Category Archives: European Union

Ben Lawrie calls on MEPs to back associate EU citizenship for UK nationals.

Liberal Democrat campaigner Ben Lawrie has called on members of European Parliament to back proposals to offer UK nationals “associate EU citizenship” in upcoming Brexit negotiations.
This proposal would give UK nationals the choice to pay a fee into the EU budget in order to retain EU benefits such as freedom of movement across EU member-states and a vote in EU parliamentary elections.
Writing to Scotland’s MEPs, Ben said:
“I feel that this would help in addressing the anxieties that many people are experiencing as a result of the recent vote to leave the European Union whilst still respecting the vote of the majority.
I hope that you will use your position in the European Parliament to support this proposal as part of the Brexit negotiations.”

The idea of EU associate citizenship was originally proposed by liberal Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens and has gained the support of the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt.

If you agree that UK nationals should be offered associate EU citizenship then sign the petition at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/172021/

Ben Lawrie calls for Scotland to remain in both UK and EU.

Earlier today I wrote a letter to all local MPs, MSPs and MEPs urging them to fight to keep Scotland’s place in both the UK and the EU.
The letter read as follows:

“Whilst I am disappointed with the recent referendum result I believe
that there is a way for Scotland to retain it’s EU membership without
holding another independence referendum and that there is also a strong
mandate for doing so.
Currently, Denmark is a member of the EU. Greenland and the Faroe
Islands are both parts of Denmark but are not in the EU. I believe that
the UK could negotiate a similar arrangement where Northern Ireland and
Scotland hold EU membership whilst being members of the UK whist
England and Wales leave.
As 55% of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the UK and 62% of
the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU, I believe that this
solution has a large mandate and would be the best thing for Scotland
and I hope that you will consider doing everything in your power to
push for this outcome.

Yours sincerely,
Ben Lawrie”

To me this is without a doubt the best option for Scotland and the most democratic one. I worry however that this solution will be overlooked by the media who will fan the flames of a second independence referendum as they know that this is a controversial issue in the eyes of the Scottish public and will attract the most readers.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs ‘Remain’.

Liberal Democrat MSP for North-East Scotland Mike Rumbles has come out in favour of a remain vote in response to my recent call for MSPs to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Last week I received a letter from Mike Rumbles saying that “membership of the European Union has long been a strongly held commitment of the Liberal Democrats and I am proud to say that we are leading a very strong and positive campaign for our continued membership.”
He went on to outline the economic advantages that a remain vote would have for Scotland pointing out that “hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on our trade relationship with our friends in Europe with more than £11 billion of exports from Scotland ending up in other EU countries” as well as the fact that “Scotland is set to receive around £6bn in funding from the EU between 2014 and 2020. More than half of the foreign investment which comes to Scotland is from EU member states.”
He also highlighted how Scottish farmers benefit from EU membership as they receive “vital support through EU funds and their produce is sold right across the continent” adding that he was “disappointed that the Scottish Government has failed these farmers with the delayed Common Agricultural Policy payments.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

Mike also agreed with me that our EU membership also keeps Scotland safe with the European Arrest Warrant “helping to bring criminals across the whole of the continent to justice.”
He finished his letter saying “I believe Scotland’s place in the EU helps ensure that every family, every business, and every person in Scotland is part of a stronger, safer and more prosperous nation.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Mike makes and am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been leading the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

How would Brexit impact UK Mental Health Services?

With the EU referendum coming up in just a few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate as a dedicated mental health activist to outline what impact I predict Brexit would have on mental health services in the UK.
There are three main factors that I think would affect our mental health services if we were to leave the EU, the first of these is the economy.
It is widely accepted that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy with 9 out of 10 economists saying that leaving the EU will damage our economy. The Chief of NHS England, Simon Stevens has claimed that “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold… it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, the economy goes into a tailspin”
Much of the current problems with our mental health services come down to a lack of funding and if funding of the NHS is hit by Brexit, this will surely lead to even less funding for mental health services.

