and mobilise so that we are a strong voice when that election comes. That’s why the EM is investing to grow our membership for the future – there’s a long road and some big campaigns ahead!

 

Michael Frederick Phillips : There are many protest groups representing UK residents in the EU focused on how to hold the UK government to account for the detrimental effects of Brexit. How best can we form a strategic alliance of these groups to focus on the EU and raise our visibility?

A strategic alliance is a great plan: the more united the voice, the more profile and impact you will have. I’d be interested to know what’s preventing that now – is it resources and time, or different views and approaches? If the European Movement can help facilitate a coming together, we’d be very happy to do so. Could we convene a summit or a regular (e.g. quarterly?) roundtable for groups to share intelligence, find some shared goals and campaign opportunities? Could we extend some of our campaign tools and training offer to groups like yours to build your firepower? We’re open to ideas and happy to help.

 

David Eldridge : As you used to work in the mental health field, what effects do you think Brexit is having on people’s mental health?

Brexit is leading to all sorts of negative impact for people – precarious work situations, families and living arrangements being thrown into chaos, communities losing jobs and investment, and people’s fundamental sense of identity and belonging under threat.  All of these social and economic factors are determinants of mental ill-health too, so there’s no question that there will be a mental health impact. But I suspect it will be hard to calculate and to some extent masked by the huge mental health impact of the Covid pandemic.

We all have a role to play in supporting people through. Now more than ever, groups like Bremain in Spain and other groups in our network can provide some comfort and solidarity to those affected by Brexit. We are a community of like-minded people with a shared goal – to rebuild our relationship with the EU. That’s one of the many reasons why building our movement is so important – people affected by Brexit need to know that we are here to bear witness and expose the harm that’s been done.

Naomi Smith

Next month will see the return of our occasional feature – Bremainers Ask Revisited. We will be asking former contributors to comment on the current state of play of British politics, in particular Brexit. We are delighted to be welcoming back Naomi Smith, Ian Dunt and Jonathan Lis, and look forward to hearing their thoughts on the subject.

Bremainers Ask – Terry Reintke MEP

Bremainers Ask – Terry Reintke MEP

Terry Reintke is Vice-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament and the group’s coordinator for the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. She is Co-president of the LGBTI Intergroup and founder of the EU-UK Friendship Group.

She studied political science in Berlin and Edinburgh. She was spokesperson of the Federation of Young European Greens (FYEG) before entering the European Parliament in 2014. She was featured in TIME magazine’s coverage for Person of the Year 2017 as part of the “Silence Breakers” speaking out against sexual abuse and harassment.

 

Michael Soffe : As I have lost my vote in European elections in Spain due to Brexit, do you think the EU should consider giving us disenfranchised residents in the EU our vote back, as we have no voice in Europe despite paying taxes in our European county of residence?

Hey Michael, we Greens have fought to expand the right to vote for a long time. We will continue to try to give a voice to those who are currently disenfranchised. It is important that we build a strong civil society, that voices their opinion and is strong enough to push for change. Giving voting rights to third party citizens is ultimately a decision by the member states. We can and will push from a European level for them to do so, but it remains difficult.

 

Alan BrownHow do you view cooperation with British political parties and organisations to change the mindset not only of the public, but politicians, in relation to climate change?

Hey Alan, cooperation is what made the European Union strong and why, with all its flaws, it is still the strongest concept we have to tackle huge challenges. And I think we can agree that climate change right now is humankind’s biggest challenge yet. So we have to absolutely work together and British politicians and the public are as much required as are Europeans. Only together we can bring on change. I am also really looking forward to further EU-UK cooperation on this when the COP 26 will come to Glasgow later this year.

Pat Kennedy : How much damage, if any, do you think that the UK’s exit has done to the EU?

Hey Pat, that is a hard question to give a short answer to, because I think there is more than one dimension to it. On an economic level as well as trade-wise I think the damage to the EU may be noticeable, but not as impactful as formerly claimed by Brexiteers. The damage done to the trusting relationship or to the peace situation in Europe remains however more severe. Since the EU was founded almost everyone was sure that Europe and the EU countries would only grow stronger together, be more interdependent and nation states to become less and less important. Brexit damaged that belief. It also damaged the trust EU members have in the British Government, because time and time again it broke promises, ignored treaties and flat out defamed the EU and EU institutions. That trust on a governmental level will need to heal in the years to come. Brexit was also a reckless mission that was not thought through by those advocating for it. They did not have a plan for the situation in Northern Ireland and therefore jeopardised the Irish peace process. One main point of the European Union was to ensure there will never be war again in Europe. Brexit put that at risk. With the Conference on the Future of Europe starting now, we will have to find back to a mode that ensures something like Brexit will not happen again.

