Brexit Q&A with Stratford’s Parliamentary Candidates

Stratford4Europe asked the candidates from the four parties standing in Stratford on Avon five questions about their stance on Brexit related issues. The questions and their responses, in full, are below.

  1. What are your minimum criteria for an acceptable Brexit deal and what should be done if these are not met? Would you be willing to leave with no deal?

Dominic Giles (Green Party)

I would like to see us remain in the Single Market, maintain environmental laws and ensure EU citizens have the same rights after Brexit as they currently have.

I would not only guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals but defend free movement, especially for the young. We want young people to continue to enjoy the rights enjoyed by their parents and grandparents – the right to travel, study and work across Europe.

I would ditch the great repeal bill, but replace it with more than just an EU rights and protections bill. I’m in favour of a Great Reform Bill, to deliver a fair and proportional election system, reform of the House of Lords and a written constitution.

Jobs and the economy are critically important in the negotiations with the EU, but by prioritising these above all else, there is a danger the environment gets side-lined. With the Tories plotting a bonfire of regulations that protect our air and water quality, safeguard valuable wildlife habitats and help tackle climate change, we need a new Environmental Protection Act and a new Clean Air Act to ensure environmental protections are maintained and enhanced.

Green guarantees: What’s the plan?

Here is a list of guarantees that the Greens has been working to secure as we negotiate a deal with the EU:

  • A guarantee that the UK maintain as close a relationship as possible with our European neighbours;
  • A guarantee that the UK will defend its economic interestsby remaining in the single market;
  • A guarantee that the rights of UK and EU citizens will be upheld, wherever in Europe they choose to live;
  • A guarantee that important environmental legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directive and renewable energy targets will be retained or become even more ambitious post-Brexit;
  • A guarantee that the UK will not engage in a race to the bottom on tax rates, workers’ rights or consumer protections;
  • A guarantee that struggling UK regions, in particular Cornwall, will receive as much in funding as they currently do;
  • A guarantee that funding for scientific research and development be maintained at current levels or increased;
  • A guarantee that young people, who voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU, continue to enjoy freedom to travel, study and work across Europe and that they continue to enjoy access to EU-funded schemes such as Erasmus and student exchanges;
  • A guarantee that post-Brexit farming support will be targeted at shaping a healthy, economically-sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture sector;
  • A guarantee that the clamour for genuine democracy that the EU referendum unleashed will be honoured; we need an assurance that a fair and proportional voting system will be introduced so that every vote counts.

I wouldn’t want to leave until a deal was done.

Jeff Kenner (Labour)

The task of any MP in the negotiations is to act in the national interest. We must govern not for the 52% or the 48% but for all the people. I have three minimum criteria or “red lines” which must be satisfied before accepting any deal:

First, all EU citizens living in the UK – and all UK citizens living in other EU countries – must have their acquired EU citizenship rights legally guaranteed after the UK leaves the EU. This includes the right to permanent residence. The legal rights of EU citizens’ family members must also be fully respected. I will not accept a deal that weakens those rights. On 9th March I had a letter published in the Stratford Herald highlighting the unique contribution made by EU citizens to our local economy and community in Stratford-on-Avon. I am delighted that Labour was the first political party to pledge to unilaterally guarantee the acquired rights of all EU citizens. With a Labour Government in place I believe that this will set the right tone for the rest of the negotiations.

Second, there should be no return to a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. This would be contrary, at least in spirit, to the Good Friday Agreement and could threaten peace on the island of Ireland. Legally, as I explained when I spoke to the S4E Steering Committee, some border controls would be inevitable if the UK left the Customs Union. For this reason – and indeed – other reasons – I would not accept a deal that takes us outside the Customs Union or otherwise risks returning a hard border between the UK and the Irish Republic.

Third, I will not accept a deal that threatens jobs and the economic well-being of the people I represent. The EU is our largest trading partner, by far, and the Single Market is the most favourable trading relationship for its members in the world because of the unique level of liberalisation of trade, people, services and capital that it provides couples with high regulatory standards that protect the environment, labour standards and the consumer. Labour has committed to securing “exactly the same benefits” as membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union in any Brexit deal to protect our jobs, industry and services. We will protect workers’ rights and environmental standards.

This is a bold ambition that I welcome because I am convinced that any deal that takes us outside the Single Market will threaten jobs, for example in the supply chain of car manufacturing, which is so important to our local economy, and living standards. In practice this would require us to negotiate to either stay in the Single Market or to secure a bespoke deal for the UK similar to the European Economic Area or to join EFTA and then the EEA when we leave. In the referendum the people of the UK voted to leave the EU but the Single Market was not on the ballot paper. If we leave the EU but stay in the Single Market, Brexit will still mean Brexit, because our relationship with the EU will have changed and we will indeed have some more control over our affairs balanced with a loss of influence. Above all people did not vote in the referendum to make ourselves poorer.

