‘Urgent need for us to rebuild bridges with our European neighbours’; European Movement conference sets out how

Published on March 28, 2021

At Saturday’s European Movement conference, politicians and industry leaders highlighted serious issues with the government’s Brexit deal and put forward workable solutions to the problems for trade across the UK border.

Here are the main headlines from the conference:

  • Brexit has “opened Pandora’s Box” on the island of Ireland, according to European Movement Ireland
  • The UK can rejoin Erasmus “whenever it likes”, states senior European Parliament spokesperson
  • Brexit is an “expensive and bureaucratic nightmare” for the arts and music industry, says composer Howard Goodall
  • The government has “disadvantaged UK citizens across Europe”, says actor and musician Jess Murphy, as “a UK passport allows you to work just in the UK”
  • “Our urgent task now is to rebuild trust between the UK and EU”, asserts former Conservative Secretary of State David Lidington

Conference contributors set out quick action that could be taken by the government to address issues at the Northern Irish border, to support the struggling music industry, and to reinstate youth educational opportunities lost by Brexit.

The conference, which took place on Saturday 27 March, brought together speakers and panellists from across the political spectrum, from all four nations of the UK, Ireland and the EU, and was attended virtually by more than 3,000 campaigners and activists.

The conference marks a relaunch of the European Movement UK which, under new leadership and with a new strategic direction, will campaign for step by step improvements to the Brexit deal, and invest in building a mass movement of people committed to building back the UK’s close ties with the EU.

Lord Adonis, chair of the European Movement, said:

“Brexit is a self-inflicted wound exacerbating the damage caused by the pandemic. Exports have plummeted and jobs are being lost. Companies face going to the wall, hit by rising costs, reduced demand, never-ending delays and supply chain hold-ups. Unless the government urgently takes action to tear down those barriers to trade and opportunity, things will only get worse.

“This unfolding disaster highlights the urgent need for us to rebuild bridges with our European neighbours. We need to be practical. We need to put forward practical solutions, like with veterinary rules. We need small victories, like the Welsh government taking Wales back into Erasmus. Step by step we will forge a way back from this government’s awful, isolationist deal.”

Key contributions from the conference stage include the following:


Noelle O’Connell, CEO of European Movement Ireland and Vice-President of European Movement International, said:

“The EU and the UK must build strong working relationships. In Ireland, we want to facilitate close relations between the UK and the EU, while being clear that our future is firmly in Europe. Trust has been undermined specifically in relation to the internal market bill.

“Brexit has opened Pandora’s Box. Brexit sadly upended what had become the removal of tensions around territory, the softening of borders and boundaries, and allowing people in Northern Ireland to live with whatever identity they chose.”

Stephen Farry MP, deputy leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, said:

“Brexit means new borders and boundaries, and that means friction and frustration. In essence, the greater divergence by the UK from the EU, then the more extreme the pressures down the Irish Sea.

“We need to find long-term solutions to the problems caused by Brexit. Alliance is proposing an agreement on veterinary and other standards. This would go a long way to addressing many of the current checks across the Irish Sea.”


David McAllister MEP, chair of the European Parliament foreign affairs committee, said:

“No free trade agreement can ever match EU membership nor participation in the single market. Regrettably, the agreement is not exhaustive. Many items are unfinished business, and we need to broaden and to deepen our partnership over the coming years – for example, Britain can rejoin Erasmus whenever it likes. It is only the British government which stands in the way of that.”


Howard Goodall, award-winning composer, said:

“Outside the single market, we need visas and work permits which are expensive and a bureaucratic nightmare. And in terms of moving goods into and out of the EU, like music equipment, carnets are extremely expensive because we’ve left the customs union. None of this was on the ballot paper in 2016.

“This is going to seep in more and more to people’s consciousness. The government didn’t get a mandate to leave the customs union. The young will overturn this because it’s in their interest to do so. They want a market of 400 million people, not a few million on an island.”

Jess Murphy, actor and musician, said:

“The government is able to hide behind the fact that none of us are working at the moment, they say the door is open. But it is already happening: people are putting out job requests and they’re saying you have to have an EU passport. So what the government has done is disadvantaged UK citizens across Europe. A UK passport allows you to work just in the UK. We have been disadvantaged – I don’t just mean musicians and the creative industry. I mean all of us, we are all disadvantaged.”

Jonathan Holloway, renowned theatre director and writer, said:

“As a festival director, the impact of Brexit is utterly disastrous. It’s immeasurable. The impact is on thousands and thousands of careers, and millions of lives. It’s an unbelievably demoralising time for people who work in creative industries. I don’t think we have any idea of the impact of Brexit on the arts, because it’s been masked by the pandemic. People haven’t tried putting on a festival, nobody’s tried because we’ve not been able to. I don’t think we have any idea yet the impact it’s going to have on arts and creativity.”


Sir David Lidington, former Leader of the House of Commons, said:

“Our urgent task now is to rebuild trust between the UK and the EU. Geography and history have not changed. Now is the time to forge new, strategic partnerships with our European neighbours. You win very few arguments by shouting at the electorate and telling them that they got it wrong. Our emphasis must be on how we build up that relationship over the years to come.”

The Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC, former Attorney-General, said:

“We have turned into a mass movement. We were not a mass movement in 2016, and Brexit has turned us into one. We must get away from seeing Brexit as a moment that split the country irrevocably in two. Lots of people regret what has happened but are going with the flow. We need to show that we have practical ideas that will make a positive difference to this country.”

Lord Heseltine, Former Deputy Prime Minister and President of the European Movement, said:

“The role of Britain in Europe was a very simple one. That's where the action is. Power is consolidated, the world is shrinking, and whatever other people might think – I want Britain at the centre of decision making. I want us to influence.”

  • For more details about the conference, including the full list of speakers, please click here.

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