This op-ed was written by Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Brexit and Foreign Affairs, prior to the full outbreak of COVID-19. This op-ed was submitted to be part of our bi-annual magazine the Liberal Bulletin, which can be found in its whole here.
Liberal Democrats are pro-EU because we are internationalist. We know that we are so much stronger together than we could ever be alone.
The Conservative government’s decision to take us out of the European Union means that the country faces new and unprecedented challenges going forward into this new decade. Under Boris Johnson, it is very likely that we will see environmental standards lowered and workers’ rights weakened as the UK prepares to leave the Single Market and Customs Union. Being torn out of vital frameworks such as Euratom and Europol adds insult to injury, as our ability to share with and learn from the EU community is being dramatically decreased.
None of this was on the ballot paper in 2016, and that is why we will continue to fight for the closest possible relationship with our European friends. At every step of the Brexit process, Liberal Democrats will amend legislation, speak truth to government and work to highlight the enormous benefits we risk throwing away through Boris Johnson’s version of Brexit.
During the transition period, the Liberal Democrats’ focus will be on maintaining the UK’s position in shared European projects and frameworks, including the level playing field, and on preventing a catastrophic no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period.
We will fight for an extension of the transition period so that a comprehensive agreement can be reached on trade and security issues. We firmly believe that the UK is best prepared to tackle the international issues we face by working closely together with our European allies and neighbors in international organizations like the European Union, and that such international co-operation significantly enhances our power to improve the lives, safety and security of the British people.
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, securing an extension to the transition period is even more vital than ever before. The UK Health Secretary has admitted that stockpiles for mitigating the damage of a “No Deal Brexit” were being re-directed for the Coronavirus threat, even though Ministers confirmed a “No Deal Brexit” could now come as early as June 2020. The impact of a No Deal Brexit would be immense, at a time when our NHS, jobs, and the economy are already under so much pressure. Communication with our European neighbours is as important and ever. We must be able to focus on discussions about how we can co-operate against the Coronavirus, which does not recognise national borders.
The Liberal Democrats will continue our rational, liberal approach to the UK’s relationship with the EU, including defending the rights of the three million EU citizens living in the UK. We have been the strongest pro-European voice throughout the Brexit process, leading the fight for a People’s Vote and to stop Brexit, and we will continue fighting for this essential relationship.
To be successful in this fight, our close relationship with Renew Europe and our sister parties will be essential. Given that the UK is now outside of many key diplomatic channels, the unofficial and voluntary communications between our parties will be even more central to ensuring that we maintain integration on a party-to-party level. We will therefore do all we can to protect and enhance these relationships and communications and would welcome all efforts to help us do this. The UK may be leaving the EU, but the Liberal Democrats will always be European. We will always seek to keep our place at the heart of our European party.