Tag Archives: Europe

Europe: It isn’t too late to think again

21505_EU-flag-missing-starIt is becoming abundantly clear in my view that leaving the European Union will be a disaster for Britain, and bad for Brighton and Hove.

As a city, we voted overwhelmingly to remain. That view now seems to be shared by many other cities and regions who voted to leave. I choose to represent the majority of voters in Brighton and Hove who voted to remain. I absolutely respect the views of those who believe otherwise and who will reject the arguments I set out here.

Opinion has been moving against “Leave” for months. A poll of nearly 5000 voters in August found overwhelming support for Britain staying in the EU, reflecting a growing belief that we we misled and that there is no plan on how to make it happen.

There is a strong argument that we should not ignore the democratically expressed will of the people. However I believe that the reasons for the outcome were based for many on misleading information, and many would now not make the same choice in the polling station.

The idea that Brexit would reverse immigration was never realistic and controls on the free movement of labour will be catastrophic for many sectors of the economy. Migration was one of the key myths on which many based their vote, but myths are easily busted, and the impact on business through much greater regulatory burdens could be severe.

The promise of an extra £350 million for the NHS has been shown to be a false one. It was a betrayal of voters and their trust. Acknowledging a decision was wrong should mean we review it, not plough on regardless.

The referendum was not binding. The result was close, so close that Leave campaigners said quite clearly before the vote that should the result go against them by a similar margin they would contest the outcome.

Brexit will have a “catastrophic” effect on higher education, a vital sector in our local economy. Analysis by national law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) found Brighton’s economy is expected to see a significant slowdown in economic growth following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The idea that Brexit will boost the economy and create jobs is another myth. Open Britain argue that the UK will have to borrow an additional £58 billion to deal with the consequences. Over a quarter of a million was racked up in legal fees in the first two months following the referendum, and costs of negotiating our departure over a decade are estimated at £65 million a year, at a time when social care is in crisis, the NHS is being run into the ground, local government is being starved of funds and rough sleeping is rocketing.

The respected Brookings Institute in Washington DC warned that Brexit could be “the greatest catastrophe of the 21st Century” leading to the breakup of the UK. The Peterson Institute for Economics called it a “disastrous experiment in deglobalisation.” Richard Branson said “there’s been very, very little to be gained from it and there’s been an awful lot to lose from it.”

Many claim that Brexit has had no impact on the economy, or indeed a positive impact on the economy. Of course we haven’t yet left the European Union, the worlds largest trading bloc, and predictions remain gloomy. In May of 2016 the UK was the world’s 5th largest economy. Just eight months later we have slipped behind France and India to 7th.

The resignation of the UK’s Ambassador to the EU lays bare the stark reality that the Government has no plan for exiting the EU that in any way benefits the country. The Government never had a plan because it never expected to lose the referendum. The pledge to put EU membership to the vote was entirely designed to stop the hemorrhage of Tory votes to UKIP at the 2015 General Election and secure a Tory majority.

The involvement of figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the Leave campaign was clearly more about their ambitions to succeed David Cameron than what was right for the country.

Even senior Tories now warn that “this is grown-up stuff, with consequences”. If we trigger Article 50 in March, we have just two years to successfully conclude negotiations or leave with nothing. Today the Prime Minister said she would present a plan “within weeks“, denying thinking in Government is “muddled”. I do not have faith in this Government to deliver.

Sir Keir Starmer is right that we should find bold and progressive solutions to the issues that underpinned the narrow vote to leave, but I disagree with the view that the outcome of the referendum cannot be challenged. 70% of Labour voters now believe we are wrong to leave the EU, many of them now looking to the Liberal Democrats to represent their views. I believe Labour should speak for a pro-European Britain.

We have not yet triggered Article 50. The Supreme Court may yet rule that Parliament must have the final say. There are various legal options the Court could give Parliament to consider. MPs need to think about their responsibility to all of the people, the national interest and the future before deciding to carry on with what is at best a high risk leap into the unknown.