The second factor that I believe will affect mental health services is the loss of EU science funding.
British scientists gain huge amounts of funding for research from the EU and freedom of travel within the EU makes it easier to assemble international teams of leading scientists to cooperate on projects. Our knowledge of mental health is far behind our knowledge of physical health and Brexit would be a blow to research of mental illnesses, their treatments and other aspects of mental health that we are yet to learn. This would slow down the progress we are making in learning how to effectively treat mental illness which will hinder the recovery of sufferers of mental illness for generations to come.

Finally, the EU as an institution is committed to improving the mental health of the continent. In 2005, the European Commission published a Green paper -Promoting the Mental Health of the Population. Towards a Mental Health Strategy for the EU. Following this, the European Pact for mental health and well-being was launched in 2008. The pact was then implemented through numerous conferences tackling priorities such as Combating Stigma and Social Exclusion and Prevention of Depression and Suicide.
I already worry for our mental health services. Currently they are over-stretched and under-funded. Waiting times are excruciatingly long and many people are being left to suffer as a result. I can only see these problems becoming intensified were we to leave the EU and this is part of the reason that as soon as I received my postal vote, I sent it straight back with a big cross next to Remain!

Ben Lawrie Urges MSPs to Campaign for ‘Remain’ Vote.

Today I emailed the new list MSPs for North-East Scotland urging them to campaign hard to keep Britain in the EU in the final weeks before the referendum.
The email read as follows:

“Dear Ross Thomson, Liam Kerr, Mike Rumbles, Alex Johnstone, Peter Chapman, Lewis Macdonald and Jenny Marra,

Congratulations on your recent election (or re-election) to the Scottish Parliament.
I am writing to you in regards to the upcoming referendum on our membership of the EU.
Remaining a member of the EU is very important to me and the country as a whole for a number of reasons including the following:
Around 3.5 million British jobs are currently linked to our membership of the EU and leaving the EU would put them at risk.
Membership of the EU gives me and other people my age the freedom to work and study abroad which I don’t want to lose.
The European Arrest Warrant speeds up the process of extraditing foreign criminals and keeps our streets safe.
British science benefits massively from EU research funds.

Due to the unfortunate timing of the referendum I appreciate that you may not have had time to campaign for a remain vote as you were probably working very hard for the Scottish Parliament elections. Now that they are over I hope that you will campaign hard to keep Britain’s place in the European Union as Britain should be a leading figure within the EU, not isolating ourselves from it.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Lawrie.”

 

I used the website www.writetothem.com to contact the local list MSPs and would recommend it to anyone wanting to raise an issue with their local representatives.

 

 

 

On the economy if we leave the EU

A lot of claims have been made on both sides of the argument. They boil down to a hope that, if separated from the EU, the UK economy will boom. Or to a fear that the economy will suffer if it loses access to the Single Market. Individual businessmen have said how they think any change would affect their business. Most seem to believe leaving would be bad for their business.

The evidence we have is that the pound has fallen on two occasions recently. The first was when the date of the referendum was announced. The second was today when opinion polls showed a majority for leave. The most likely reason in each case is because the market fears uncertainty. Calling the referendum created uncertainty as to the outcome. This uncertainty can be resolved by a decision to remain. If the decision is to leave, the terms of the UK’s relationship, if any, with the EU would need to be negotiated. That would cause the uncertainty to last as long as the negotiations do.

A lower pound means prices go up. Those who do not have much money would have even less. They above all cannot afford a leave vote. The majority of businesses prefer to remain, precisely because they can continue trading as they do now. Leaving would mean no more investment until the relationship with Europe becomes clear, which could take years.

The head of the NHS in England has said that a weaker economy would mean less money for the NHS. The leave campaign is ignoring the economic consequences of leaving the EU. It is behaving like a political party in offering a manifesto for what it would do after a leave vote. But if it spends the money currently going to Brussels on putting right our NHS, it cannot spend the same money on our farmers and scientists. It has no credible way of replacing what the EU spends in the UK, when the UK economy is suffering from prolonged uncertainty.

