By Bev Haigh-Jones
We began this series of articles last month with a question-and-answer session with Tom Scott, on behalf of the Green Party. This month, for the second event, we have been fortunate enough to chat with Phil Hutty, Liberal Democrat PPC for North Cornwall.
As you will see, Phil has been open about Lib Dem Party policy, as well as with his own opinions on various subjects, and he has given us some insight as to how things currently are on the doorsteps of Cornwall. The overriding theme through it all, though, was the fact that the Liberal Democrats remain a pro-EU party, which have a wish to rejoin at some stage in the future. (Please note that the Q&A session took place on 14 March, before the recent Lib Dem conference.)
“The Liberal Democrats will be holding their conference next weekend and trade with the EU will be on the agenda. We have a very comprehensive and detailed policy paper for discussion at the conference, which covers all aspects of our relationship with the EU and the way the party would wish to move forward. Policy Paper 144. To be clear, the Lib Dems remain fully committed to rejoin and I can’t see that changing, but we do have to be sensible, we will have to ensure that when we return we do so carrying a big majority of our nation and with a different mindset than before, one which is committed to truly being part of the EU and not one that sees it as a convenient political scapegoat to our home problems. Our conference will begin to tackle this and start what I see as a “step by step” approach. And it has to be this way, because simply going back into the EU won’t work unless the majority in the UK want to rejoin.
With Brexit, the problem was that people did not understand what being in the EU was all about. When we return, we need to stay, not leave again in the future. We see the four steps as being:
a) repairing the relationship – which will mean a change of approach by the UK, including on EU citizens;
b) rejoining other programmes such as Erasmus;
c) negotiation of reciprocal deals, veterinary agreements, etc.; and
d) rejoining the single market.
If we attempted to rejoin the single market too soon, many people won’t understand, especially the more right-wing elements. When we do return, it has to be on the basis that we can stay long term.”
Questions and answers
Q – Will the Lib Dem manifesto include the “step by step” route to rejoin?
PH – Yes, it must as we can’t move away from that. We have to be talking to people and keep making the point that Brexit has not been the great success that was promised, and that they were lied to.
Q – I heard Tim Farron give a talk some time ago and was aghast that he was accepting of Brexit as it was a democratic vote. Some people still feel that way, so how would you resolve that?
PH – We do need to stand in the shoes of Brexit voters, understand why they made that decision, understand what they believed would happen before we can explain that they were told lies and start to work towards gaining their support. If we just say that we will rejoin if we get a simple majority, it won’t succeed. Indeed, I think that still needs to be around 70% under current EU rules. Also, we have to accept that we are unlikely to get the same preferential position that we had previously, and the issue of the euro could be a problem, all of which will have to be resolved before we can return with the people behind us.
Q – There is also the problem of the many laws which may have changed by then if the REUL Bill goes through. If we have diverged from EU laws on trade, employment, etc., these would need to be renegotiated.
PH – There would need to be a transition back to EU alignment. Many laws are very sensible and important so there would be replacements, but this would need to be resolved, that is why the “step by step” approach is so important. When we rejoin we have to have a different approach to make it successful.
Q – We all agree that it will take time, but probably our questions would be around how long?
PH – Well, we are canvassing now, and although this is very much focused on obtaining opinions, rather than votes, many of those that we speak to in North Cornwall that have been Tory supporters, and committed Tory voters at that, are ready not to support them again. In fact, around two thirds are not planning to vote Tory next time, and one reason is the government approach to Brexit. Now of course some of these will change their minds again by the next election but not all, and I know, because I have also helped out with canvassing at the recent St Ives by-election, what is happening in North Cornwall was also evident there. I don’t think that the Tories realise the trouble that they are in, particularly the anger around Brexit, even from leave voters.
Q– Are you hearing much on the doorstep about immigration since the Tories have been pushing their stance on refugees, etc?
PH – It does arise, and we point out the problem is caused by our poor infrastructure and of course, poor politically led decisions of our government. Those problems existed before immigrants arrived. We are not “full”, but the appropriate support structure is not in place. There are some people who are frightened, worried about how their lives might change if immigrants arrive, it also plays to the reality that this government takes them for granted. We need to address these fears and explain this is the government’s fault, not that of someone on a boat.
Q – Are you optimistic about a change of party in North Cornwall?
PH – I have knocked on lots of doors, so yes, I do have some optimism, I do feel we are in the best position to retake the seat and although they will put forward a candidate, I don’t believe that Labour will fight hard, because they know our voting system means they simply can’t take the seat.
Q– We are really pleased to hear that. We also are aware of far less negativity than before, and more anti-Tory feeling.
PH – I have the feeling that the Tories probably don’t want to win the next election. As time goes on it will get harder and harder for things like trade, etc. In time, if they are not in power, the Tories could then blame others for the problems. I am determined not to let these people have their way.
Q – What is your view on the planned devolution for Cornwall and the Cornish mayor?
PH – It’s just smoke and mirrors! It is just about a power grab for the Tory elite. The Lib Dems are in favour of devolution, but only when it is in the best interest of the area. This is just about power and is not in Cornwall’s best interest.
Q– Will many people be angry when you say that we cannot rejoin quickly?
PH – I am intent on returning to the EU and then staying. To do that we have to not only win but also change the current culture, so it would be no good winning an election or new referendum on false promises. The road back is not short, winning without carrying a big majority will not be successful, it will just start the undermining of Europe all over again and that will take time.
Q– There’s no alternative to Lib Dems if people support rejoin, is there?
PH – The Lib Dems are not a party that wants power for power’s sake, we are a party that wants to make a difference. We are pro-EU because we believe it is simply better for the UK. Sure there are flaws in the EU, but we still believe that it is the best option.
Q– Can you push to try to get votes for disenfranchised ex-pats?
PH – I can pretty much guarantee that the government won’t do it.
Q – Also, there was supposed to be a single representative appointed in Parliament to support ex-pats, but that hasn’t happened yet.
PH – That’s because it would be a step towards PR and I don’t think they want to do that. I don’t even think that Labour would go for PR because the current system is likely to give them power next time around, indeed PR won’t be in their manifesto.
Q – Without PR we just get a see-saw of ideas all around the country, from one area to another.
PH – Like I said, I just can’t see it happening.
As with last month, this proved to be a very interesting and enlightening session for us, and we are looking forward to the next one. If you would like to know more about Liberal Democrat policy, their current plans and values can be accessed here.
At the next of these events, we are hoping to hear from and speak to, Jayne Kirkham, on behalf of the Labour Party. Look out for a report on this session in our next newsletter.