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 that Brexit is wrong for this country.  He still believes our future safety, prosperity, environment and culture will all benefit from continued membership of the European Union.  Even Leave voters must now despair of the Conservative government’s inept and disunited approach to the EU negotiations and subsequent parliamentary car crash which still risks the UK dropping out of the EU in October without a deal, like a crate of eggs off the back of a moving lorry.

Theresa May’s rejected deal (supported by Cheltenham’s loyalist Conservative MP but repeatedly defeated 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.

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 has already damaged the UK.  It 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.  There is good evidence we have sacrificed as much as 3% GDP growth since the vote.

The Conservative government’s inept handling of the Brexit negotiations and subsequent parliamentary votes has added to the uncertainty, amongst businesses large and small and amongst Leave and Remain voters alike.  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 had often 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.  And despite losing her majority in a General Election called specifically to back her approach to Brexit, Theresa May refused to involve MPs of other parties in her planning until days before we were due to leave.

Even now, May’s deal – still the only one actually agreed by the EU – hasn’t resolved the Irish border question and would leave us subject to many EU rules and regulations despite having no say in them because we would have legally left the Union.  It seems doomed to constant defeat in Parliament anyway and the Brexiteers cannot agree amongst themselves which of the many arcane alternative variants on offer they want to try to negotiate with the EU or whether to leave without any deal.  This will not change witha new Prime Minister.  So the UK still faces apparently endless uncertainty and the risk of falling out of the back of the European Union with a very nasty bump indeed.

The only way to break the logjam, is for the Brexiteers to agree what kind of Brexit they actually want and the EU will agree – at the moment that means Theresa May’s deal – and put that back to the people in a second People’s Vote. Remain voters who are persuaded by the actual deal on offer can switch to Leave, while Leave voters who think the actual deal on offer is worse than staying in can vote to do just that.

Click here if you want to join the Lib Dem campaign for an exit from Brexit.

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.”