This is a report on the ‘Devon For Europe’ meeting, Totnes, Friday 23rd February 2018: “Time to question Brexit”.
Chaired by Tom Brufatto (TB, Devon For Europe), with panelists Julie Girling (JG, Conservative MEP), Sir Graham Watson (GrW, ex LibDem MEP), Jacqi Hodgson (JH, Totnes Green Party), Pam Buchan (PB, Labour Party candidate) and Nigel Costley (NC, TUC South West).
There were also a handful of local helpers wearing blue and yellow T-shirts with a logo. The “Ode to Joy” was being played in the background as everyone came in … but not a lot of joy was expressed during the event! The atmosphere was rather muted.
The first obvious thing was that there was no panellist representing the Brexit position. The second was that there was almost a complete absence of any concrete evidence or facts and figures given by anyone to back up the various responses. However, the meeting was very well chaired and the comments made were polite and moderate in tone.
Everyone who spoke received a ‘thank you’ from the chair and treated to polite identical applause, which had that slightly ‘pre-recorded’ quality you hear on Radio 4 programmes!
The audience were invited to ask questions from the floor relating to Brexit. One or two had been submitted in advance. Microphones were passed around.
Some questions provoked a more lengthy discussion than others. My report is far from verbatim, but I’ve tried to be as accurate as I can. I was not able to record some of the responses when they were rather unclear. And the responses sometimes contain meanings which are not apparent in my notes, nor even apparent to me at the time!
To start things off one or two panellists commented …
GrW and JG spoke about the fishing industry … two fishermen from Grimsby and Hull felt uneasy about their future after Brexit. They claimed the waters had been fished out by British trawlers before the CFP, and that it was the EU and the CFP which had regulated fishing and therefore enabled fish stocks to be restored. But this would all go wrong again if fishing was out of EU control.
Then, in questions from the floor …
Q If Brexit is abandoned, can the panellists each suggest 2 reasons for the Brexit vote in 2016?
JH…There is such big division in UK, in opinion and eg between the haves and have-nots.
GrW…1) Due to the control of our papers by foreign interests. Powerful media moguls feeding a drip-drip of anit-EU propaganda.
2) Unfairness in society, and a fear of our children having a lower standard of living in the future than us. We’ve failed our own young people. E.g. Airport staff from the Eastern EU are prepared to get up early for work and be pleasant?
Q Do you trust our politicians to make the final deal with the EU?
The panellists shared a general feeling that the government would get their ‘deal’ one way or another, by cleverly ‘fiddling’ the terms to suit all shades of Brexit opinion.
JH We need a second referendum, on the final deal. Disinformation won the 2016 referendum.
JG We have a broken parliamentary system.
GrW I trusts individual MPs but the power of the Whips is huge. New parties can not emerge. Huge damage will be done to the country by the govmt deal. Mark Carney claims Brexit has already cost UK £10s of Billions.
NC Will all the protections in EU law be transfered to UK law?
Q The EU is the greatest single project for peace in Europe. Will we go back to pre-60s worries and a divided Europe?
JH The EU has given peace through its open borders. ‘We are one body’.
GrW Wars happen because of lack of easy access to trading.
JG the whole thing (EU) could fall apart quite quickly.
NC Europe has been a war zone for 100s of years. Now there is peace in this generation. Boris’ Turkey card was a disgrace….and Turkey is now a brutal dictatorship…(.ie would never have been admitted to the EU.)
Q Wasn’t the referendum advisory, therefore not binding?
GrW compared it to the 2012 PR referendum, which was stated as mandatory….not the case with the EU referendum.
But general agreement that further laws had since been passed by parliament, therefore it’s an irrelevant question now.
Q Re a mandate for (a future?) referendum. Shouldn’t ‘Devon For Europe’ do more in terms of public protest?
JH We should explore creative ways to feel better/stronger about the EU (+ other ’touchy-feely’ comments!). EU reform was needed, especially re the ‘refugees’ question which was a major Leave/Remain battleground.
NC The referendum campaign by Remain lacked a +ve vision, but the Leavers had succeeded in generating a much more +ve feeling of hope for the future.
GrW Everyone is encouraged to write to their MP. The rule is that 1 letter represents the existence of 100 similar views out there. But we don’t have a strong tradition of protest in the UK.
JG admitted marches were not her thing. She wanted to focus on young conservatives now.
Q Wasn’t it a lack of vision that lost the Referendum?
JH EU reform needed/a less costly bureaucracy
PB…We need as much a new vision for Britain as for the EU. We need to ‘improve democracy’.
NC admitted voting NO in 1975. A ‘free trade’ vision is not an attractive one, and is without protection for public services.
GrW 2014 Euro elections…he wantd to admit that the Lib Dems lost all but one of their MEPs. But he felt proud of his personal achievement, during his time as an MEP for chairing the committee which created the European arrest warrant, EAW. He claimed it was recognised as a very effective security tool vs terrorism.
After reading an article “One World” by Chris Leyton, he had decided that Europe is not enough. We now need a World Government.
Q Should an associate EU citizenship for Brits be possible, after Brexit?
Panellists agreed there was no future for this idea!
Q What is Jeremy C’s real position on Brexit?
(Panellists all shrank back from this one…..) Shared response was: ‘No one knows!’
Q What about the uncertainty around settled status for migrants?
GrW said his Italian wife now feels uncomfortable here, after the referendum. We have, as a nation, been xenophobic. Our current attitude resembles that just prior to the Napoleonic wars.
JG We have all been disenfranchised, re the right to move and live in Europe. JG predicts a mass movement of people after Brexit, both to and from Britain, which clearly must be regulated.
NC Brexit is equivalent to racism. People have been fed the fear of immigration…that they are taking jobs away. “Migrants come here to WORK!”. The Devon economy depends on migrants as do our social services and health care. Funding for foreign students is also threatened.
The meeting ended quietly, with a call from a local activist to the audience to “take part and not be a shrugger”..there was plenty of campaigning and protest to do. Their next event was a march in Exeter on Sat. 24th March, from Belmont Park to the city centre.
Report prepared by “Brian Patriot”, local resident and ‘sceptic’, 26th Feb 2018.