Gerhard Lohmann-Bond’s speech to a pro-EU rally, which was organised by the European Movement on today in Nottingham:
“We are united not just by our common cause, but have in fact far more in common than separates us. We share a common European heritage, a mixed blessing considering the hundreds of years of bloodshed which run like a red line through all our histories. It was what eventually became the European Union which put a stop to all that. It is said that we cannot choose our family, but we can choose our friends. By the same token we have no say in where we are born and raised, but the decision where we want to spend our lives is very much our own.
“I chose to make my home in England because I am an anglophile. Like many of the three million EU citizens living and working in the UK, I felt life was good, I felt privileged and got on with things. Many years after I first arrived in the UK I found myself moving to a small village in Lincolnshire, a few miles north of Stamford, with the wife and two children I had acquired along the way.
“The Conservatives were already in power at that time (ostensibly sharing it with the LibDems) and the country was groaning under their austere regime. There was a bunch of fruitcakes known as kippers agitating, but nobody took them seriously. There were also some seriously deranged individuals on the right wing of the Conservatives, but nobody took them seriously either.
“If only we had known, if only we had realised the danger they represented, if only we had understood how an economic policy driving more and more people into poverty, despair, and hopelessness combined with the relentless drip drip drip of poisonous lies fed to the public by a right wing tabloid press would finally convince a tiny majority of voters to ‘throw a tantrum’, as one prominent leave campaigner put it. And if only they had realised what the consequences of their vote would be!
“Parliamentary democracy is built on trust, the trust of voters that their elected representatives would on balance always act in their best interests. Looking at where we are now, we must question that belief. Up to the referendum we had a prime minister who was ultimately prepared to put his own party interests before that of the country, who was prepared to put his country’s prosperity at risk in an insane gamble he thought he couldn’t lose.
“One shoddy piece of legislation and a half-baked campaign later in which he tried to convince the country that more of the same was the best deal available – at a time when the neoliberal policies of his chancellor and his predecessors had already laid whole swathes of the industrial North to waste, when the rich had got so much richer than the great majority of honest hardworking people that they seemed to live on another planet altogether, when even the formerly comfortably off middle classes had lost much of their job security and their prospects; when the young could not only no longer trust that they would be better off than their parents, but could be certain that they would be worse off, when the old had to sell the home they wanted to pass on to their children to pay for their care, at such a time this prime minister tried to tell people that being part of the EU was good for them.
“What could possibly have gone wrong? We know what could have gone wrong, because it did. This was one man who put the unity of the United Kingdom at risk in a vain attempt to unify his hopelessly divided party. And then, when he had lost that desperate gamble, he vanished from the political scene, and the lunatics took over the asylum that was and is the cabinet office.
“Now, who is left to pick up the pieces? I can tell you who is left to pick up the pieces: a House of Commons full of spineless pricks and defeatists who first naively voted for a referendum they thought they could not lose (and even if they did, it was only advisory after all) and then compounded their idiocy by meekly claiming this was the will of the people and they had to act accordingly; a prime minister who had to pick a cabinet from among such talents as David Davies, a man described as thick as mince and lazy as a toad by one of the leading leave campaigners; Boris Johnson who used to fill the pages of the Telegraph with a litany of lies about the EU and who is best known for suffering from foot-in-mouth disease rather than for his diplomatic prowess and tact; Liam Fox, a man who is known to be in the pocket of the hard right in the USA; and a man casually referred to as ‘spreadsheet Phil’. To such people we have entrusted our future.
“What could possibly go wrong? We now have a government lead by a woman who promised to be strong and stable, but is too weak to live with her cabinet ministers, and too weak to sack any of them. Let there be no doubt about it: everything that could possibly go wrong will go wrong with this sorry lot in charge. So, where are we heading as a nation, or should I say as one of the several nations which make up the United Kingdom, because there is no certainty that the Scots will stay with us, or that Northern Ireland will not decide to unite with the South once Brexit bites?
“We are heading for a future where we will no longer have a health service which is free and available when we need it. Even if we could find replacements outside the European Union for the vast number of EU citizens who have come over here to work as doctors, nurses, and administrators, the NHS will be a mere shadow of its former glorious self, because it is being privatised even as I speak. It is said that if you go to hospital, you are more likely to be treated by a migrant than find one ahead of you in the queue.
“Applications for NHS jobs have already dropped off to the point where whole hospital wards have to close for lack of staff and where A&E departments are on more or less permanent black alert. Let me make this absolutely clear: don’t claim to campaign for the NHS one the hand if on the other you campaign to leave the EU. You can’t save the one while you pursue the other. The times when we could hope to fill the vacancies from existing national resources are long gone, and a time when we can reasonably hope to fill them with newly trained indigenous staff is far ahead in the future.
“We are heading for a future in which we could not build the houses we need to build if we want to solve our housing crisis even if we tried, because we have allowed our skills base to shrink. Remember how hard it was to get a plumber before our Eastern European friends started to offer their services? We are heading for a future in which our infrastructure crumbles beyond repair, because we cannot find the engineers to fix it.
“That skill base also went when the manufacturing sector was decimated. We are heading for a future in which we may no longer be able to feed ourselves adequately, because we have become too reliant on imports and do not have the collective will or the skills to grow and harvest our own food in sufficient quantities. We are heading for a future in which we can no longer rely on the standards of food safety to which we have become accustomed. The bonfire of regulations promised by the Brexiteers, well, they will be the very rules which keep us safe going up in flames.
“The University of Wageningen carried out a study of the likely impacts of leaving the EU on agriculture on behalf of the National Farmers Union and found them to be overwhelmingly negative. It strikes me as bizarre that anyone running a small or medium sized farm should have voted to leave, when their incomes – small though most of them are – rely on a system of subsidies which is almost certainly going to be swept away if Tory rule prevails. We are heading for a future in which our universities will no longer count among the best in the world, as academic staff leaves for better jobs elsewhere (this is already happening).
“Even Theresa May, who is pathologically obsessed with migration numbers, must realise by now that the targets her government ostensibly pursues would leave us short of essential workers in almost every major sector of industry and commerce. Migration, one of the big issues during the referendum campaign, is hardly mentioned anymore. And one by one the promises of a brighter future in a free trade world have fallen by the way, as the free traders of the world laugh at us and take us to the cleaners.
“Even the bankers are leaving the sinking ship. Make no mistake: xenophobia drives out the brightest and the best first, because they can find jobs wherever they want. Why would they want to stay in place where they no longer feel welcome? Worst of all will be the loss to our culture. Britain, once admired for its self-confidence, openness, inventiveness, and diversity, will become known as an island which had it all and threw it all away in a hissy fit.
“That Britain is the land in which I chose to make my home all those years ago and I want it back. It’s my country, too, and I want it back! I believe we have won the argument against Brexit long ago. Even the best of Brexits will leave our country poorer, less resilient, less beautiful. Let us not go into that long dark night of isolation. Let’s remember who we are and fight for our common future. We owe that much to ourselves and to generations to come. And let the people have the final say. It is said that politics is too important to leave it to the politicians. So let us, the people, take control and let the people decide.”
Gerhard Lohmann-Bond is a long standing member and the Regional Co-ordinator of the East Midlands Green Party