Nick Clegg looks at how the economy has suffered since the Brexit vote, and the effect on public services. While the Tories cave in to pressure from the Brexit press and their right wing, Labour fail to offer opposition. Only the Lib Dems will give people a say.
In his speech to the National Liberal Club, our EU spokesperson Nick Clegg set the party’s position on Brexit.
My argument today is simple: our country cannot thrive without a strong economy.
And a strong economy is incompatible with a hard Brexit.
The pound has been falling since the prospect of the referendum was announced in mid-2015, and with average earnings growth set to stall later this year, consumers are inevitably going to feel the Brexit squeeze.
When prices go up and wages do not, millions of people are going to be poorer.
A lot poorer.
The average household is likely to be £500 worse off in 2017 compared to 2016 – and that’s before the Brexit negotiations have even started in earnest.
Over a five-year period, Brexit will have dented the public finances by £59bn.
Money that could have been used to cut waiting times in A&E, keep beds open, and pay for vital medicines.
Money that could have been used to ease the intense pressure on local care services for our ageing population.
Money that could have been used to stop the shameful cuts to school budgets.
The government has effectively maxed out its credit card on Brexit.
Leaving you to pick up the cost.
Nick went on to describe how Brexit could affect our businesses…
The Brexit squeeze is already being felt in the world of business, through higher import prices, a shortage of EU workers, and reduced investment.
Some companies that rely on imported ingredients are already trying to disguise the impacts through creative repackaging, as we’ve seen with the reduced chocolate in Toblerone.
Others are struggling to find staff: the food and drink industry is more reliant on EU workers than any other sector in the UK. Around 29% of our food and drink manufacturing workforce are EU nationals.
The fall in the value of the pound is already causing some EU workers to consider leaving the UK, as their wages are now worth significantly less back home.
In some cases jobs have already been lost, including 300 in Newcastle and York, following Nestle’s decision to move production to Poland.
So the immediate impacts of the referendum have been much worse than the Conservatives want you to think.
Make no mistake: our economic future is hanging in the balance.
Theresa May could have chosen to remain in the Single Market, as have three other EU countries: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
She could have chosen to be in the Customs Union. One non-EU country, Turkey, has done so.
She could have tried to persuade the EU to reform the free movement rules to re-focus them on work, instead of giving up without a fight.
Instead, she shunned all of these, elevating immigration over the long-term needs of millions of hard pressed families.
This can only be understood as a political decision based on the pressures from the Conservatives’ right wing and the Brexit press.
But the Brexit squeeze won’t be felt by the Prime Minister and her supporters in the right-wing media; it will be paid for by ordinary people out of their wages, by sick people needing treatment on the NHS, by elderly people needing care, and by children who won’t receive the education they deserve.
At this election, the Liberal Democrats are the only major national party that is sounding the alarm against hard Brexit.
Labour's failing opposition
Labour’s disastrous failure to do the most basic job of an opposition party: holding the government to account, has given the Conservatives a clear run at their extreme version of Brexit.
We will do what Labour have failed to do, and hold the Conservatives’ feet to the fire.
Lib Dems commitment to democracy
Today, we make a commitment to do two things:
First: to fight to secure terms which retain as many of the benefits of EU membership as possible.
Second, to secure a referendum on the final agreement, so that the people can decide the future for the country.
That referendum will offer two choices; accept the deal, or remain in the EU.
Liberal Democrats will campaign for a remain vote.
Tory con tricks
Hard Brexit is the latest in a series of con tricks.
The Conservatives were tricking you when they said there would be £350 million a week for the NHS.
They’re tricking you by pretending there’s no Brexit squeeze.
And they’re tricking you when they claim they can secure a deal with the exact same benefits as EU membership.
This trickery is the personal responsibility of Theresa May.
She deserves remorseless, unforgiving scrutiny for the decisions she is seeking to impose upon the country.
By choosing to be careless with your future, the Conservatives have placed party before country, themselves before all else, politics before the nation.
Don’t let the Conservatives get away with making this happen.
Don’t let Labour get away with letting this happen.
Britain needs an effective opposition to hard Brexit.
That is why I urge you to vote for a real opposition - the Liberal Democrats.