“Brexit is an exercise in self-mutilation” was the stark message delivered by the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC, MP, who addressed an audience of over 200 people of all ages at Hayesfield School on 20th September at an event organised by Bath for Europe. Mr Grieve is a key national figure in the ongoing Brexit drama who was dubbed the Tory ‘Rebel Commander’ earlier this year. The event garnered regional media interest; BBC Bristol Points West filmed a feature story with interviews with Mr Grieve, pro-Remain audience members and a proponent of the Leave campaign.
Mr Grieve, Conservative MP and former Attorney General, eloquently explored the reasons for the referendum result in 2016, the effects of leaving the EU, and concluded that a People’s Vote on the final deal was desirable now that we have more knowledge about the impact of Brexit.
Many people voted Leave for genuine reasons, he stated, including disillusion with the political elite and thinking Britain should be free to make its own decisions. Those votes should be respected, he said.
However, it had now become apparent that Britain will become seriously impoverished by leaving the European Union. “We are losing inward investment, we are endangering our manufacturing sector, our financial sector and our national security,” he warned, and predicted that the motor industry would not survive leaving the customs union.
Mr Grieve also discussed trade issues, highlighting the trade agreements around the world already enjoyed as part of EU membership and dismissed the prospect of the UK securing advantageous deals with China, India or the USA as laughable.
He continued by highlighting the impact on Northern Ireland if the UK pulls out of the Good Friday Agreement and on Scottish nationalism if Brexit has a negative effect. There is a “serious risk that the UK will break up,” he concluded.
Two years down the line, he said, we need to ask whether this is what people voted for in 2016. The question on the ballot paper only considered Brexit in the abstract and many people voted believing that we could remain in the single market with a Norway-style deal. On balance, he would feel more comfortable with a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal than signing off something which would go against the interests of the whole country.
Mr Grieve concluded his speech with a plea for a consensual approach to campaigning. Divisions in society will not be healed by confrontation, he said. Leave voters were a diverse group of people who wanted the UK to have the ability to manage its own affairs but didn’t necessarily appreciate the complexities and downsides. We should acknowledge the faults of the EU, he argued, but also better promote the benefits. In the lively Q&A session following his talk, Mr Grieve covered a wide range of topics.
Bath for Europe warmly thanks its events team and supporters for making the event such a success, and Mick Yates for his excellent photography.