 

Lisa Ryan BurtonHow is the EU-UK Friendship Group progressing? What is the make-up of the group and what do you hope it will be able to achieve?

Hey Lisa, the Friendship Group is made up of over 100 MEPs and former MEPs from all political groups and countries. Our latest project was to try to open new perspectives for the future of the Erasmus program in the UK. For now, we feel like the Friendship Group has done a good job keeping in touch with our friends and colleagues. We will try to organise events with British civil society groups in autumn and join the COP26 in Glasgow this November for further events. With the interparliamentary delegation to the UK in the European Parliament established, we will look into the role the Friendship Group will have in the future.

Molly WilliamsShould the EU have more executive power over member states, so they can implement legislation to protect minority groups whose rights are under attack in certain member states e.g. the LGBTQ+ community who are being targeted in Hungary, Poland and Romania?

Hey Molly, that’s a question I work a lot on. The EU needs a Commission that has the courage and the political will to use the executive powers they have to defend citizens’ rights and the treaties. In addition to this, the requirement of unanimous votes must be removed. Too often important steps to protect minority rights are being blocked when we really need decisive action to protect civil rights.

Harry Shindler OBEIs there any possibility that the EU would consider offering EU citizenship/an EU passport to British citizens living in the European Union?

Alan BrownUK citizens permanently resident in the EU have lost European citizenship and the many beneficial rights that went with it. Do you see any way by which those rights can regained?

Hey Harry and Alan, those are interesting and important questions, but also ones which won’t be solved easily. We need to look into possibilities now, but there is a long road ahead of us. At the conference on the future of Europe we will discuss how member states could and should strengthen EU citizenships and we also should look into how these citizenships with their rights could be expanded. But I also don’t want to give you false hopes. This probably will not happen over a short period of time due to the constitutional and political challenges ahead. We will continue to fight for you, but we are in for a long fight. I know that’s not the answer you would like to hear and I really and deeply feel with everyone who lost so much because of this reckless Brexit project. We need to keep working together, get stronger together and build back everything that has been lost. We might need to take a lot of small steps, but I strongly believe that in the end we will grow back together, stronger than ever.

Next month’s Bremainers Ask guest will be Anna Bird. Anna became leader of European Movement UK in September 2020 and, under her leadership, we have already seen the organisation become more diverse. She previously campaigned for mental health and homelessness charities.

If you have a question for Anna, please email it to us before 7 July at enquiries@bremaininspain.com.

Bremainers Ask – Lord Andrew Adonis

Bremainers Ask – Lord Andrew Adonis

Lord Andrew Adonis is a Labour peer, historian and journalist who served in government under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Prior to entering frontline politics, he was a fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, Public Policy Editor at the Financial Times and a political columnist for The Observer. He joined Tony Blair’s Downing Street staff in 1998, first as a constitutional and educational adviser, as part of the Number 10 Policy Unit and was subsequently promoted to Head of the Policy Unit in 2001.

After being appointed to the House of Lords in 2005 he became Minister for Schools. In 2009, he became Transport Secretary and was the originator of the prospective High Speed Two (HS2) rail network. He later served as Director of the Institute for Government from 2010 to 2012 and was founder chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission from 2015. He resigned in 2017 over the government’s pursuit of Brexit and became a leading figure in the People’s Vote campaign. He is Chair of the European Movement. His latest book is Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill.

Stewart Luscott-Evans: How can UK politics be fixed? Is PR part of the answer, and if so, will we see it in our lifetimes?

Yes, PR is part of the answer. I support the type of PR used for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and I think we may see it in our lifetimes for the House of Commons too, but it has got to win an election first and that requires close cooperation between the progressive parties across the UK.

Ruth Woodhouse: As recently elected Chair of the European Movement UK, what do you see as your immediate priorities?

Turning it into a mass-membership organisation. This means engaging with the grassroots, renewing our social media and communications and raising public awareness that the European Movement exists and is the primary vehicle for pro-European and Remain movements in the UK.

 

Tom Maguire: What policies would you advise a Labour government to adopt on the EU?

Rejoin, step by step. Brexit is the biggest foreign policy blunder in my lifetime and will negatively impact our economy and geopolitical status. Nothing less than reversing the mistake our country has made should be the policy of any party credibly working in the national interest. But it will need to be done in stages, starting with the Customs Union and the Single Market.

