Coffee with Caroline & Martin: What’s next for Brexit

Caroline Voaden and I met up for coffee and a chat this week to get our heads around the recent dramatic Withdrawal Agreement Bill vote in Westminster, and what happens next here in the European Parliament.

Scrutinising the new European Commission

In the European Parliament, MEPs take part in hearings to scrutinise proposed new members of the European Commission.

This is something that is really common in the European Parliament, and similar scrutiny processes are seen as far away as the U.S. Congress, but not in Westminster.

I’d love to bring a system like this back to Westminster. Maybe if we stop Brexit we can learn how to make British democracy even better.

Vice-Chair of the Iran Delegation

I’m delighted to have been elected as the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Iran Delegation.

This is a worrying time in the Persian Gulf. If we can play a small part in the European Parliament in promoting peace in the region then I think we’ll be doing something very valuable indeed.

If I can play a small part in that I’ll be deeply honoured and very proud to be representing Britain as an MEP taking part in the European Union as a real peace project – not just for peace within our own borders, but around the world.

Brexit

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.

Rate of EU staff leaving Glos NHS trust has doubled

68 EU nurses, doctors and other staff nurses quit Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2016

The Liberal Democrats have called for an “NHS Passport” to secure the rights of EU nationals working in the NHS, as figures have revealed a sharp rise in staff from the EU in Gloucestershire quitting the health service.

68 EU nurses, doctors and other staff left the NHS here in 2016, just over double the figure two years ago.  The number, obtained in a freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrat party, includes 26 nurses, 26 doctors and 16 other staff and covers the period leading up to and including the Brexit referendum.   The sharpest rise was between 2014 and 2015, the period covering the General Election campaign and the announcement of the EU referendum but 2016 saw the total number rise even higher.

Separate figures from the Royal College of Nursing have shown the number of EU nationals registering as nurses in England has dropped by 92%, while there are 24,000 nurse jobs unfilled in the NHS.

The Liberal Democrats have called for an immediate guaranteed right to live and work in the UK for all EU citizens working in NHS and care services, in a motion passed by members at the party’s Spring Conference this week.

Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood commented:

“These figures are really alarming and show the significant support that EU nationals provide for the NHS is at real risk.  It’s quite possible that the anti-European rhetoric of the General Election and Brexit referendum campaigns have played a big part in this sharp rise by making NHS workers from the rest of the EU feel so unwelcome.

“My own message to EU workers in the local NHS is ‘Please stay. Our health service needs you.’

“The Conservative Government’s heartless and divisive approach to Brexit risks driving away the hard-working nurses and doctors on which Cheltenham General and other local hospitals rely. And their reckless decision to abolish bursaries for student nurses has led to a huge fall in the number of people studying to become nurses.

“If I’d voted Leave on the basis that Brexit would help the NHS, I’d be feeling pretty cheated by Boris Johnson and the rest right now.

“Theresa May must do the decent thing and give the right for EU nationals in Gloucestershire to stay, with an immediate guarantee for those working in health and social care.”

NOTES

  • The Liberal Democrat party obtained these numnbers through a Freedom of Information request:
NHS TRUST TOTAL EU NATIONALS LEAVING EU NURSES LEAVING EU DOCTORS LEAVING EU OTHER STAFF LEAVING
2014 2015 2016 2014 2015 2016 2014 2015 2016 2014 2015 2016
Gloucestershire Hospitals 33 66 68 4 36 26 20 21 26 9 9 16

Cheltenham EU citizens deserve right to remain

Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood has called on the government to accept their defeat in the Lords on Wednesday and accept the right of EU citizens already in this country to remain after Brexit.

Speaking to a meeting of Cheltenham’s Polish Tenants & Residents Association earlier this week he strongly condemned the government’s plan not to guarantee the right to remain of citizens of other EU countries until reciprocal rights for British citizens in the rest of the EU had been secured as part of the ongoing Brexit negotiations – ‘as soon as they can’.

“Those negotiations could drag on for many years and agreement might never be reached” Martin told the TARA. “Yet the government could sort this tomorrow if it wanted.  It is just immoral to use people as bargaining chips in this way. People have lived here for years and have always been told they had the right to remain here.  They have jobs, families, children that can’t simply be uprooted. They are working hard, paying taxes and keeping the NHS and care sector functioning.  No-one imagines that a sane British government would actually deport them on the day we leave the European Union but employers and landlords and banks would start to ask for evidence of their right to live and work in the UK and make life more and more difficult.  Yet it is entirely within the power of the UK government to guarantee their right to remain regardless of the negotiations.”

Cheltenham is thought to have thousands of citizens of other EU countries living and working here, including in the NHS and in local technology companies.  Martin Horwood criticised Theresa May’s hardline stance on this issue during the Conservative leadership contest last year (http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/martin-horwood-criticises-theresa-may-over-eu-citizens-stance/story-29478677-detail/story.html).  The TARA meeting heard many Polish Cheltonians complain about the uncertainty the row had suddenly caused them and how current Home Office systems to grant permanent leave to remain were simply not set up for people who had always had that right and never before needed documentary proof of permanent residence.

Following Wednesday’s House of Lords vote Martin Horwood added: “The House of Lords have shown the government the way by amending the Brexit bill to guarantee EU citizens’ right to remain.  The government should accept this defeat gracefully and do the right thing for our European friends, neighbours, family members and workmates.  The House of Lords isn’t seeking to stop Brexit, just impose some moderation and humanity on the process.  The government should follow their Lordships’ lead and make the guarantee now.”