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A Sad Farewell !

January 30, 2020 3:27 PM

Despite the farce that was the failed " give a bob for a Big Ben bong" campaign, the moment we as Liberal Democrat's have fought so hard against in recent years is upon us.

Formally we leave the EU at midnight (CET) tonight (11pm UK time). For me and many like me leaving the EU is not just about the institution it's about a sense of identity. I still see myself as European, I value being part of a wider family of nations and I reject the little Englander approach that seems to be the badge being worn by the Conservative Government

The fact we will have left (even if for the remainder of the year in transition nothing actually changes) won't change those feelings. Whilst there is some reassurance that the EU have said there is always a place for us should we change our mind, realistically for the foreseeable future we now have to create our new place in the world and here there is still much to fight for.

Most importantly is our ongoing relationship with the EU. The omens here are not good with the Government saying they want the right to diverge from EU rules and the EU saying the more divergence the less free access we will have. Obviously we are in the pre- negotiations phase so what is said now may be positioning statements only.

What is without doubt is the Government will have to make compromises to get any deal and this is bound to upset some who want Brexit. We have already seen this in Northern Ireland where checks and a border in the Irish Sea have alienated Unionists. Expect to see similar cries of betrayal on fisheries in the weeks ahead for example.

This leads naturally on to trade deals with the US and others. The Prime Minister has so far shown admirable independence from the Trump line on adding Chinese equipment into our mobile networks and imposing a tax the activities of the big tech companies in the U.K. who have generally evaded paying tax. We will now see whether this continues as negotiations on a trade deal starts. Like or hate him Trump has shown a fierce determination to protect US interests in such deals, driving a hard bargain for access to the US market. We need to be vigilant on animal standards, GM crops and higher pharmaceutical prices among others when the arm wrestling starts.

The gap between rhetoric and reality was shown only this week when the independent Migratory Advisory Committee at the Governments request took a look at implementing a points based immigration policy like that of Australia. This has been a holy grail for Brexiteers and yet the Committee dismissed it as a "soundbite" suggesting significant changes to how it is operated and saying we have had an Australian like system since 2008 for non-EU immigration and have been moving away from it because of its ineffectiveness ( full story here.https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/28/migration-committee-advises-against-full-points-based-system-for-uk)

So with Brexit the rubber now starts to hit the road. Like the 80% which You Gov found probably won't be doing anything to celebrate our departure I will let the day pass with sadness. Their latest polling also shows that by 47% to 40% people today think it was a mistake to vote to leave the EU in the referendum.

The Conservatives are clearly the "Party of Brexit". Their reputation depends on making it a success. Whatever happens in the months ahead we have to hold them accountable for the promises they have made, to draw attention when inevitable compromises let down those who were promised great things from our leaving. Only a couple of days ago the National Audit Office concluded the £46m spent on Brexit awareness had had no effect. It suggests there will be lots of opportunities to question the Governments competence going forward,

One day I hope we return to the EU but in the interim there is all to fight for to maintain an open and internationalist approach for our country and a close relationship with our friends in Europe. As Liberal Democrat's we must not let the current populist desire to blame "others" for our problems. If there is a benefit from Brexit it is that the Government has no one else to blame should things not be as full of sunlit uplands as they have promised.