Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake has asked us to circulate a draft Q&A on the issue. Of course local campaigning is always about local issues and we should keep concentrating on that – but you may find it helpful to be aware of the points made below if asked.
What are you proposing?
It’s time this country stopped being a reluctant European. Europe is our continent. It has shaped our history. And Britain has played a major role in shaping the Europe of today. It is time now to start shaping the Europe of the future. Britain should be a leader, not a leaver. We should have the ambition, and we should make the commitment.
But Britain looks stupid at present, hardly a leader?
Our current situation is an embarrassment. We have been reduced to a laughing stock by people like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. But our European partners want Britain to play a full role in European affairs. They know that we are stronger together. We can put this humiliation behind us.
What would it take to make us the leader you propose?
First and foremost we need a change in attitude and make the commitment to lead. Instead of making excuses and hanging back whenever our European partners flag up a problem we should be proposing solutions and making a practical commitment towards realising them. Before long governments across Europe will be looking to us for leadership, and our ability to shape the future will grow stronger all the time.
How much would it cost?
A lot less than the cost of Brexit! Remember, Britain’s current financial contribution to the EU budget amounts to a very small part of U.K. government expenditure- not 50%, or 20% or even 5%, not 4% or 3% or even 2% but a little bit more than 1%. Europe’s problems are our problems and the cost of being more active will be outweighed by the benefits our increased influence will bring.
What practical steps would have to be taken?
I think we can agree that it is in Britain’s business interest to break down the barriers and extend the single market. It is in our interests to develop policies to fight climate change. It is in our interests to ensure that Europe’s borders are properly controlled. But there are other issues where we have no clear policy. We should explore ideas across party lines and develop clear ideas about how we want the EU to be reformed.
A practical step would be for British ministers to get to know their opposite numbers across Europe. Personal connections make a difference, but in a Europe of 28 countries ministers are changing all the time so a commitment of time has to be made if relationships are to be fostered. Ministers need to get out of London and reach out to other national capitals.
But people voted to leave. Why not just accept that?
Did people vote Leave with the intention of making our country weaker? I don’t believe so, but that will be the consequence of our leaving the EU. I want our country to be strong, and strength comes through building partnerships with partners that share our values.
People who are proud of this country and its history should think it shameful that we are turning our back on the problems of our continent. A great country should not be a leader, it should be a leader. That’s my view and I am going to campaign for it at every opportunity.
We can be a leader in the world without being part of the EU.
Yes, we will have a role as a middle-sized nation that speaks English and has a long history. But size matters in global affairs and we are no match for the USA or China and we will gradually be overtaken by developing nations. Within the EU we are part of a 500 million strong bloc with great economic influence. And we have the potential to lead that group. Our influence will be much the stronger if shape the policies of our continent.
This would mean accepting EU rules and the ECJ.
Rules matter because we want a level playing field and we want other countries to enforce them too. No-one is arguing that Britain should pull out of NATO or the WTO, or the IMO, or the ICAO, yet we accept the rules that these bodies make. We do that because it is in our common interest, just as it is to be at the heart of EU decision-making.
Don’t imagine that EU rules and regulations will stop applying to us if we leave the EU. Accepting them would be the price we would have to pay for negotiating a trade agreement with our European neighbours. But then we would have lost our voice, our vote and our veto. We would be outside the rooms where decisions are made. This would be the mark of a weak country not a strong one, and it is a shameful idea.
We should stop thinking small. We should raise our sights and be confident in our abilities. We should set out to be leaders in Europe, not leavers.