Suffolk EU Alliance's Café Continental event a huge success

Suffolk EU Alliance’s Café Continental in Framlingham on Saturday 22 April

- A cross-party triumph
David Crowther (Twitter: @DavidrCrowther).

Some key Liberal Democrat figures – including parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal, James Sandbach and Brexit spokesperson for the East of England Belinda Brooks-Gordon - joined an uplifting cross-party Suffolk EU Alliance event Café Continental on Saturday in Framlingham. The Conservatives were invited to contribute a speaker but declined.

Great speakers and around a hundred ordinary folk – many like me new to the activism that we now need - explored how best to respond to the alarming political climate that has changed local and national life since last June. Much was aired and shared. Here’s a summary of who said what.

Julia Ewart (Chair, Suffolk EU Alliance) Welcome
We are a non-party alliance promoting the values of remaining a member of the EU through bringing together like minds, enabling them to meet, organising events to stimulate debate, and to be a collective voice.

Prof Emeritus Murray Forsyth (Balliol College, Oxford) Origins of the EU – and Future?
The story so far from 1946 (Churchill) through the original Council of Europe (Treaty of (yes) London), the Franco-German cooperation in coal and steel production, through to the Common Market and what followed.

Dr Robbie Moffatt (A Framlingham GP) The NHS and Brexit
The EU’s role is to enable each member nation to deliver health care as they want, and to provide a helpful framework of support and standards. Losing this means fewer staff but more (eg ex-pat elderly) patients, loss of UK influence in medical regulation, loss of £3.4billion a year to UK medical research; and a weakened UK economy forcing sell-off bit-by-bit of a bankrupt and broken NHS to American and other commercial interests.

Mark Gibbons (Management Consultant and Lib Dem candidate in upcoming Suffolk CC elections) How Brexit will hit East Anglia
Some 56% of farm income is EU subsidies. But most of our regional economy is in other sectors: distribution, financial services, transport and manufacturing. These trade both ways with EU (52% of exports and 65% of imports). By leaving the Single Market, and losing say 10% of that, we will need 40% more trade with USA, or 45% with China-Asia-Pacific to make good that loss. As a rule, for the same costs you half the trade when you double the distance.

Alex Mayer MEP (Labour; East of England) Politics – the state of the parties
Alex explained how the EU works, with MEPs working together in international political groups rather than separate nations. Brexit is not a priority in the EU whose focus is on upcoming French / German elections and policy developments to improve life for EU citizens (eg automation and the future of jobs). Agreement is reached through consensus, often balanced around the centre-left. Issues in the East of England include: EU citizens fearful; many local people’s pro-Brexit mindset unshaken. Hopeful signs: get people from across tribal divides together with common interests (eg farmers) to discuss consequences and they may listen to each other with more open minds; get young people to register to vote and shape the politics; be as active as anti-EU folk have been and still are – letters to local papers, talk to MP, join local radio phone ins; get organised, this is a long game. James Sandbach’s message here was “every anti-hard-Brexit vote counts”

Simon Barrow (Employer Brand; former advisory council member European Movement) The UK never made the emotional case for Europe – why it still needs to be made
The emotional case for Europe was never made yet the best businesses know you must to change attitudes. Some golden rules: ugly remarks are remembered for ever; don’t fall out with your neighbours; campaigns fail when feelings are misunderstood; emotion bypasses information; someone convinced against their will remains unconvinced. Article 50 signed, but where’s the joy? Remainers = sad, bereaved. Leavers = sullen, nervous. No UK politician in power (note) ever makes emotional case for Europe, just “in Britain’s best interests” – a joyless phrase. The best businesses see their work as an adventure. We must too. We learn and gain together across EU: bigger canvas; shared civilisation; quality politics; search for peace; shared values of justice, tolerance, social democracy; capitalism, enterprise, social mobility; shared pride – Mozart is ‘our European’ and so is Shakespeare. We must spread the joy through events like this today.

Belinda Brooks-Gordon (Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson, East of England) My Brexit perspective
Last year’s referendum was a disaster. After negative campaigning people voted on what they saw as ‘their best interests’ rather than their values. People beginning to realise they were lied to. Example: EU Regulation lowers production costs and produces better, safer goods; in one year 2400 dodgy goods from USA and China were banned thanks to EU Regs; equal pay and other equalities (eg maternity rights) are EU wide so don’t make UK less competitive, just a better place to live. The ‘European project’ is not perfect but it’s still pretty wonderful. We must harness young people’s technical knowledge and energy to win the digital battle. This battle will not end. The Lib Dems will support proposals for UK citizens to be eligible for EU Citizenship if they want it.

Other highlights? Good to see the Lib Dems Suffolk Coastal team with James Sandbach, Saxmundham Town Councillor and parliamentary candidate. (I now have a copy of Blything Focus!); a team from The New European newspaper were giving away free copies (I’d bought mine from Botesdale Co-op already – my weekly achievement of excavation from where they hide it); Aldeburgh Books with some great reads for we liberal elite. And finally some wonderful pastries, cakes, teas and coffees for those, like me, who needed the brain food.

Chair of the Suffolk EU Alliance, Julia Ewart told me: “Do join us and help promote the values of the EU as we get information out across the county over election time” More info at: www.suffolkeualliance.co.uk or drop a line to email@suffolkeualliance.com