The polemic on our relationship with the European Union seems to be a pile of smouldering embers on the surface. The United Kingdom has withdrawn from all of the European Union’s institutions and the British taxpayer now funds the salary for a minister charged with finding the benefits that were plastered on buses during the referendum campaign.
Where voters were passionate and discord entrenched, it is inevitable that rumblings of discontent with the outcome will continue. Disharmony is already obvious in the #FBPE movement on Twitter and the myriad of pro-European organisations that have continued after the implementation of Brexit.
The legacy of 2016
Where the Brexit Party positioned itself as a single-issue party and has struggled to emerge from its chrysalis as the butterfly Reform Party, the Liberal Democrats are a horse of an entirely different colour. We have a solid, ideological foundation based on giving power to the individual to be free of poverty, developing individuals’ talents and speaking truth to power. Not to mention the years-long issues-based campaigns on House of Lords reform, proportional representation, closing the education attainment gap, passivhaus standards for new-builds, increasing housing stock, LGBTQ+ equality, mental health awareness and enshrining environmental standards in all areas of UK legislation.
The pro-EU position that the Lib Dems defend has been an introduction for many voters to the established values of the Lib Dems. Lib Dem values are widely shared amongst those who found a home with us during the referendum and subsequent general election campaigns – largely because those values are espoused throughout the EU and its institutions.
And here we arrive at the existential nucleus for the Lib Dems.
We owe it to ourselves and our long-term supporters to continue on our ideological journey. We shouldn’t relinquish our position on electoral reform, housing or environmental standards. By that token, we can’t consign ourselves to the cesspit of the 2016 referendum and end up in the same position as the Reform Party.
However, we also owe it to those who found a home with us from 2015 on the back of our pro-EU stance to keep hold of that pro-EU mantle and canter forward with pro-EU policies. We shouldn’t turn our back on the people who gave us their support because the surface tests show public interest in the UK’s relationship with the EU is waning.
At our Spring Conference in March, we adopted a new motion. This sets out the Liberal Democrat policy on our relationship with the EU. A clear policy which is fit for the current debate.
The 2022 Liberal Democrat policy on our relationship with the EU comprises four steps:
Step one: Improve our links with Europe. Reform the Turing Scheme.
Step two: Initiate co-operation agreements with EU agencies. Return to Erasmus+.
Step three: Negotiate access to the Single Market. Mutual recognition of professional qualifications.
Step four: Seek to join the Single Market.
What does this mean for Chester, Ellesmere Port & Neston?
The impact this would have on Chester, Ellesmere Port & Neston is huge. Access to Erasmus+ would mean students from Chester University would have unfettered access to twenty-seven countries to study in again. Industry in Ellesmere Port would be able to conduct business with no time-consuming documentation checks and no queues at Dover or at airports. No tariffs on any imports or exports. Staff shortages reduced, because we can have confidence that those trained in the other EU countries meet the professional standards we expect them to.
Coincidentally, all of these benefits seem convenient tools for delivering the core Liberal Democrat values of providing opportunities to individuals to be free of poverty, developing individuals’ talents and dispersing power.