By Max Jeffrey
Tom Brake MP is the Liberal Democrat’s spokesperson for Exiting the European Union. He has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Carshalton and Wallington in London since 1997. Max Jeffrey talks to him about Brexit, and when the Remain campaign will end.
Tom Brake’s affinity with Europe comes from his education at a Parisian international school. ‘There were students from all over Europe; from France, Germany, Holland, Sweden. So, we established good friendly relations.’ His relationships with American friends,however, were more complicated. He tells me of one, who after returning from a visit to the US asked him two questions: what adaptations had Brake made to his car, and did he own a gun. ‘I could see how close I felt to people from Europe, in perhaps a way I didn’t in relation to the US.’
The Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Exiting the European Union is on the front line in a battle to keep us in the bloc. Before, he skated across the party’s top positions, including Chief Whip and Shadow Minister for the Home Office. Influenced by his background, this current place is personal. ‘The advantages that I had, and that my younger sister had, of being able to go and live and study in another EU country is something I want my children to be able to benefit from. There is absolutely no guarantee that if we come out of the EU they are going to remain there; what I consider rights.’
His consequent frustration at our voting to leave is twice manifested. First, at the country, which he called ‘unwelcoming’, following a rise in hate crime. The referendum normalised the opinions of a ‘very small group of people who were antagonistic towards anyone who is not white British’. Second, at the faces of the Leave campaign, namely Boris Johnson. Brake takes issue with the Foreign Secretary’s comments about possible Turkish immigration, if they were to join the EU. He argues Johnson normalised Xenophobic sentiment, like President Trump following his ‘sh*thole’ remark about African countries. ‘I deprecate him for that reason and have very little respect for him for that reason’.
Though Brake is irritated by the Foreign Secretary’s remarks, and admits his own side was not as accurate as it should have been, he advocates a second referendum; a vote on the agreed deal with the EU. He is opposed to a general election where parties decide to support leaving or remaining. ‘A referendum is more or less a vote on one issue, whereas a general election clearly is not.’ But what of the Liberal Democrat’s platform in the last election? Many saw them as a single-issue party, arguing to stay in the EU, and they returned only 12 seats. ‘That is true.’ he says.
There is an acceptance that without a second referendum, campaigning for EU membership must end. The battle will finally be over. ‘The point at which we will have left, and will find it very difficult to return, is the end of March 2019.’ To re-join after would be on the terms of any new member state. ‘The EU might make, as a requirement, joining the single currency, paying in a much larger contribution than the one we’re paying. We would not be able to opt out of any of the rules around home affairs and justice as we can currently.’ Even for the strongest supporter of the EU, this would be too much. ‘I think that’d be a hard sell for myself, frankly.’
Image: Liberal Democrats via Flickr