 

Lord Adonis at European Movement event Milton Keynes College
Andrew Hesselden: How can we ensure that future generations of young people grow up with a connection to and interest in European cooperation?

We must focus on building organisations like the European Movement which have a presence and can reinforce the benefits we’ve achieved from European integration. History is a crucial factor here too. As the wartime generation has largely receded, we’ve become disconnected from their experience of how the continent healed itself after WW2.

David Hance: Would the campaign to rejoin require a new political party, a UKIP opposite perhaps?

I know from past experience that new parties find it extremely difficult to break through in our electoral system, although Labour did it a century ago, and the SNP has just done it in Scotland. What we should be aiming to do is offer a return to Europe as part of a broader progressive agenda – advocated across all progressive parties – and seek to work together to establish a coalition that, like New Labour, is electable, radical and passionate about European integration.

 

Lisa Ryan Burton: In the aftermath of the 2010 election, is it true you attempted to form a Labour/Lib-Dem administration and, if so, why did that fail in favour of a Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition?

Yes, it is. I published a book called ‘5 Days in May’ which gives a behind-the-scenes insight into the talks following the 2010 election. It failed because the Lib Dem leadership considered itself closer to the Cameron/Osborne austerity agenda rather than the progressive economic strategy that was being implemented by Gordon Brown and which also featured in the Lib Dems’ own activist-approved manifesto.

Next month’s Bremainers Ask guest will be German MEP Terry Reintke. A very vocal anti-Brexit supporter, Terry serves on influential EU committees, is Vice President of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament and an active member of the EU-UK Friendship Group. If you have a question for Terry, please email it to us before 7 June at enquiries@bremaininspain.com.

 

Bremainers Ask …. Richard Corbett, former MEP

Bremainers Ask …. Richard Corbett, former MEP

Richard Corbett was an MEP from 1996-2009 and 2014-2020. During that time, he was the spokesman of the Socialist & Democrat Group  on constitutional affairs, Parliament’s rapporteur on the Lisbon Treaty and, for the last three years, Leader of the Labour MEPs and therefore a member of Labour’s NEC and Shadow Cabinet. From 20010-2014, he was senior advisor to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. He has written extensively on European issues from his regular blog to university textbooks.

Helen Johnston: How wary would the EU be of welcoming the UK back?

Brexit is bad for the EU too. Losing a Member State for the first time in its history, reduces its size, population and economy, and losing one which has a seat on the UN Security Council on the G-8 reduces its clout in the world. And what better advertisement for the benefits of EU membership and the perils of leaving than to see a return of the departed country? So, there would be considerable incentives for the EU to welcome Britain back, possibly even accepting some of the special features of Britain’s past membership, such as no obligation to participate in Schengen or the euro (on which point it would not be alone in the EU).

However, the EU would not want to risk going through the whole episode of Brexit again, nor would it want an obstructive member that blocked every new EU initiative. It would have to be convinced that Britain had genuinely changed its mind and that it would not walk out again a few years later. That in turn means that, politically, a new referendum would be needed, and won by a clear majority.

Michael Soffe: Do you believe the Labour Party should get behind the Votes for Life campaign and support returning the vote to UK Nationals who have been disenfranchised under the 15-year rule?

Yes. There is a growing number of citizens (not just from the UK) who fall out of the democratic system because they can no longer vote, either in their countries of origin or in their country of residence (except, within the EU, for local and European elections, but not national elections). This needs to be rectified.

Matt Burton: Many Remain supporters seem unable to forgive and forget Leave voters for Brexit. What would you say to those that blame them for our situation?

I would blame those who led the Leave campaign and those politicians who enabled Brexit to happen, rather than direct my ire at all ordinary leave voters who were lied to, not just in the campaign but over many years in much of the British press. 

Leave voters are entitled to say that Brexit bears no resemblance to what they were promised, namely that it would be easy, save lots of money (that would all go to the NHS), be good for the economy and have no down-side as “Britain holds all the cards”.  We need to get regretful Leave voters on our side. Talk to them!

Lisa Ryan Burton: Congratulations on your appointment as a secretariat member of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Why do you think a Brit was selected considering our departure from the EU, and what are the forum’s aims?

I suppose I was asked because of my previous experiences as the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the Lisbon Treaty and other things I did in the Parliament. My British nationality was secondary, but it does show that the European Parliament has nothing against Brits!

