THE BLOG

A Patriotic Brexit Means Keeping Our Neighbours Close

06/03/2017 16:57 GMT | Updated 06/03/2017 16:58 GMT
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We both have different backgrounds and different experiences that led us to choose public service, but one of the fundamental things we share is a love of our country and a determination to do what we believe is best for our constituents. In short we share a deep sense of patriotism.

For this reason both of us campaigned for the Labour IN campaign. Both of us remain convinced that the UK's best interests are served by keeping as close a relationship with our EU neighbours as possible.

There is a long list of reasons why we should keep these links. Some of the strongest include:

• Jobs in the South West. Nearly half our trade is with the European Union - trade that is made easy by being part of the single market. Jobs in our manufacturing sector depend on this free access, but so do jobs in agriculture, in our fishing industry, and in almost every area of our economy. We'll never be able to substitute these jobs through much more limited trade deals with other countries much further away.

• Human rights, workers' rights and environmental protection. These rights have given us clean rivers and beaches, consumer protections, anti-discrimination laws, and paid maternity and paternity leave, for example.

• Research. The UK is a net beneficiary from EU research funding and British universities value the collaboration that freedom of movement allows. This research allows us, for example, to develop new cures for diseases, improve carbon-neutral technologies, and make other scientific breakthroughs.

• Peace in Northern Ireland. This peace is helped and strengthened by people being able to travel, shop, study, visit family and friends and work easily and safely across a border that's now threatened by Brexit.

We believe that the best interests of our country lie in keeping these links long into the future.

What is not in the best interests of our country is shutting down the long and very proud British tradition of free speech. It's simply not good enough to shout 'you are denying the will of the people' or 'you are not a democrat' when there is a challenge to the way the Prime Minister is defining Brexit.

Politicians who, like us, continue to make these points about the benefits of our membership of the EU are told we don't have a right to speak. We're told we're clinging to the past. Some of our colleagues, who campaigned with us to remain, have also started to call us 'remoaners' and tell us we shouldn't be standing in the way of the process.

We completely reject that analysis and the underlying assumptions. Whether you voted to leave or remain in the EU, huge assumptions are being made on your behalf by this government.

There was nowhere on the ballot paper last June to indicate how you feel about any of the various options for different relationships with our nearest neighbours. There was no option for you to add 'even if it means losing my job', or 'but not if it affects my child's ability to live or study abroad', or 'not if it means losing the right to breathe clean air or paddle on clean beaches'. This is why the moves to take Britain out of the single market, as well as other key European initiatives such as Euratom, the European Aviation Safety Agency and Erasmus, to name just a few, must be challenged.

Both of us were on platforms last year where Brexiteers claimed that we could keep all of these, along with £350 million a week for the NHS and saying anything different was 'Project Fear'. These inconvenient truths are now shouted down.

The world is not the same as it was in 1973 and we aren't who we were when we went into the EU - the world has moved on, technology has developed, the shape of manufacturing has changed and the skills and qualities we need to be a truly great nation have also changed. The issues we face now are international and we can't and shouldn't pretend to people that we can shrink away from them. We can't just go back in time and pick up where we were forty years ago.

In order to be the truly great country we believe we can and should be, we need to look outwards as well as inwards. A country in which people are proud to live and proud that others want to live here too. Whether thinking of Northern Ireland or the future of the next generation, we should recognise our strengths are amplified through our unique bonds with our neighbours.

We're pointing these things out, not because we want to do down our country but precisely because we are patriots and because we want the very best for the UK and everyone in it. We believe the UK has a great deal to contribute to the world in the 21st century, but we're deeply concerned that cutting ourselves off from our continent will limit our ability to fulfil our potential for decades to come.