Clare Moody, a Labour MEP for the South West region, spoke on Brexit, organised by Stroud CLP. Brief notes from the talk:
The overall impression was worrying vagueness and almost incredible lack of serious planning from the Government.
Clare explained that she had originally worked for Unite, on changing the law so part-time workers (largely women) got pensions. The case went to the European Court of Justice under Equality Legislation and succeeded.
Many laws in the UK are due to EU membership and can’t be weakened by Parliament:
- Maternity – return to work
- Right to paid holiday
Interestingly Health & Safety isn’t, and has seen erosion since 2010. Regulatory alignment with the EU had a great effect on peoples’ lives.
(The UK Equal Pay Act under Barbara Castle anticipated EU law on equal pay for equal value work.)
- 23 June 2016 Referendum vote
- Tory leadership struggle, internal squabbles
- Theresa May arbitrarily made up ‘Red Lines’:
- Exit Customs Union & Single Market
- Exit EU Court of Justice & Freedom of movement that Single Market requires
- Triggered Article 50 in Mar 2017, so exit date set under rules is 2 years, ie Mar 2019 after trigger. This was very foolish if they had no idea on what they wanted? – there are around 750 EU Treaties that need sorting eg there is new EU/US Avation Treaty, now need to create UK/US. Hard problems include Gibraltar borders (Gibraltar voted 96% to remain)
- Then she called the election, which weakened the government, making it harder to stick to Red Lines.
- Now we have effectively 6 months (to Oct 2018 if implement by Mar 2019) to get agreement on a) Withdrawal Agreement b) Future Framework
- Currently: 1 written agreement, the ‘Dec 2017 Deal’ covering:
- Budget – commitment to pay outstanding balance due, contractually required
- Citizens – status of EU workers in NHS, agriculture, scientific technicians & UK citizens in EU
- NI Border – maintaining Good Friday Agreement important, no simple solution to border queues, Eire & NI need to set up infrastructure.
There is a huge amount left to do, and very little time.
On the Transition Arrangements:
- In this period UK will have no voting rights (MEPs will go – and UKIP are the biggest objectors to this!)
- Details confused – EU citizens need to register within 12 months, but unemployed EU might be sent back, or not; issues around minimum income , bringing family etc. Lot of criticism as Home Office has a record of incompetence in wrongly removing people
- Many areas funded by EU programs in Agriculture, Research, Academia/Euratom – no one knows where funds will come from after Brexit
Is it now too late to do anything?
Important to keep people informed on dilution of exiting rights & safeguards. A lot of trade is with EU - some supermarkets were empty after just a few days of snow, customs problems could have a quick effect.
What about new trade deals?
- Generally, trade depends on distance between countries, rule of thumb: double the distance, get half the trade
- Liam Fox US deals? Is US with population of 300m plus really likely to change rules on eg chlorinated chicken, growth hormone fed beef etc to comply with UK (65m people) standards – quality standards will weaken. Certainly under Trump’s ‘America First’ policy UK won’t win.
- Michael Gove – plenty of waffle on his Farming documents, but no detail on Food or Environment policy
- EU criticised as closed shop, but trade deals are not the same as trade, Germany sell 4 times as much to China as the UK, nothing was stopping us.
On UK/EU future trade:
- In transition, MEPs won’t be at the negotiating table.
- All 27 EU countries will need to agree.
- The UK is not their top priority, there are issues with Ukraine, migrants, eurozone.
Questions from the audience:
Was there any sense of panic in the Government?
- Unfortunately, no, most Tories only concerned on their internal jockeying, indifferent to consequences for the country, though there are still Conservatives who put the nation before self interest.Theresa May is worried about getting her exit from the Customs Union as there is serious opposition; she might like to make it a Vote of Confidence to get obedience.
What does post Brexit look like?
- Some Conservatives hope that the new freedom can be used to weaken Welfare State and NHS.
- In funding for Research UK gets the biggest amount (more than Germany) ; very likely to reduce – and that will affect business.
- On protection of existing rights, the ‘Dec 2017 deal’ mentioned a ‘punishment clause’ stopping UK watering down citizens rights in the Transition Period, but this has gone. Once out of the EU we can expect Tories to drop such things as the Working Rights Directive that limits working hours.
Could there be a 2nd Referendum, now people know more? any single issue that might change the government’s mind? & what will happen to Financial Services?
- Framing of question important: often people say no to 2nd Referendum, but yes to having SAY on Final Deal
- Government should be honest – the negotiations are all about minimising harm to UK & EU; all of UK’s own impact assessments say wealth will reduce, ranges from -2% to -19% growth.
- Freedom of Movement, the country has an ageing population, immigrant workers will be needed – and if we want trade deals with eg India, they will require easier access for their citizens.
- There might be a 2nd Referendum if the Conservatives think it’ll help them keep power; a possible single issue for them might be the Customs Union.
- On Financial Services, London is very worried ; ‘Passporting’ is off the table (this would allow firms to serve clients across the EU without the need for licences in individual countries); no longer in EU Investment Bank; previously was a significant shareholder, no new investments in UK infrastructure; JP Morgan talking about moving staff from Bristol/Bournemouth to Paris. There will obviously be less tax receipts.
Whatever you think about Brexit itself, the Government’s handling of it should cause huge concern.
(Please note the comments of the meeting above are my own interpretation and should not be considered an exact representation of all that was said.)