A no-deal Brexit is not a ‘bump in the road’ for the southwest
I genuinely fear that those forgotten people and towns are going to be even more forgotten once we’ve left the European Union – and dramatically more so if we do so without a deal
The camera sweeps across iconic British landscapes – cliffs, beaches, ancient buildings and modern bridges. Rousing music swells in the background and Boris Johnson’s voice booms out, confident that as prime minister he can “answer the plea of the forgotten people and the left behind towns” by making Brexit happen on 31 October.
As a promotional film, it’s powerful, although I found it rather nauseating.
Having toured the UK’s southwest during my parliamentary break this summer I genuinely fear that those forgotten people and towns are going to be even more forgotten once we’ve left the European Union – and dramatically more so if we do so without a deal.
Take the dairy exporter in Dorset who employs 35 people and has a supply chain that covers the UK. Canada is his main export market but once the EU-Canada trade deal no longer applies, a £100 block of cheese will cost a whopping £400 due to tariffs until we can agree another deal. His business is unlikely to last that long.
Or the medical equipment importer who supplies NHS hospitals with vital bits of kit like syringe valves that are made in Europe. Border delays could devastate his business so he’s had to fill a warehouse with stock at huge expense.Then there’s the light engineering firm that ships spare parts and machines out to Europe every single day and sends engineers at the drop of a hat to do maintenance and repairs. Delays at ports and visa applications will make it impossible for this business to operate.
In Newlyn fishing port, the concern is over the exports of fresh fish – 70 per cent of the catch landed at Newlyn is exported straight to Europe and border delays will destroy that trade. One exporter told me that once we’re out of the market, Europe will look to Africa and South America for supplies and we may never get back in.
Boris Johnson has insisted that months of chaos at the ports and potential food, fuel and medicine shortages under a no-deal Brexit are mere “bumps in the road”. But none of the people I met around the southwest this summer would consider the loss of their livelihood, or laying off colleagues and friends, as bumps in the road.
But this is about so much more than business. The knock-on effect is hundreds of thousands of families losing income, struggling to pay bills and living under massively increased stress and anxiety – one business owner told me he’s waking at 4am every day with the worry of what will happen.
Three years ago, I sat and shouted at the television until I was hoarse. On 24 June I joined the Liberal Democrats, and now sit as one of their 16 MEPs in the European parliament, working with European colleagues on vital issues that concern us all. What I’ve seen in just a few weeks makes me more determined than ever that we should not rip ourselves out of this international project that has brought peace and stability to our continent.
“The time has come to act to take decisions, to change this country for the better,” says Johnson in his saccharine promotional film. A man who has never had to worry about how he’ll pay the next bill.
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From where I’m standing, Johnson needs to take the bravest decision possible and revoke Article 50. He could change this country for the better by starting to govern. Invest the billions wasted on Brexit preparations in our public services and left-behind areas. Sit down with his European counterparts and negotiate a better deal for our fishermen (or let us do it in the European parliament). Ensure we take part in reforming the common agricultural policy so that it is fit for the 21st century and focused on the environment.
To be a truly great country, from the mountains to the seas, we need to be a fundamental part of something even more inspirational. A family of nations born out of genocide and war. A family that has grown up and strengthened its bonds of friendship and trust over 70 years. One that has expanded over the years as families do, with all the stresses and strains that involves, but which is ultimately a far greater whole than the sum of its parts.
Caroline Voaden is the Liberal Democrat member of the European parliament for the southwest and Gibraltar