Martin passionately believes Brexit was wrong for this country.  He still believes our future safety, prosperity, environment and culture will all benefit from membership of the European Union.  Even Leave voters must now despair of the Conservative government’s inept and disunited approach both to the EU negotiations and the continuing problems caused by Brexit which have been masked by the Covid epidemic but will become incresaingly clear as busibesses continue to struggle to export goods and services, all organisations struggle to recruit staff and everyone from Ukrainian refugees to British holidaymakers face more and more bureaucracy that just didn’t exist when we part of the EU.

Martin supported the British people having the final say on the Brexit plan with the option to vote to remain in the EU after all. That chance was lost after just 43% of voters backed Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the 2019 general election.  Only our crazy voting system delivered the ‘landslide’ majority he needed to push Brexit through.

As the Lib Dem party spokesperson on Europe in the 2010-15 parliament, Martin repeatedly confronted anti-European Conservative and Labour MPs who were pressing then Prime Minister David Cameron to bring in the Referendum Bill.

During the referendum campaign itself, Martin put a strong case for Britain remaining in the European Union.  He still 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 negotiations 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
  • An effective 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?

Sadly, the vote for Brexit has already damaged the UK.  It was followed by an immediate drop in the value of the pound, 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.  There is good evidence we have sacrificed as much as 3% GDP growth after the vote.

Martin moved the policy amendment at the 2020 Liberal Democrat conference that guaranteed the party remains committed to UK membership of the European Union without campaigning to reverse this the moment we leave in 2021.  We have to acknowledge that winning back hearts and minds on this issue will take time.

Martin moves the policy amendment at the 2020 Lib Dem conference that guaranteed the party remains committed to UK membership of the European Union.

Author: Martin Horwood

Lib Dem councillor for Leckhampton, ex-MP for Cheltenham and ex-MEP for South West England & Gibraltar

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