Brighton and Hove can and should remain oriented towards Europe, with 50% of our tourism coming from the EU. We are the home of the European headquarters of American Express, and other financial services groups like Legal and General. Our creative arts and digital sectors, our hotel and conference industry, our universities and language schools cannot afford barriers to trade with Europe. We can and shall remain open for business. 

I believe we should think again before it is too late, and remain members of the European Union for the benefit of our city and our country.

Power to the people

imagesThe Scottish Independence Referendum, with it’s 90% turnout, votes for 16 year olds, passionate debate and nail-biting conclusion (well, up until the point where the result became far more clear-cut than expected) has once again re-energised the debate about consitutional reform and change.

We have been here before, when Scotland and Wales got devolved legislatures, when Labour tried with mixed results to introduce elected mayors and regional assemblies, when the Coalition (or at least the Lib Dem part of it) sought to introduce AV. Changes to our governance are glacially slow, as the 18 year gap between the first referenda on devolution and the arrival of the Scots and Welsh assemblies showed.

The rise of UKIP and the anti-establishment vote – and how ironic that the protest vote should now be coalescing around the most establishment of parties in terms of policy rather than office – may indicate the apogee of media and cultural cynicism over the status quo, but it is a warning to all mainstream politicians to engage and persuade rather than allow the ugly politics of division and blame to prosper.

So how do we tackle the “democratic deficit”, and challenge the idea that mainstream politicians have lost touch?

At one point in our national politics federalism somehow became a by-word for power leaking to Brussels, but it ought to mean power devolved to the right level to tackle macro or micro issues, from climate change to dog fouling in the park. Just as the European Parliament has no place in trying to manage the affairs of every town, local councils should not occupy themselves with debates on international trade deals.

Good government involves dealing with issues at the appropriate level, with strong local government supported by strong national legislatures and a powerful European umbrella engaging on the world stage. City regions have a part to play, whether Greater Manchester or Greater Brighton, but as local government bodies they must stay in touch with their localities as well as competing on an international level.

Having seen the boundary review fall alongside AV, Cameron has lost two opportunities to have the number of Labour MPs cut without a General Election vote being cast. Excluding Scottish Labour MPs from English voting under the West Lothian question could deprive Labour of it’s majority on many votes in Westminster even if it has an overall Parliamentary majority. Reform, or resistance to it, should never be based on party advantage. Labour at least has shown that it is prepared to give away power, or at least risk doing so, through devolution.

The risk is that the public feel a lack of trust in the system, a lack of faith in the competence of politicians or even a lack of belief that a Party shares their aims and values, will leave the door ajar for an anti-politics grouping like UKIP or worse to benefit from. People may want change, but do they really want a costly additional tier of English politicians between councillors and Westminster MPs as in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh? Those bodies are right for the challenges that nations and our capital face, but elsewhere is there really a job for them to do?

Local government is the most efficient sector of government. It has absorbed enormous cuts, yet public perception continues to regard it as amongst the most wasteful. As much as we need a fresh view of Westminster, people need to take a new look at their town and city halls and assess what they do and how they do it.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the answer doesn’t lie in separation, nationalism or constitutional tinkering. The answer lies in a politics that makes peoples lives better, gives them security and opportunity within a community where they and their neighbours prosper.

We need a system where voters can engage in way where they know their voice is heard, but one where outcomes are not biased only to those who have time to make the meeting or who shout the loudest. A system where people understand that politician’s pledges are not a guarantee but a genuine indication of values and direction of travel down a road that is increasingly difficult, but where we share a sense of common purpose. A system where debate is not irreconcilable division but a clash of ideas from which positive outcomes emerge. We need votes at 16 backed with an education that puts civic engagement and political education at the heart of what we teach our young people.

Co-operative politics offers those solutions, with community-led co-operatives operating close to those who govern them, public services run on mutual and democratic lines, responsive to need and accountable to those who use them. A stronger local government empowered again to make the choices residents want, using public money in an efficient way to deliver, in partnership with other local organisations, the outcomes their communities need, and able to deliver genuine power to the people.