Staying in the Single Market, at least for a transitional period until a Free Trade Agreement is concluded will avoid a cliff edge situation, help to unite the country, and negate the need for a referendum on Scottish independence.

Staying in the Customs Union is common sense until a Free Trade Agreement with the EU is reached is almost inevitable as there would be no prospect of new trade deals until that point and we need the economic security of keeping our existing trade relationships with the world for this period.

If these criteria are satisfied I am confident that we would secure a good deal that fully respects the result of the referendum. However, Labour has made it clear that we would not leave without a deal because this would be the worst possible option for our economy and would create huge uncertainty for people and businesses. In the event of a no deal scenario, Parliament must decide whether to leave without a deal or to request an extension of the Article 50 negotiating period if it is satisfied that there is the prospect, perhaps over a period of a further twelve months, of securing a deal. This is a democratic decision that Parliament must make in the national interest and, if it made such a decision, I am confident that the EU27 would reciprocate. This would mean that we would leave with a deal in 2020. This is much better than the alternative of leaving without a deal in 2019.

Liz Adams (Liberal Democrats)

I believe that the UK is better off in the EU and that being able to negotiate a deal better than that which we enjoy as a Member State will be unlikely. It is vital that should Brexit go ahead, we retain our membership of the Single Market. Leaving this would negatively impact our economy and I believe, will impact on Britain’s ability to be a leading player in many advancing industries, such as medical research and tech. The uncertainty around the status of EU citizens already in the UK and UK citizens who live and work abroad must be ended immediately. For many people of my generation, the prospect of losing rights of establishment and freedom of movement are akin to having our own national citizenship withdrawn from us. There are a number of areas of rights and standards that must be preserved, such as environmental protections, workers’ rights, labelling standards and competition law to name a few. We must continue to be a part of initiatives such as Europol and Erasmus, where acting together with other European countries brings the UK huge benefits.

I would not be willing to leave with no deal. As the so-called mandate for Brexit to begin was sourced via direct democracy in the form of a referendum, I believe that with the appropriate constitutional safeguards to avoid action based on a close, divisive result, the public should have the final say on any deal. Armed with the knowledge of what Brexit would actually look like in the form of any deal, the decision canthen be taken by people, whether to proceed or to remain a Member State.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)

The criteria I deem acceptable are the establishment of an ambitious free trade deal with the EU, control over immigration, control over our laws and an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK, protection of workers’ rights, the securing of rights for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, a soft border with the Republic of Ireland, free trade deals with other countries, cooperation with our European neighbours in science, innovation and research, and working with the EU to tackle crime and terrorism.

I think we should be clear to EU interlocutors that no deal is better than a bad deal.

  1. If between now and 2019 there is clear evidence that there is a majority of the electorate who want to remain in the EU, what action would you want the government to take?

Dominic Giles (Green Party)

There should be a Ratification referendum on whatever deal the Government come back with.

Jeff Kenner (Labour)

Unless there is overwhelming evidence of a change of mind among the electorate we must proceed as outlined in my answer to the first question. Having spoken to many people who voted Leave and looked carefully at the evidence of polling and opinion surveys I am satisfied that there has been no such shift in opinion. All the evidence suggests that it is highly unlikely that there will be a significant change of opinion before 2019. Many people who voted Remain have accepted that we will be leaving the EU. A recent YouGov poll suggests only 21% of electorate want the referendum result ignored or overturned. These are harsh facts to face but we cannot ignore them.

It is for these reasons that I consider the suggestion of an automatic referendum on the deal – if there is one – is both premature and foolhardy from the perspective of those of us, like me, who want us to have the closest possible relationship with the EU. The idea of a referendum on the deal is a tactic and a bad one. It is likely to rebound given the state of public opinion and – in a forced choice between deal, no deal and, if no deal – remain – the public would be likely to accept a deal negotiated by a UK Prime Minister rather than go into the abyss of no deal. If a deal is accepted in a referendum it is highly likely that we will be leaving the EU for the long-term.

It is important to remember that, in the event of us leaving the EU, the EU Treaty allows us to apply to rejoin. Just as it is the democratic right of the people of the UK to leave the EU so it is also the democratic right of the people to change their mind once we have left.

