Brexit Debate at Wymington Meeting Place 29th September 2016
Fourteen people attended. From what was said in the meeting (or previously known) at least four of the attenders voted Leave, six Remain and two did not reveal their vote. (Peter West and Stephen Heap, who led the session, were the remaining two).
In the first half of the evening, everyone was asked to write down what they remembered of their first reaction to the Referendum result (but not to reveal it unless they wished- three did so), and then encouraged to share their “Hopes and Anxieties” about Brexit. In that part Stephen Heap acted as a recorder. After a break Stephen then led a discussion looking at some of the implications of what had been said in the first half.
Hopes and Anxieties: Some hoped that the money saved (from our contributions to the EU) will be spent wisely (and not given to rich people in tax breaks), and that we will have more control over our Government- but this will depend on how actively the electorate use their democratic rights, not only at election time. There was a sense that there was a “Democratic Deficit” in the EU, because we could not vote out the European Commission [it was unclear whether people understood how the EU Commission, Council and Parliament related to one another or were appointed]. Some hoped that the UK activates Article 50 fairly quickly, and that we leave the Single Market, which should sets us free to trade with the rest of the world. And we hope that trade with the EU will continue because it’s of mutual benefit. Some said that we should have the right to decide who comes into our country (which is not an opposition to immigration as such). We should change the EU Common Agricultural Policy (including ending subsidies to wealthy landowners, recently reported).
Some were anxious about the response of other countries to the UK once we had left the EU- perhaps the EU would “make an example” of the UK in order to discourage others from leaving, and so make negotiations more difficult. Or would the UK’s action precipitate a break-up of the EU- and what would be the consequences of that? Some were anxious about the UK’s future policy on immigration- we depend heavily on immigrants to run eg the health service. There had been a big increase in racist attacks since the Referendum (others said this had been exaggerated- there were no known incidents locally- but the number of racist or religious abuse incidents recorded by the police in England and Wales increased by 41% in July 2016, compared with July 2015- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37640982). Some were anxious about funding for Research, eg in Universities. Would there be problems in the future for young people, or for UK citizens living in the EU- would travel and work permits become more difficult (would the relative ease that existed before the UK entered the EEC return)? Would there be more difficulty in sharing police information? What will happen to EU regional grants (eg to Cornwall)- as the UK is a net contributor to the EU, the grants could continue as part of the UK’s own finances. Overall there was a good deal of uncertainty, and a sense that the campaign before the Referendum had not dealt adequately with the likely consequences?
It was recognised that Eastern European countries have a strong commitment to the EU out of fear of Russia. How will the moves to create European Armed Forces effect NATO, and future relations with Russia?
Questions for future discussion: How will our elected government deal with the uncertainty? What will we control when we leave the EU? Will we have more control, but of less?? There is a need for accurate information. Has the government the will and guts to do what the people want? But is it a situation where the Government is free to achieve what people want? (because its freedom partly depends on what other countries want from the negotiations). But is it clear what people want? What is clear is that people voted against the EU, but there is disagreement about what people want in its place, or from the negotiations. What will happen to the NHS? Everywhere there are queues of people signing on with their passports (everyone has to bring a passport to prove their entitlement as UK citizens). Are numbers proving a problem. Will our standard of living go down when we leave the EU? Who do we want to allow into the UK? People who will benefit our economy (but is there agreement on what that means?). Genuine asylum seekers. Or should there be room for some generosity, a welcome for people in economic need, even if they are not in fear of their lives?
We agreed to meet again after Article 50 is triggered (and hopefully when there is more clarity about the negotiations for exit).