Brexit was Britain’s "biggest own goal since losing Americas’ says Lib Dem candidate

The Lib Dem candidate for Tiverton & Minehead has condemned Brexit as the country's "biggest own goal since losing the Americas." Rachel Gilmour articulated her stance during the Tiverton & Minehead hustings event on June 19, emphasising a widespread regret among Brexit voters and advocating for the UK's re-entry into the single market.

"Seventy-four per cent of people who voted for Brexit now regret it," she said. "Our policy and manifesto are clear: we should strive to rejoin the single market. Currently, we pay to import and export, contributing to rising food prices due to inflation and these trade barriers."

Ms Gilmour recounted a conversation with a garage owner before the EU referendum. She used the metaphor of limiting business to cars from the Outer Hebrides to highlight the impracticality of leaving a large, tariff-free market. Furthermore, she criticised the Labour and Conservative parties for rejecting the European Parliament's offer to restart the Erasmus student exchange program, accusing them of prioritising political gain over young people's futures.

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Despite the formal departure from the EU in January 2020, the economic and social ramifications continue to be felt across the UK. The Liberal Democrats have consistently positioned themselves as pro-European, advocating for closer ties with the EU and, ultimately, seeking to reverse Brexit.

During the hustings, Ms Gilmour detailed the economic consequences of Brexit, arguing that it has increased costs for businesses and consumers.

"You might wonder why your food has risen so much," she said. "It's partly inflation, but it's partly those factors. We are paying to import, and we are paying to export."

The Conservative candidate, Ian Liddell-Grainger, acknowledged the divisiveness of the Brexit debate but stressed the need for a pragmatic relationship with Europe.

"Brexit was the most toxic debate this country's had for generations," he said.

Despite his criticisms of the EU, he underscored the importance of cooperation with European nations on various fronts, including trade and technology.

“I chair the Commonwealth at the moment, but I'm also on the Council of Europe, which is the 46 countries of Europe, and we're responsible for the Court of Human Rights. There is a lot wrong with Europe, my God. You must look at it now, but we can't live in isolation; we're an island.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger elaborated on his vision for post-Brexit Britain, emphasising the Commonwealth's role in providing new opportunities for trade and cooperation.

“We’ve been putting the Commonwealth back together; it’s now 56 countries, and we've grown. One of the things we've especially looked at is working as a much broader system of trade and understanding. That includes the European Union. We’re only 22 miles from Calais and Ireland on the other side. I am a great advocate for working with the European Union.

“They want to deal with us; we want to deal with them,” he said. “There is a common-sense approach. We've been one of the most successful islands in the world. We can do this again, but we've got to work together to achieve it.”

Frederick Keen, representing the Reform Party, expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of Brexit, blaming previous leaders for inadequate implementation. He opposed rejoining the EU, advocating for maximising the UK's independence while maintaining trade relations.

“I don't think we've got Brexit at the moment,” he said. “I don't think the people that lead us want Brexit. I think Theresa May was probably one of the worst prime ministers we've ever had, and she certainly didn't want Brexit to happen.

“Northern Ireland is still in the EU in many ways with VAT and all sorts of things. How many of you out there would like to be told or have laws given to you by Brussels? Because if we go back to the EU, that's what will happen.”

Mr Keen highlighted the need for British sovereignty and self-reliance, saying: “I think this country and the people of this country are our answer. We can get through this. We can trade with the EU, of course, but we certainly don't want freedom of movement; we don't want to return to that, and most people don't. We voted to leave the EU; it’s no good moaning about it; we need to make the most of it.”

Jonathan Barter, the Labour candidate, pointed out the shifting global dynamics and stressed the necessity of resetting UK-EU relations.

He dismissed the idea of rejoining the EU but called for pragmatic cooperation to address common challenges like climate change and asylum policies.

“We must bear in mind that the world is profoundly shifting. For hundreds of years, Britain has been a tiny island that is punched above its weight. But the global order of things is transforming massively.

“We've got the emergence of these new superpower economies. So, places like China and India will be coming along within the next 30 years. The dynamics of the whole globe are going to change. We've got to reconcile with that. Whether we like it or not, Britain decided to leave the European Union in 2016, and we've got this mangled relationship with the European Union. Labour has been quite clear that we need to reset that relationship because we are an island. Still, we cannot solve the profound challenges such as farming, climate emergencies, and asylum without working with other sovereign nations.”

The Green candidate, Laura Buchanan, was absent from the event.