I am a passionate internationalist. I have been a strong advocate of Britain’s positive membership of the European Union for the whole time that I’ve been involved in politics. When the Conservative government made the mistake of calling an unnecessary referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU I threw myself into campaigning for a Remain vote. I worked not just with my Liberal Democrat colleagues but was also a founder of the Bristol and South Gloucestershire branch of the cross party Stronger In campaign. I was pleased that the West of England voted clearly for Remain (56.3%) but disappointed that the rest of the country didn’t follow our lead. Since the referendum I have not given up the fight. I was one of the founders of the cross party Bristol for Europe group and have spoken at several public demonstrations of support for the EU.
As regional mayor I would stand up for the rights of the EU nationals who live in the West of England. Over 30,000 people work in some of our key industries, such as aerospace, or in the NHS and other public services. Our four universities have EU nationals among their academic staff and there are thousands of EU students at both undergraduate and post grad level. Many research programmes are dependent on this international mix of brain power. I will urge the government to guarantee their right to remain in Britain, irrespective of the Article 50 negotiations.
I will put together an evidence base for the impact of Brexit on the regional economy. Working with employers, the NHS, universities and the public sector I will present the findings to the Prime Minister.
We have two hard years ahead of us while the government negotiates with the EU. I will continue to strengthen and deepen cultural and economic links with our existing EU partners. Our relationships with our closest neighbours will still be the most important, whatever the outcome of the Article 50 discussions.
I will also lead regional trade delegations to our emerging trade partners in the rest of the world. There is an untapped resource here among our own population, many of whom have family links to south Asian countries. I will work with UKTI to maximise exports of locally owned BAME businesses to emerging markets.
Finally, this election is a straight political choice between me and the Conservative candidate who backs Theresa May’s plan for an extreme version of Brexit. I remain opposed to Britain leaving the EU and do not accept that Brexit is now inevitable. Even many of those who voted Leave did not expect Britain to be catapulted out of the single market and the customs union. Leaving either or both will be deeply damaging to the region’s economy. I support the Liberal Democrat demand for the public to be given a final chance to accept or reject the outcome of the government’s negotiations.