A referendum has to take a decision. The UK will remain in the EU or not. No referendum can elect a government. The UK has just elected a government, and there is no sign that most MPs are looking to elect another. How the present government would respond to a decision to leave is unclear, but more austerity is likely. If it does have to negotiate leaving the EU, it would have the option of using the money currently sent to Brussels to reduce the deficit. It would be entirely consistent with George Osborne’s track record as Chancellor for him to do just that.

On people coming by boat

Today’s news of a boat with people attempting to enter the UK illegally confirms a point made before. The UK government has not done what it takes to make our borders secure. This is not the fault of the EU, indeed it was the French who alerted the British coastguards. The UK has a long coastline. It needs aerial observation and a properly resourced coastguard to police it. For the people smugglers, this is an easier route into the UK than the Channel Tunnel. But the Tunnel is not impossible. We have all seen footage of people clinging to the tops of lorries. No official can check those who get through.

We should be asking ourselves why people are willing to take such risks to get into the UK. Would they do so if they knew they could get a fair official hearing? Earlier in the refugee crisis, the Austrian Foreign Minister said that better legal routes had to be devised to manage the flow of people. By demanding travel documents policed by the airlines, train or ferry companies, the UK is pushing refugees into the arms of the people smugglers.

The UK has committed itself through the UN Geneva Convention to accept refugees fleeing for their lives. It has a proud record of doing so, most recently for the Uganda Asians. To make good on its commitments, the UK should interview all who wish to take refuge in the UK. This could be on arrival, or before leaving our immediate neighbours, or close to the country of origin. The Calais ‘jungle’ only came about because the UK did not have adequate arrangements to process people.

The truth made plain by the latest ‘boat people’ is that borders can never be 100% secure. The authorities must spend what it takes to make it unlikely that the borders can be bypassed. It should then be made as easy as possible for all to come to the official entry points. That way the authorities can determine who is a refugee, who is an economic migrant, and who is qualified to enter by their work skills. Free movement to work within the EU benefits British citizens, and gives another form of entry qualification.

What needs reforming in the EU? Part 3 (of 3)

I have interrupted the blogs on what needs reforming in the EU to discuss sovereignty and immigration. This is because, although claimed not to be, both are in fact fully within UK control. The UK agreed to free movement of labour as well as of capital because both benefit the UK. The other 27 member states accept the UK has the sovereign right to change its mind and leave both the EU and the Single Market. If the UK then wants to be part of the Single Market, it will have to accept its rules. These include free movement of labour, paying towards its costs, and having no say in making its rules. This is the same as for Norway and Switzerland.

What can be negotiated with the EU is what David Cameron has just negotiated. The other member states have confirmed that the Euro is not the currency of the EU. This ensures Eurozone members cannot impose their rules on the UK. They have also agreed an opt-out for the UK from ‘ever closer union’. This ensures the UK will not take part in any United States of Europe. It is now up to the UK government to do what it should have done decades ago for the British people. It will also have to deal with the consequences of immigration.

What still needs reforming in the EU is the attitude of political leaders in most member states. Most people in Europe support the European project as a mean of making war unthinkable. Those who have led that project have had a very top-down attitude to achieving it. They have put creating the structures of Europe before solving the problems their people want sorted. The UK is not the only country whose leaders prefer just to manage the economy and public finances. Constructing the Single Market with the necessary free movement of labour has highlighted all the long-standing infrastructure and social problems. That is why nationalism is on the rise in Europe. The rise of nationalism risks wrecking all the progress in building peace and prosperity which has been achieved since WWII.

Some of the EU’s politicians seem finally to have realised that Brexit is possible. They also see that the European project could unravel if it happens. If the UK decides to remain, it is very important that all governments start to address their own internal problems. This would be easier if at the same time they work together to make the EU more effective. Policy decisions in areas where the member states have agreed to cooperate would then be taken and implemented more rapidly. This work to reform decision-making in the EU will have the chance to happen, with British input, if we vote to remain on 23rd June.