The Conference is intended to be the widest process of engagement with citizens that the EU has ever organized outside of elections, involving deliberative discussions and consultation exercises in all Member States, pan-European Citizens Panels with randomly selected participants, discussions with civil society organisations, and an interactive Multilingual Digital Platform on which any group of citizens may place their contribution. These will all feed ideas and proposals into a Conference Plenary, composed of representatives of the national parliaments, governments, European Parliament, regions, social partners, and civil society representatives. It therefore has the potential to engage a vast number of citizens in informed debate about the EU and its future and to distil broadly accepted demands about EU priorities and the way it works.  

Richard Corbett, Labour MEP

Steven Wilson: Do you miss your days as an MEP, and would you consider running as an MP in Westminster?

The European Parliament is a fascinating, diverse and innovative place to work. Unlike many national parliaments, who are often controlled and stifled by their government through its loyal majority and strict whipping, the European Parliament is freer, is not stifled and holds genuinely pluralistic debates. Majorities are built through explanation, persuasion and negotiation, not handed down by ministerial dictat. MEPs actually shape European legislation in a way that backbenchers at Westminster can only dream of.

Pat Kennedy: If you were leader of the Labour party, how would your approach to the E.U. and the fall-out from Brexit differ from the current Labour leadership?

I don’t think Labour can avoid addressing the considerable problems arising from Brexit in general and Johnson’s deal in particular. Job losses, disruption to supply chains and exports, losing access to shared police databases, extra costs to businesses and administrations, failure to fully protect rights of UK citizens resident in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, and the gratuitous vandalism of leaving the Erasmus student exchange scheme – the list goes on. And on.

Keir Starmer has focussed on criticising the government’s incompetence, its cronyism and its failures to address the COVID pandemic quickly enough.  It is time to broaden that attack.

Next month’s Bremainers Ask guest will be Lord Andrew Adonis, the newly appointed Chair of European Movement UK and a staunch anti-Brexit campaigner.  If you have a question for Lord Adonis, please email it to us before 7 May at enquiries@bremaininspain.com.

Bremainers Ask….. Catherine Bearder

Bremainers Ask….. Catherine Bearder

When first married, Catherine spent time in Africa studying wildlife. On her return to Oxford she worked in the voluntary sector: at the local wildlife trust, at the Citizens Advice Bureau and for the National Federation of WIs and Victim Support.

Catherine’s political career began when she became a Parish councillor in Wendlebury, then in Cherwell. She was a parliamentary candidate in the 1997 and 2001 general elections in Banbury and Henley, and then for the European parliamentary elections in 1999 and 2004. She also ran as an Oxfordshire County councillor in 2005. As an active political campaigner, she worked for Dr. Evan Harris, MP in Oxford and was Campaign Director for Britain in Europe in the South East of England.

Elected to the European Parliament in 2009, 2014 and 2019 she served on the Trade, Environmental and Women and Equalities committees. She was an active member of the joint ACP/EU Parliamentary Assembly and was elected by the MEPs as a Quaestor of the Parliament and sitting on the President’s Bureau. Her main focus was environmental protection and fighting the scourge of human trafficking. She was convener of the Cross-party group of Pro European British MEPs during and after the Brexit Referendum and founded the cross-party group MEPs4Wildlife.

Now retired and living in lockdown in Oxford, Catherine remains active in campaigning as a Board member of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, working for the protection of elephants, and for Unlock Democracy, fighting for democratic reform and a written UK constitution.

Helen Jackson: How do you see the Brexit scenario and repercussions affecting life for UK citizens living in EU over the next 5 years?

Adrian Williams: What do you see as the main issues for Brits living in the EU after transition ends, both those with the benefits of the Withdrawal Agreement and those without?

I’ll take these two questions together. Initially there won’t be a lot of difference for those living away from home, the changes will come when their circumstances change, or a piece of non-related  legislation changes. It’s the hidden trip wires that we should all be wary of, as we remember the example of the Windrush victims. For years there was no issue, until they needed to travel, or the government changed the rules.

As the UK leaves the EU, the responsibility for non-native people in each member state becomes the responsibility of each country, no longer an EU issue. So, each country can choose how to treat these ‘migrants’. My guess is that most EU countries won’t initially be vindictive, they are used to dealing with 3rd country nationals and have systems in place, but who knows how that might develop without the protection of European citizenship that Brits had when they made the decision to move. For Europeans in the UK I think it might be trickier. They are now in an entirely new category. Not only have we had problems getting this system sorted, the tech has been tricky, there is still no physical evidence of status (why? It can’t be that difficult!), there are still far too many who don’t realise they must act for themselves and their children, and cut off dates are looming with little publicity. In the first instance we must get that physical evidence of status into their hands or they could face real problems if they travel across borders. We must all be prepared to act to keep this issue in the public eye. Our friends are relying on our support.

