I recently wrote about why I have joined the Liberal Democrats.
Now, just a few weeks later, elections in the Netherlands and most recently France have demonstrated that mainland Europe is rejecting the concepts of nationalism and populism which have swept the USA, and indeed the UK.
Voters in the EU referendum were told that Turkey was on the brink of joining the EU - this was untrue then and, following a dubious referendum in Turkey, which effectively gave Erdogan the powers to reject democracy and rule a dictatorship, the chances of future EU membership are now effectively zero. In the same week as she visited Donald Trump, Theresa May flew to Turkey, cap in hand for trade deals. The UK, horrified by the thought of Turkey gaining EU membership, is now desperate to build up a trading relationship with it.
Just hours before the local elections this week, Theresa May made a somewhat bizarre, yet brutal attack on the EU, claiming it was attempting to interfere with the election (a strange method if true - via an article in German in a German newspaper!). She claimed the timing was deliberate. What has since become clear is that the deliberate timing of the speech was on her part - in an attempt to win over votes from former UKIP supporters. Results showed that she achieved her objective. Whilst I am grateful for the demise of UKIP, it concerns me that it has only failed as the Conservatives have effectively adopted their policies and ideals.
So how is the political situation in the UK being seen abroad? Of course there is disappointment - the EU needs strong members like the UK, however, the UK has consistently failed to pull its weight in the European project - time and time again we have requested exemptions, refused to adopt policies and felt that we were somehow more important than the other member states. That attitude will not be missed, however, many are incredulous that Theresa May is still under the illusion that she will be able to secure all the benefits of EU membership without making a single sacrifice - or indeed contribution.
The “exit bill” is not a fine for leaving the EU - it is about honouring long term commitments made as a member. If someone decides to cancel their 2 year phone contract because they decide they no longer want it, they are still liable for the remaining amount - it’s a simple as that. Incidentally, whist we are on the subject of mobile phone contracts, roaming fees will become a thing of the past within the EU this year. Thanks to Brexit, UK customers will, from 2019, once again be able to enjoy excessive charges for using their phones abroad.
Whilst there are positives to be taken from the performance of the Liberal Democrats in the local elections, it would appear that the Conservatives will easily win the election Mrs May repeatedly claimed, in one of her many U-turns, would not be called before 2020. If she thinks that a greater number of seats will give her more negotiating power with the EU she is mistaken. It does not change anything for the negotiations. Threatening the EU is also not the way to achieve a successful deal. Throughout Europe people are questioning what Mrs May believes these threats will achieve. To say the EU needs us more than we need the EU is a simple case of wishful thinking.
The despondency of Brits living in other EU nations is becoming alarmingly apparent. Many of my British friends here in Germany are applying for dual citizenship. I have already begun researching it for myself. In the state of North Rhine Westphalia alone, approximately 700 British citizens have been issued with German passports over the past year - five times the pre-referendum level. I never wanted to adopt another nationality - sadly I feel I am now left with no other choice. The British Prime Minister occasionally mentions the fate of EU nationals in the UK but almost never talks about the 1.3 million British nationals like myself, who live and work throughout the EU. Those of us who have been abroad for a certain length of time were not even allowed to vote in the referendum which will affect our lives the most. We have simply been neglected by our government.
A former Conservative, I recently joined the Liberal Democrats, and am hopeful that, as the economy begins to slow down, people will see the genuine threat that Brexit will bring. Theresa May, aware that by 2020 the economy is likely to be in a significantly worse state, has decided that this may be her only chance of being elected Prime Minister. Fighting an election before the recession begins shows that the Conservatives are also afraid of the devastation which Brexit will cause. Already prices have begun to rise - when we exit the EU the true effects will hit - hard.
The lack of a genuine opposition will have also played a major role in her decision to backtrack and call the election. Whilst Theresa May is almost certain to win the general election, this presents an enormous opportunity for the Liberal Democrats. Almost half of those who voted wanted to remain in the EU - the only party representing their views is the Liberal Democrats. Labour have given in to Theresa May - we shall not.
Like many British nationals in other EU countries I will not be allowed to vote on 8th June. Whilst the European Union, like every major organisation, has its problems, membership is incredibly important to the UK economy and indeed to future generations. Theresa May is obsessed with the principle of “strong leadership” - indeed she quotes this robotically at every possible opportunity. It’s time for the Liberal Democrats to provide a strong, lasting opposition.