Brexit update September 2017

Resistance to Brexit is on the march
After more than a year of phoney war and civil wars in both our big parties, the Brexit battle-lines have now been redrawn in the traditional way: between Labour and the Tories. Whether Labour’s change of heart has more to do with rational discussion (and I know my Labour MEP colleagues have been lobbying hard inside, as we have from the outside) or the realisation that they have a chance to replace the Tory government this autumn, the decision by Labour to actually fight the Tories over Brexit is a welcome relief. Meanwhile, the arrival of the Great Repeal Bill (or gerbil as my colleagues here call it) in the House of Commons is the signal for a bitter autumn.

The opposition to hard Brexit, messy Brexit, or any sort of Brexit at all is coalescing at Westminster and across the country. We have the All Party Parliamentary Group led by Anna Soubry and Chuka Umuna coordinating parliamentary opposition, and aiming to keep us in the single market to protect our economy. We also have former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer (Labour) and former attorney-general Dominic Grieve (Conservative) leading the charge against the undemocratic Henry VIII powers – which would grant ministers sweeping powers to rewrite laws with minimal scrutiny from parliament – and we can expect them to be backed up by the Law Lords when the bill reaches the House of Lords.

And across the country we have a coalition of anti-Brexit groups, increasingly working together (see news about the petition below for examples) A coalition of such groups are raising funds for a ‘Fight Brexit War Chest’ and will use the funds raised to hold marches and rallies at the Labour Party conference in Brighton and a rally and street party at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. The project also plans a mass lobby of Parliament in October. I’ll be speaking at a Bristol For Europe event on 14th October.

As it becomes ever clearer that the government’s negotiating position is deceitful wishful thinking, the Brexiteers are seeking to shift the blame to the EU side – an all-too-common narrative for them and their right wing press friends – accusing them of intransigence and lack of imagination. We must resist this attempt to widen the gulf we have already created with our closest neighbours. And from my position in the European Parliament I can reassure you that I continue to be treated with respect and support.

The future of our country is at stake and we must all use the power and influence we have to best advantage to limit the damage, soften the Tories’ Brexit, and – if possible – reverse the damaging decision taken in June last year.

Freedom of information request into ‘secret’ impact studies
There has been a lot of interest in ’50 secret studies’ the government has undertaken into the impacts of Brexit. I wrote to Brexit Secretary David Davis after hearing of these alleged studies requesting further details. The government refused to disclose the findings but acknowledged in a response, that they have conducted analysis of the impacts of Brexit in over 50 sectors of the economy.

Read my article for Why is the government so afraid to publish its Brexit impact studies?

Since these studies came to light, I have been urged to try and get them released through a Freedom of Information request. That I have now done.

We know for sure of one study undertaken by the Department of Health, because it was leaked. This revealed that Brexit could result is a shortage of more than 40,000 nurses by 2026. All-too-often, prevarication on grounds of cost and other spurious reasons prevent the government releasing information under a FoI request. So at this stage we are limiting the request to the release of details on this one study. More info here.

The only reason the government wouldn’t publish these studies is because they reveal what they don’t want people to hear: that the hard Brexit the government is planning will be a disaster for our economy, for our environmental standards and for our workers’ rights. But people have a right to know what the future holds if the government proceed with their reckless cliff-edge Brexit plans.

On the back of the publicity generated around these secret studies, The European Movement, with the support of Scientists for EU and Healthier in EU, has set up a new petition, calling on the government to publish the findings. This is really welcome and I’m delighted the initiative is receiving cross-party backing and strong support from the public. The petition is already on its way to 13,000 signatures. Please add your name if you haven’t done so already and share widely through the usual channels.

Whether you voted Leave or Remain, it is surely in the public interest that the Brexit process is as open and transparent as possible. If the government is withholding significant information about the future of our country, then it is working against the very principle of democracy.

An acrimonious divorce
Whether or what we owe the EU as a divorce settlement has caused much political heat and a wave of mudslinging and fake news in the tabloids. In a recent Facebook post I attempt to summarise the facts of the matter.

We owe money to the EU as and when we leave because like most political organisations, the EU runs a deficit budget system. We also have commitments made before we voted to leave so have committed ourselves up to the end of the financial framework period, which is 2020.

Will our beaches be safe after Brexit?

The South West contains some of the UK’s favourite beaches and scientists and environmentalists have said that they have received no concrete assurance from the Government that EU laws protecting our coastline will be replicated into British law after Brexit. I was interviewed by ITV Westcountry on this and told them of my own fears about the protection of our coastline post-Brexit. You can read the full report, and view film clips here.

Fall in net migration driven by Brexit
The steep fall in net migration revealed recently has undoubtedly been driven by Brexit. The figures, from the Office of National Statistics, show a steep drop of 81,000 in net migration. The ONS reports that the change was driven largely by an increase in emigration, mainly of EU citizens. These figures show clearly that since the Brexit vote, the UK is being perceived as an unwelcoming and intolerant place where once we were viewed as open and accepting. 

Of course, many will welcome these figures. But we should remember, that behind all such statistics lie real human lives. These are individuals, couples and families who hoped and believed they could make the UK their home, at least for a while, and contribute economically, socially and culturally to our society. It is interesting to note that since the vote to leave the EU, the right-wing press have turned their concerns away from migrants ‘taking all our jobs’ to worries about labour shortages post-Brexit.

For those of us who form the majority and who wish the UK to be a welcoming and compassionate society, I believe we must continue to challenge poisonous narratives around migration as well as make the economic and social case for continued freedom of movement.