Brexit is high on the agenda in October. We interviewed Sir Graham Watson, member of the European Economic and Social Committee and former ALDE Party President, about the development of Brexit negotiations and the role that European liberals can play to support liberals in the UK.
In April 2018, at the fringes of ALDE Party’s Council, you have been awarded with the Liberal International Medal of Liberalism. This award emphasizes your long-term commitment to advance liberal values on a local, national and international level. Could you tell us more about your recent plans and initiatives?
I had the honour to be elected twice to lead the ALDE Party: in 2011 and again in 2015. It had been my intention to stand again at the end of 2015. However when Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum the morning after the UK General Election in June 2015 – on the day the ALDE Party Council was meeting in Oslo – I knew that I had to abandon my plans to continue and to devote myself full time to campaigning in the UK. I was one of very few people who thought it likely the vote would go against continued membership. Tragically, my concerns were proven right. However we have not given up the fight. I continue to campaign for a review of the 2016 referendum result which would stop Brexit. Brexit is bad for the UK and bad for Europe. It may yet be stopped.
Up in the European agenda in October are the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom on Brexit. How do you see the negotiations developing from now onwards?
The main problem is that the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty (a request to leave the EU) before reaching any consensus on what is its preferred alternative to full EU membership. It took the government 21 months to agree the ‘Chequers Plan’; and what it agreed was a plan which is unacceptable to the EU, for reasons the EU laid out right at the start, viz. you must be either in or out of the single market, you cannot pick the bits which suit you best and leave the rest. So we are well behind in the talks and the preparations to leave the EU. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the Chequers Plan would be acceptable to the UK Parliament. Probably the only alternative which a majority of MPs would back would be the Norway option. I think it is possible the government will fall before Christmas.
With Brexit approaching quickly, how could European citizens do in order to help and support their Liberal friends in the UK?
Most important is to be prepared to give the UK more time. Public opinion is turning against Brexit, but perhaps not far or fast enough to make a difference. The more time we have, the less likely Brexit will happen at all.
Second is to go to the UK and campaign for the UK to stay in. Or, if you can’t find the time to go, donate what the visit would cost you to an organisation or political party which is actively campaigning for a second referendum.
Third, spread the word about the benefits the EU brings. The British have been fed a diet of lies and other anti EU propaganda for many years. Only now are they beginning to think independently. We need to set the record straight.
And finally, in the words of the English poet Arthur Hugh Clough in the poem of that name, Say not the struggle nought availeth!