On immigration

Those campaigning to leave the EU claim that this is the only way to prevent people coming into the UK. I would have two questions. First, is it a bad thing that other people want to come here to work? On the face of it, it means that there are plenty of jobs in the UK. Second, how would the NHS cope without workers from overseas?

In my experience, there are genuine concerns about immigration. They relate most often to fears about housing and jobs. Will immigrants crowd local people out of work? Will immigrants crowd local people out of homes? These fears are real, and come from years of British governments failing to sort the problems people have. Not enough homes have been built. Money has been pumped into mortgages. These two factors together make houses more expensive and price people out of the housing market. The affordable homes owned by councils were sold off, so they were not there for the next generation. The Tories now want to do the same thing to housing associations in England. Other infrastructure, like schools, hospitals and transport, has not kept pace with population changes. Local authorities have been starved of cash. They are now unable to act as proper local government but simply administer central government policy.

None of this is the fault of the EU. Nor would it change if the UK left the EU. Imagine the UK votes to leave on 23rd June, and stops paying money to the EU. Would the Treasury really spend this money on doing what no government has done for decades? It would be much more likely to use it all to pay down the deficit. That would be consistent with George Osborne’s policy of a smaller state.

Much the same applies to jobs. Everyone should have the opportunity to work. Some of the jobs, such as in agriculture, involve unsocial hours that not everyone is willing to accept. Others involve skills that not everyone has. Education should be about helping individuals to find out what they are good at, what they like doing, and which can be the basis of a long-term job. Everyone living in Britain should have these opportunities. In reality, there is a shortage of some types of skill, which is why some workers are hired from overseas. Some foreign workers are more ready to work for low pay at anti-social hours. Leaving the EU would just mean the UK would recruit workers from other foreign countries to fill the gaps in its job market. Helping British people into jobs needs a concerted effort to help them find what they can do in today’s job market, and give them the skills they need.

On British sovereignty

What those campaigning to leave the EU seem not to understand is that British sovereignty has not been lost. Signing a treaty is an agreement between states to do certain things. It can be repudiated, though this is rare. It is up to the individual states to do what the treaty says. The UK has not signed up to as much as other EU states, but has done what it has agreed to. Two apparently contrary examples show this. The first is on controlling our borders, the second about trade negotiations.

The UK did not sign the Schengen agreement, and opted out of it in the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty. The UK has therefore at all times been in full control of its borders. The fact that its governments have not spent enough on border control has nothing to do with the EU. It is the UK’s fault if its border staff cannot access lists of undesirable aliens and lets them in. It is the UK’s fault if it does not check who is leaving the country, and find out who is overstaying their visa. The Tories have chosen to set net migration targets, which cannot be measured, never mind met, on current staffing levels. If we knew who was leaving, we would know how long people coming to the UK stay.

On trade, all the member states have agreed that EU trade negotiations shall be conducted by a single person, the Trade Commissioner. This does not mean that the Trade Commissioner can do what she likes. She receives a negotiating brief with input from the Council of Ministers, the 28 heads of government. The brief also has input from the elected European Parliament. The European Parliament can refuse to ratify a draft treaty. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty further requires much greater input from national parliaments. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the USA have generated a lot of concern in many EU member states including the UK. In particular, people worry that the proposed arbitration arrangements may allow big US companies to put pressure on governments. The idea of companies avoiding having to settle disputes in the courts is not liked. France and Germany are so concerned that they have issued a joint statement that they want TTIP to be recognised as a ‘mixed’ agreement. This means it must be ratified by all 28 national parliaments and not just the European parliament. At the beginning of May, the relevant French minister was reported as saying he believed the talks had come to a halt. This shows that working together in Europe increases the public’s clout in negotiating with the world’s most powerful nation.