Interview with anti Brexit Liberal Democrat MP John Leech
Last updated byWe took the liberty of interviewing party leader for the Liberal Democrats John Leech. John Leech was the Liberal Democrat MP for Manchester Withington for a decade. He was one of two Lib Dem MPs to vote against entering the UK’s first peace-time coalition government. He has campaigned in particular on equal rights, affordable and social housing and refugees. He was the ‘architect’ of Alan Turing‘s pardon after running a high profile campaign and submitting several bills to parliament to have the WWII hero pardoned. He was instrumental in the campaign to introduce ‘safe standing’, outlaw homophobic chanting at football matches and put immense pressure on UK leaders to accept Syrian child refugees. He is now leader of the Liberal Democrats in Manchester.
Why would anyone support the Brexit move in the first place and why has the idea of Brexit become such an issue today?
There are many reasons why someone might have voted to leave the EU in 2016. I think one of the biggest, and one that people in the Netherlands would understand, is that the UK has a voting system – first past the post – which means that more often than not your vote means nothing, and the EU referendum in 2016 was the first time in most people’s lifetime that they had a vote that counted – no mattered where they lived. And they chose to send a message. I don’t blame people for that. I do, however, blame politicians and the Leave campaign for not being honest. People didn’t vote to be poorer, or to cut themselves off from the world. They voted to send a message to the political establishment that wasn’t listening to them and the tragic irony is that it is those are the same people who will be hit hardest by Brexit. It was an anti-politics vote and general dissatisfaction around politics. The EU has not been really bad at promoting the good things it does and the arguments that the Leave campaign were making were far more straight forward.
There is actually a small net cost to the UK being in the EU but the huge economic benefit to being in the EU is never factored into that argument.
Similarly, the Leave campaign portrayed immigration as a bad thing for our country. With many people on housing lists, it’s an easy argument to say the country is full and we can’t grow anymore. But actually under the surface, there is a clear economic benefit to immigration; they give more into system than taking our and fill vital skilled and unskilled jobs.
What would you say, in your opinion would be the biggest impact of Brexit on Britain?
In the long term it will be trade. Half of productivity from Greater Manchester goes into the EU. We simply don’t have skillset in our country to do the jobs that need doing. But in the short term, it will be complete chaos in Britain. We will have a drastic shortage of vital products like medicines and be unable to import or export products. We will be desperately trying to sort out things that need to be resolved immediately in the event of no deal – it will just be complete chaos.
What would have the biggest impact on the Netherlands if Brexit were to be implemented?
I think personally the saddest thing for me is to lose our close connection with our neighbours.
Of course there is vital trade that we would lose but there’s a really fundamental loss between friends that I think is at risk here. The EU was formed to bring countries together after generations of fighting and it breaks my heart to see us walking away from that.
There’s also a real danger of a ripple effect and that other EU countries will follow suit.
The Netherlands and the UK is one of the oldest trading relationships in Europe and is our fourth biggest partner. Imports like flowers will be hit by Brexit as delays at borders make their already-short shelf life and cost of flowers even harder for businesses.
How would you say being a part of EU outweighs the portrayed benefits of exiting EU?
I don’t see any benefit to leaving the EU! How can we negotiate better deals with other countries than the EU has? The EU will still have 27 state members. To suggest we can negotiate better deals with countries that, frankly frankly have dubious standards – such as America’s chlorinated chicken – is just wrong.
What changes for your party and other pro-Europe parties in relation to the work you do when Brexit goes through?
The Liberal Democrats are doing everything we can to stop Brexit. If we do leave, it is our policy to take us back in and campaign to rejoin. We will never shift in our position that Britain is better in the EU.
Gathering from your experience, what is the most important message you would like to convey to the voters in the Netherlands at this time?
Netherlands people must vote for their future in Europe. We’ve seen in the UK what happens when voter apathy sets in and the right rises up. D66 is a party we share many values with and will bring a sensible, rational and pro-European voice to parliament.
What do the Liberal Democrats and D66 have most in common?
D66 – now more than ever – share and understand our pro-European values. Brexit has shown just how important it is to vote and support pro-European parties like D66 and the Lib Dems in order to stop the rise of the right, whether that be Nigel Farage in the UK or PVV and FvD in the Netherlands.
We share many other progressive policies though. We are especially passionate about equal rights (in the UK, it was the Lib Dems who designed and implemented the same-sex marriage law), enabling everyone to live comfortably in a home and tackling climate change – which can only be done across borers in the European parliament.
In what ways are you here to support your sister organization D66, and what are the strongest points about your collective agendas that need to come across to the people of the Netherlands as they prepare to cast their votes?
Ellen, Tom, Jelmer (members of the Utrecht D66 team) came over to help us in our local elections a couple of years ago so we have come over to return the favour. There is a lot to be said about sharing tips and campaign ideas across borders.
But my team and I are here to speak to expats and Britons living in the Netherlands and persuade them to vote for the most pro-European party. In particularly we want to get as many young people out to vote D66 as possible.
D66 and Lib Dems sit together in the European Parliament and work on cross-border issues like climate change, the refugee crisis and human trafficking. These are common values and tackling them together is vital.
What age groups do you mean by younger generations? Why is the younger generation reluctant to vote?
Getting young people to vote is not a problem exclusive to the Netherlands – we struggle in the UK too. But being in the EU is one of the greatest opportunities for young people to travel, study and work abroad.
Whereas older people see it as a duty to vote, politicians have done almost nothing to engage young people and get them enthused about politics.
That is made worse by social media and the negative view it tends to have on politics.