No turning the clock back

Progressives have a duty to ensure that the government secures a Brexit deal that keeps Britain open for business and prosperity, writes Mary Wimbury

It is very easy to assume peace and democracy in western Europe are a natural state when that is all you have ever known. Yet, my dad fought in the second world war and his dad in the first. Their experiences are more typical than my generation’s. My children were born into a peaceful Europe with European Union passports giving them freedom of movement across the continent as well as free access to goods and services produced all over Europe. With the fallout of Brexit still unrolling across the United Kingdom, I do wonder what patch of land our freedom of movement will be restricted to in just a few year’s time.

When I was growing up we pitied people in eastern Europe whose governments did not allow them the freedom to travel that we had. Yet, now they can travel, it is our country that wants to impose further restrictions. It is worth remembering that the reason Labour in government was so keen that the former communist states of eastern Europe were welcomed into the EU was to hardwire them into the peace, freedom and democracy that we had built.

But it is not just freedom of movement of people we are restricting but freedom of movement of goods, services and capital too. Our government has decided that leaving the EU means we need to leave the single market and the customs union. We face years of government energy all being directed at extracting ourselves and developing new trade and travel agreements with countries right across the world. Now we are potentially faced with a further divisive referendum in Scotland and possibly needing to disentangle ourselves from not just one union but two. These decisions are for life not just the lifetime of a government or regime that you do not like. They both risk making us all worse off in and of themselves, even before you start counting the chances lost for government to create opportunities and improve lives because they are too busy negotiating lorry permits at Dover and Holyhead and other minutiae. Meanwhile real people’s lives are put on hold not knowing if they can stay living where they are and we lose out on the enthusiasm and talents others might have brought here but have decided not to.

We all rely on the frictionless movement of goods within the EU and with other countries we have trade agreements with: just look at the recent concerns over the lack of Spanish lettuce. Yet just because this is normal for us, does not make it preordained. Losing access to the ordinary goods your citizens want is what happens when a country moves away from participation in free trade as citizens of Venezuela or the former communist states could tell us only too well.

Similarly, thousands of Brits have retired to Spain or live in France and need services that enable them to buy a property in one country using money that started off in a bank account in another. Of course these things are possible outside the EU but they are more complicated. I remember as a child coming across one of my parents’ old passports with details about currency controls and how much money you could take out of the country. I was utterly bemused as to why you could not take your own money where you wanted to. But this was life before the EU.

As progressives, we have a duty to keep arguing for the best possible deal that keeps our country open for business and prosperity not one that turns the clock back.

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Mary Wimbury is a former candidate for parliament and for the Welsh assembly. She tweets at @MaryWimbury

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