Martin didn’t vote against the Referendum Bill as he never opposed the British people having their say. But he passionately believed that Brexit was wrong for this country and still believes our future safety, prosperity, environment and culture would all benefit from continued membership of the European Union. Even Brexit supporters must now despair of the Conservative government’s inept and disunited approach to the EU negotiations which risks the UK dropping out of the EU in 2019 without a deal like a crate of eggs off the back of a moving lorry.
Theresa May’s proposed deal (supported by Cheltenham’s loyalist Conservative MP but probably doomed all the same) would take the UK out of the EU but tie us to rules for years over which we would no longer have any say – and long before we know the real detail of any final deal that might one day be done.
Martin supports the British people having the final say on the Brexit plan, whether that is Theresa May’s deal or no deal, with the option to vote to remain in the EU after all if Brexit is clearly going to be a complete disaster for the UK.
As the Lib Dem party spokesperson on Europe in the 2010-15 parliament, Martin repeatedly confronted anti-European Conservative and Labour MPs pressing then Prime Minister David Cameron to bring in the Referendum Bill (which Cameron did, believing it would be lost and that he could guarantee Conservative unity in the process. Wrong on both counts.)
During the referendum campaign itself, Martin put a strong case for Britain remaining in the European Union. He believes EU membership is:
- The best guarantee of British jobs and future prosperity, through our full membership of the world’s largest single market
- Enormously important for tackling cross-border organised crime, people trafficking and terrorism, and for bringing British and other EU criminal suspects to justice through the European Arrest Warrant and EU agencies such as Europol
- The best way for Britain to find its voice in highly competitive global negotaitions on everything from climate change to world trade
- The best way of safeguarding the environment which transcends national boundaries and requires co-ordinated action for its protection
- The guarantor of many human rights, consumer protections and employment rights
- An enormously important cultural, educational and scientific benefit to the UK, and in particular for future generations.
Martin told local businesses during the campaign: “Cheltenham businesses, from high-end engineering firms to the social care sector, benefit from millions in investment from within the EU and employ hundreds of people from other European Union countries and would in many cases struggle to fill those posts if visa or residence qualifications ever got in the way. Our businesses benefit from their skills and productivity, the UK benefits from the taxes they pay – and of course we get the right to live, work, study, sell our goods and services and even retire anywhere in Europe on the same terms as local citizens. Why would we throw all that into doubt with a costly and uncertain divorce from Europe? And the moment we voted for Brexit businesses all over Europe would start to think about how they could get the rules of the single market tweaked in their favour after we’ve gone and have no say. A town like Cheltenham with strong international links would lose out in that situation.”
Sadly, the vote for Brexit was followed by an immediate drop in the value of the pound which has been maintained as business confidence and investment has faltered, the NHS, public sector and many companies now face a crisis in recruitment and retention of valued European staff and young people feel rightly cheated of their future work and study opportunities.
The Conservative government’s inept handling of the Brexit negotiations has added to the uncertainty, even amongst Leave voters. The government used European residents of the UK as bargaining chips when they could have guaranteed their unqualified right to stay at once and got the negotiations off to a positive start, moving on to the crucial need for a trade deal as fast as possible. Instead we have had sometimes aggressive and often wildly unrealistic statements accompanying talks which barely seemed to have got off the starting blocks as to the clock ticked down towards a ‘hard’ Brexit of tariffs and trade barriers, lost opportunities and an uncertain future for longstanding UK residents.
Even the Prime Minister’s proposed deal requires the final consent of all 27 other EU states to a later, fuller negotiated treaty between Britain and the EU and still hasn’t resolved the Irish border question. And it seems doomed to be defetaed in Parliament anyway. So the UK still faces the risk of falling out of the back of the European Union in March with a very nasty bump indeed.