Liz Adams (Liberal Democrats)

There should be a second referendum on the deal, with the alternative to remain a Member State. This would ensure that there was the appropriate public backing for such a major constitutional step. The fact that many members of the public felt the information available to them when casting their vote was inadequate, the fact that there is an investigation over spending for the Leave.EU campaign, the fact that EU citizens in the UK, UK citizens who have been abroad for more than 15 years and 16 and 17 year olds were denied a vote, and the fact that there was no appropriate threshold for the result to reach, are all huge red flags to allowing the biggest constitutional change for decades to go ahead without any further scrutiny. Of course MPs ought to vote in what they believe to be the national interest, and I would hope that should it become apparent that Britain is going to severely lose out, against the wishes of a majority of the electorate, that MPs would vote to remain, and to revoke Article 50.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)

The will of the electorate was made clear at last June’s referendum that saw the biggest turnout ever for a UK-wide referendum.

  1. If tariff-free access to the single market in goods and services is conditional on the freedom of movement of EU citizens into the UK, would you favour retaining it?

Dominic Giles (Green Party)

Yes

Jeff Kenner (Labour)

As outlined above I support continuing membership of the single market.

The question also leads to a reverse question. Would we wish to accept limits being imposed on UK citizens who wish to move freely within the EU as a condition of a Brexit deal? For example, restrictions on the Erasmus programme. I believe that once the question is put in the reverse in this way, the majority of people in the UK will be prepared to accept a solution that retains our rights to move freely to the EU to work and study, and reside in the EU, and vice versa. We must strive to reach such an agreement to avoid the risk of leaving without a deal.

Liz Adams (Liberal Democrats)

Yes. I firmly believe that the concerns that many people have about the impact of freedom of movement, are in fact not caused by freedom of movement, but are due to several factors. For example, the effects of underfunding of public services, lack of investment in communities by developers, decades of Labour and Conservative governments not building enough affordable homes, and a lack of policies in place to effectively tackle the development of some segregated communities.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)

I think we need to stop dividing the electorate, respect the fact that an overall majority voted to leave, and work to get the best deal possible for all citizens of the UK.

  1. Given that younger voters voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU, how will you ensure that their voice will be heard and represented during the Brexit negotiations?

Dominic Giles (Green Party)

The Greens have called, for years, for 16-18 year olds to get the vote. They should also be allowed to vote in the ratification referendum.

Jeff Kenner (Labour)

I strongly believe in votes at 16, which is in the Labour Manifesto published today. If Labour is elected on 8 June we will publish a new White Paper and consult as widely as possible. As young people voted overwhelming in favour of staying in the EU and, as they have the most to lose if Brexit goes wrong, it is essential that they are fully consulted. I would involve the Youth Parliament and would also engage with schools. I have already debated with Nadhim Zahawi at Stratford-upon-Avon School and would encourage local initiatives with schools, colleges, universities and workplaces to ensure that the voice of young people is heard during the negotiations. All of the innovations of social media must be used to seek opinions on how best to shape the negotiations and also to seek views on any deal. Above all we must end the secrecy that we have seen from the Government to date. The EU has already decided to be transparent in the negotiations and we must follow suit. The more transparent we are the more input we can have from younger voters and society as a whole.

Liz Adams (Liberal Democrats)

Young people must be enabled to take an active role in democracy. Politicians must make an effort to engage with young people and encourage them to register to vote. The voting age must be lowered to 16, along with more comprehensive coverage of politics and basic constitutional law in schools. Instead of labelling people who wanted to remain as ‘saboteurs’, and brushing people’s concerns under the carpet, more effort should be made by politicians, especially those who supported leave, to understand those concerns, and to address the loss of rights and cultural association that the younger generation hold dear.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)

I think we need to stop dividing the electorate, respect the fact that an overall majority voted to leave, and work to get the best deal possible for all citizens of the UK

  1. Do any of the above answers differ from the national policy of your party? If so, would you be willing to defy the party whip in this regard?

Dominic Giles (Green Party)

In all honesty, I think my answers concur with the Green Party or at least the spirit of the Green Party, although I’m not totally sure what the party line is on whether to leave with no deal. Either way the Green Party doesn’t whip so I would be free to follow my own line.

Jeff Kenner (Labour)

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, laid down a series of tests for any deal in his speech at Chatham House earlier this year. I fully support these tests. As our manifesto states “Labour will always put jobs and the economy first”. For reasons that I have outlined in my answers to questions 1 and 2 above I believe that Labour has the best policies for ensuring that we retain the closest possible partnership with the EU. ​

Liz Adams (Liberal Democrats)

My views are in line with Liberal Democrat national party policy. I would vote this way regardless of national party policy.

Nadhim Zahawi (Conservative)

My views on leaving the EU correspond with those of my party and I see no reason why I would need to defy the whip.

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