Sue and Catherine Bearder MEP

Andrew Hesselden: Should and could more have been done to protect the rights of British citizens with European interests living in the UK (in particular those spending only part of the year in Spain for example, all winter or all summer)?

Absolutely this should have been the case. I was amongst the few very early on calling for a stand-alone agreement for the citizens who would be affected by Brexit. I believe we could have got this, had the British government not been so intransigent. They said they were not using citizens as bargaining chips, but they were. Mrs. May refused to take them out of the deal, a deal by the way which neither she nor any of the Vote Leave teams had any plan for.  This was done for Gibraltar. Why? I think they had very little understanding of the issues, the changes that would happen, how it would change so many parts of the lives of those who had done no more than exercise their right to move and live somewhere else. All they wanted to do was look tough on migration, and given there were no votes in it (as so many had shamefully lost this right), they were happy to ignore the plight of so many. I believe this is something they will regret in time.

Steven Wilson: How long will it take before the UK has a realistic prospect of re-joining the EU, & what needs to happen to facilitate that?

Now this is a lot harder to call! It could be a very long time. After all, why would the EU want the Brits to return soon, we’ve not been the easiest of friends. Certainly, there isn’t a groundswell of demand now to rejoin. However, it might happen very quickly once the enormity of it sinks in, and is felt at home, but I doubt that. But then who knew we could act as we have in the face of a pandemic? Homeless off the streets in days, £billions spent supporting jobs, Parliament even voting on-line. We now know that extraordinary things can happen when the political will is there. What is more likely is that N Ireland will rejoin the Republic of Ireland, then Scotland will reconsider its position. Although even Scotland’s chances of rejoining the EU is problematic until the Catalan issue has been resolved. I am confident that one day the reality of being in a club of friendly trading neighbours will dawn and we will rejoin but I have no idea when that will be.

Michael Soffe: Are you as disappointed as I am with the current policy as announced in September of “Liberal Democrats are to drop the party’s commitment to UK membership of the EU”? Do you see this being changed in the future?

The Liberal Democrats have not dropped the party’s commitment to UK’s membership of the EU, nor our determination to rejoin at some point. What we have decided to do is not campaign actively on this now. Political parties are not single- issue organisations, and all the other problems we face such as education, housing, environment and so many other are as important to campaign on. We cannot neglect these issues. But it does mean we will include campaigning on mitigating the disaster that is Brexit. We will be championing people affected by Brexit, as well as the livelihoods and jobs that we know will be affected. We now recognise that we lost the stop Brexit battle and sadly Brexit has happened. Our policy of commitment to our place in the EU is as firm as it has always been, and as soon as we can see our way back in, you can count on the Lib Dem’s being there to lead the charge.

Lisa Ryan Burton: As a long-time campaigner on human trafficking, what are your feelings on the language coming from Priti Patel in particular, on the UK’s commitment to fight people smugglers? Are they making this a priority, if so in what way or is it all just hyperbole?

I am ashamed that we have sunk so low as to have a Home Secretary who is prepared to send the navy out to stop flimsy boats in the channel, rather than see and address the real issues about why and how people are struggling to find a life that is safe for themselves and their families. This is the politics of ‘The Other’, posturing for a right-wing press and nationalist and as soon as it’s off the front page, Patel will move on. People smugglers are not the problem in themselves, although it is a grubby and abusive trade. What drives people into the arms of traffickers is poverty and conflict. We should be addressing this in a comprehensive way. There is also no legal way to seek asylum outside our shores. The flow of people who want to come to Europe will not be stemmed by putting up barriers, but by building legal routes out of conflict, ending economic instability and welcoming those who bring energy and initiative to a new country.

Estevão Vigne: How can we as residents of European Union countries make our voices heard now that we no longer have MEPs?

Brits living in other EU countries can still be represented by MEPs from their host countries and I am sure that MEPs will listen if they have issues. The pan European political parties also meet and campaign on many issues and this may also be a way for expats to find a voice. 

What is shocking is the fact that Brits outside the UK for more than 15 years have no vote. This is a complete anomaly leaving them in limbo. This we must address. Other nations have MPs for non-residents; there is no reason why we cannot do this in the UK. I am now involved with campaigning for democratic reform in the UK, to get PR, an elected House of Lords and a written constitution for the UK. We are nearer this now than we have been for many years and part of that settlement is how non-resident British people are represented in both the UK government (and in the devolved governments if that is their place of origin).

Many thanks to Catherine for taking part in Bremainers Ask.