On Monday 25th September EMUK hosted our 'Reversing the calamity of Brexit: Restoring market access' event at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Party Conference. During the event, we launched our ‘Brexit Business Report’ - made possible thanks to input from EMUK members and supporters - and heard from a star-studded panel about why we must restore our trading links with Europe by re-entering the single market.
The line-up of leaders in politics and business definitely made a buzz throughout the conference. We heard from former leader and current European Movement vice President Sir Vince Cable, deputy leader Daisy Cooper, leader of the Welsh Lib Dems Jane Dodds, and former Siemens CEO and Northrn Powerhouse pioneer Jurgen Maier, in a panel chaired by our CEO and former Lib Dem MP Sir Nick Harvey.
We knew our event at Liberal Democrat conference would be a success when we arrived to set up and the audience had already started queueing! The whole room was full nearly a quarter of an hour before kickoff, and sadly we had to turn dozens of people away. It’s clear from our event, and coverage of the conference, that Lib Dem members are ready to fight the Battle for the Soul of our Country.
Nick kicked us off with rousing remarks on the future of pro-Europeanism, and how our members and supporters are standing up to be heard. He also drew attention to our damning new report on the effects of Brexit on the UK’s small businesses, compiled through our summer business survey. Jane spoke next and proudly flew the flag for the Welsh Lib Dems, who are openly camapigning on a much closer relationship with the EU, including Single Market membership.
Daisy focussed on her role with her local group, St Albans for Europe, who had been a force across the East of England leading into the 2019 election. She spoke about the political issues facing MPs ahead of the next election, and how a necessary emphasis on the cost of living and NHS waiting lists need not obscure her party’s deep-rooted commitment to European co-operation. Her views were not entirely shared by Vince, who challenged the notion that the cost of living crisis and Brexit are entirely different issues, given the loss of our access to the EU Single Market and the red tape our businesses now face. His experience as Secretary of State for business during the coalition government, his role in negotiations on the REACH chemical regulations and his knowledge of state aid practices led to an excoriating critique of the current government’s trade strategy, which set the scene beautifully for industry leader Jurgen to share his honest account of where businesses stand with the Government and Brexit. As broken as relationships between the Conservatives and businesses have become, there is little appetite for reopening the wounds of the old Brexit debate. We need the time, patience and language to make the case for a return to full membership.
The questions were wide-ranging, from the technicalities of Artificial Intelligence regulations to the political roadmap to full EU membership. Sadly, Daisy and Jane were unable to stay to the end of the session and so Nick, Jurgen and Vince discussed the step-by-step approach to ultimately rejoining the EU.
Beneath the variety of topics discussion, everyone could agree on one thing; this rotten Brexit deal isn’t working, and we urgently need to recalibrate our relationship with our European neighbours. Without that brave first step, we will never restore our place at the heart of the European community.