Europe and immigration are two issues which are both central to why many Liberal Democrat members are active in politics. They are also issues on which many party members were looking forward to seeing what candidates for the party leadership had to say on the matter, especially given the different views expressed as to what the party’s future line should be on both.
Here is what he says (with bonus points for the reference to the party’s democratic policy making process):
Since declaring my intention to stand for the Liberal Democrat leadership I have been overwhelmed by messages of support. In the strong liberal tradition I have also received a great many questions about my vision for the country and the party. The first and most immediate issue on all our minds is the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, and I therefore welcome the very direct questions from party members on this subject.
I am proud to be a member of the Liberal Democrats, the most internationalist of parties, and I wholly subscribe to the statement of beliefs set out in the preamble to the party constitution, including our commitment to ‘fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services’.
I possess liberal views on immigration and its economic and cultural benefits. I married into an Asian family and I have spent much of my life battling anti-immigrant prejudice.
I have been a supporter of the European project and Britain’s role in it for over half a century. I was and am a Remainer. I support and promote our party’s policy of a referendum at the end of the Brexit process on the terms of the deal as finally negotiated, including the option of remaining within the EU – an option which I strongly endorse and would campaign for.
I specifically support the aims of the single market and its four freedoms – the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour. I spent five years in government as Business Secretary evangelising for it, and on the 29th of June, at the end of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I voted with all my Liberal Democrat colleagues and 90 members of other parties to keep Britain a full member of it. If Brexit is to go ahead, maintaining membership of the single market should be our negotiating objective – a position which we must champion as Labour betrays, once again, its Remain supporters.
I am not, however, a free market fundamentalist; I believe that the four freedoms must take account of wider social concerns at the national level. I believe, for example, that while the freedom of movement of capital can be beneficial, it must be constrained – a position which the party has long supported. I worked, for example, with Emmanuel Macron, when he was my opposite number, to restrict the ease of corporate take-overs.
I believe in free trade, but I worked in government to stop a narrow interpretation of EU public procurement rules, in order to enable supply chain factors – such as local sourcing – to be promoted within the UK’s industrial strategy.
I have observed that other member states impose restrictions on free movement. Germany, for example, restricts the free movement of professional staff. It seems entirely reasonable to look at ways through which the UK can remain within the single market – and, I hope, the European Union – but manages migration in a way that better deals with some of the real social impacts on local communities. I have suggested a variety of options, including restricting admission to those with jobs to come to. The failure to consider reforms of this kind may well have contributed to the Brexit vote.
I believe that Brexit would be a disaster for Britain, but we have to recognise that we lost the vote last year. If we can help to prevent it, even at this late stage, by looking in an open-minded way at reforms such as these, it seems to me that the prize is worth the effort.
One final point: one of the great strengths of the party I hope to lead is that its policy is set through discussion and debate to which any party member can contribute – not imposed from the top down like the Conservatives or, increasingly, Labour. The leader has the right, and the duty, to put forward his or her views and to debate them with party members in an open and positive way, but at the end of the day it is the party, not the leader, which decides our policy – and that is entirely right.