The much anticipated moment is finally here. Theresa May has written to the European Commission to inform them of her Government’s decision to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. We’ve known for months that this day would come, but for me as a pro-European, and for many others across Britain and Europe, it doesn’t make it any easier.
Today I feel sad and angry. Britain is on the wrong side of history. I didn't come into politics to make people's lives a bit worse, I want to make them better. But as we reset the clock on years of cooperation at continental level, I fear making people's lives worse is exactly the path we are embarking down and the people who will suffer most are the poorest in society.
The official notice served to our EU partners starts the clock ticking on two years of negotiation after which time Britain leaves the EU. Over the next 24 months, the Government, Parliament, the European Commission, the European Parliament and of course all sovereign EU countries will try and hammer out a divorce settlement and start to shape a new deal between the UK and the rest of the European Union.
Confident Cabinet ministers state that a comprehensive new trade deal will be done and seem to shrug off the immense complexity of the many tasks ahead of unravelling and reforming decades of cooperation not only on trade but science and research, on the environment, in the nuclear industry, students studying through Erasmus or the European Arrest Warrant. In fact from aerospace to zoology there are decisions to be made. So while Britain will leave in two years, I cannot see how all future arrangements can be settled in that timespan. Indeed sitting in meetings in Brussels people speculate how long: three, four, five, ten years?
The vast majority of people in the EU don’t want to punish Britain and want a fair deal that minimises harm to all sides. But the EU has less to lose than the UK. A recent report looking at best and worst case scenarios shows a loss of 0.11% (best) to 0.52% (worst) of GDP for the remaining EU members but a 1.31% to 4.21% loss for the UK. The EU are also crystal clear that Britain's new relationship will have fewer benefits from the one we currently enjoy.
I have never argued that all is right with the EU. Of course it needs to reform. But what I do passionately believe is that our membership has greatly benefitted our country and that the new relationship that is forged will be worse than the situation we have today. Theresa May’s threat to turn the UK into a tax haven is a threat to every worker in our country. As a nation we will become poorer, weaker and more isolated.
And whose Brexit is this? Theresa May claims to be acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the British people but is she really? She is ignoring the 48% who voted to remain, those who didn't vote, the young and those in our great cities, but so too, she is ignoring those who voted Leave but wanted to stay in the Single Market, or who voted Leave for more money for the NHS and all the other mis-sold promises made by Tory Leave MPs.
The hard line Tory Europhobes are enjoying their moment in the sun. That Douglas Carswell thinks May has not put a foot wrong must sound the alarm bells. The hardline Brexiteers have the ear of the Prime Minister. They are not appeaseable. How far will May go? The likelihood of no deal is increasing which would be an utter disaster for all involved. Not only would we be out of the Single Market but we would be trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and facing high tariffs that would decimate manufacturing. EU citizens living in Britain fret and choose to leave. The BMA told me 4 in 10 EU doctors are considering leaving Britain, just think what that means for anyone who wants a GP appointment. In Scotland the SNP are demanding another referendum: our country is being torn apart.
I say, not in my name.
At the moment being a socialist and an optimist are both a little tricky - but I am both. After all being gloomy and depressed isn't going to get us anywhere. We need to win arguments, elections and power and to do so we must organise.
This is going to be a long game. So first on this sad day for Britain, look at a map and ask where should be our first port of call to trade and cooperate with? Answer: Europe. Next think about the group where 75% of people voted to remain. The young people of Britain should give you hope. Have faith in what you believe: by the strength of our common endeavour we really do achieve more than we achieve alone. Then look at the way the communications and transport has changed the world and at the breakneck speed of continuing technological change. We live in a time where the world is getting smaller and where national borders will matter less.
So while I believe today Britain is on the wrong side of history. I also believe the future is on our side. So yes be sad and angry, but then organise, through our party, through Trade Unions and pressure groups. This Tory Brexit is not in our name and our vision for Britain will win out in the end.