Despite the vote on 23 June, British Labour MEPs want to continue having a full and active role in the European Parliament. “We want to continue as much as we can until we leave, if we do leave,” Derek Vaughan told EURACTIV Poland.
Derek Vaughan was elected as Labour Party Member of the European Parliament for Wales in the 2009 European Parliament election.
He spoke to EURACTIV Poland’s Editor-in-Chief, Karolina Zbytniewska.
How did you vote in the referendum?
I voted to remain a member of the EU. In fact I did not support the referendum. I think it was absolute madness for the UK to have a referendum. It is madness to put at risk our biggest market of 500 million people and 27 member states. I am really shocked and really sad that the UK voted to leave European Union.
So why do you think Wales decided to leave the EU?
Well, that was also a big shock, as Wales is huge beneficiary of the EU funds. I estimate every year Wales gets the best part of the billion pounds of EU funds. Most of our infrastructure schemes, town and city development schemes, training schemes and all are partly founded by the EU, so it is a shock that people would want to lose all that. We also know that we have under 192,000 jobs which are linked to trade with the rest of the EU, so it was real shock, as to why people voted to leave. That’s something what’s still need to be analysed. I think it is quite complex, I think it is due to the fact that negative media for the past 20 years has always criticized the EU, (and) always criticized migration from the EU into Wales.
Also, the political class in the UK and Wales have not defended the EU and did not do enough to explain the benefits of the EU membership. And of course we have some people at the moment who feel totally dispossessed, they feel like they’ve got nothing to lose. So when you say to people, “If you leave the EU, you put at risk our economy, our financial living-standards,” some people say, “You know, we’ve got nothing now, therefore we’ve got nothing to lose, we may as well give something else a chance.” The reason is quite complex. But as they said, the final result was a shock, especially with regards to Wales.
Many people say that it was a vote about emotions, not about facts, and if about facts, about Brussels, about the European Commission being not very democratic.
I think it was against everything. I think people voted on almost everything, except the question on a referendum paper. Some people were annoyed at the British government, some people were annoyed at the Welsh government, some people were annoyed because of their own personal circumstances. They felt that they did not have a job, they were living in poverty, in poor houses. They were against everything.
I am not sure, if they voted actually against the EU, but as I said previously, it does mean to me that we should have done a lot more to explain the benefits of the EU and how the EU can improve circumstances, because a large part of the EU funds goes to Wales, to create opportunities and to create jobs. So outside of the EU, these peoples’ situation is going to be even worse. Unfortunately, some people voted as an act of self-harm.
Do you think that UK will really go for Brexit now? What’s going on in Great Britain?
Well, we are in political disarray at the moment, and I think these are already signs that some people are regretting voting to leave the EU. In Wales, for example, there was an opinion poll this morning, just taken in the last few days that said that 53% of people now think that we should stay in the EU, and only 47% say we should leave. So is has changed already.
I think people do feel let down by the Leave campaign, because they were told lies. They kept saying that “the UK is paying the EU 350 million a week” which is a lie that was disproved so many times. They said that Turkey is just about to join the EU, and that’s a lie; they were also saying that there will be an EU army very soon, and again that’s a lie. So now the Leave campaign is now admitting that they mislead people, and I think that people are let down by that. We will see more and more people regret voting to leave.
There is only a small chance, a glimpse of hope that maybe some time in the future there could be a second referendum. We know there will probably be a general election towards the end of this year, because the Conservatives will elect a new leader, the Labour Party might pick a new leader, therefore we are likely to have a new general election in October, this year. And at that stage, I think that all the parties should say in their manifestos what they want out of the negotiations with the EU and that they should commit that they will put the outcome of those negotiations to the referendum of the British people, so British people can decide, whether they want to remain as a part of the EU, or take the other option.
Don’t you think that the EU should impose on its member states some checks and balances, whichcould prevent them from choosing their future “out” of the EU by a simple majority, in just one referendum?
In many countries, when they have a referendum, they set a threshold. And a threshold sometimes is that a certain amount people should vote, or it can be that 60% of people have to vote for change to take place. Unfortunately, David Cameron, as a prime minister, did not put in any thresholds, and that was a problem.
I think the other mistake that he made was that he did not increase the franchise to include the young people. I believe he should have given the vote to the young people age 16 and 17, because we were voting on their future, and they are very upset at the moment, because a majority of the young people did vote to stay in the EU, so we should have extended the threshold and franchise to the 16 and 17 years old.
I think EU citizens living in the UK should have had a vote in a referendum as well, because this referendum has a huge impact on them. And I think all UK expats living in the rest of the EU should have been given a vote, as well, because it has a huge impact on them. And I think that if the franchise had been extended to include all of those groups we would have seen a different result. I think the Remain side would have won.
So according to what you’re saying, there is a faint chance that there will be a second referendum?
The Leave campaign during the referendum did not make clear what alternative they wanted. Sometimes, some of they said we want a “Norway” option, that the UK would have access to the Single Market, would pay in into EU budget, except all the EU rules, including a free movement. Sometimes they said, that’s not a good option. Others said, let’s get us completely out of the Single Market and then we will create our own trade agreements with the EU and elsewhere. But of course, trade agreements take a long time and in that time tariffs will be imposed upon companies who export to the rest of the EU and many of these companies will just leave the UK and go somewhere else. So none of these options suggest that the “Leave” campaign was actually a good option.
I think that’s why most of them are very quiet, (and) some of them have run away, like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and many more, because they know that they cannot deliver all what they’ve said and that there is no good alternative to being a member of the EU. They’ve gone into hiding, and we are in a limbo. We don’t know what the UK is going to ask for. And until we’re clear about what UK is going to ask for I don’t think the UK should invoke Article 50. So it may be the end of this year, maybe next year, before Article 50 is triggered. If it is triggered at all, the negotiations will than take place for two years and after that, there is a ratification process. Then the UK may have to come to sort of a deal on a new trade agreement, so it could be 2,5 or 3 years plus for UK to leave the EU.
Wales and England were for Brexit, while Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to stay. Do you think that the UK will remain as it is in the future, or will it be the UK of England and Wales?
It depends on if we leave the EU. But if the UK leaves the EU, it is not only be the end of our relations with the EU, it will also mean a breakup of the UK. The Scottish National Party has already said that if theUK leaves, they would want a second referendum and I am pretty sure in that referendum people of Scotland will vote to leave the UK. So that’s breakup of the UK. And we know that Northern Ireland also voted to stay in the EU, and the nationalists in NI are already calling for a referendum to have a United Ireland. It is going to lead to the breakup of the UK, as well, and I think some of those who had been arguing to leave the EU, did not believe that. But I think it will come to reality, if we will leave the EU.
What do you think the future of the EU will be without the United Kingdom? Will the balance of power change? Will Germany be more of a leader than it is at the moment? What will happen?
I think it has lots of consequences for the EU. When the UK does leave, I think it is inevitable that Germany and France will be even stronger than they are now. I think at that stage, it is likely to weaken the EU, because the EU wants to be a world power as well, to be a counter balance against China and the US, and without the UK, this position will be diminished.
Everyone in Brussels is speaking in a very strict terms about the future of relations between UK and EU, in order to discourage other member states to take the same path.
I think a lot depends on what will be negotiated. If the UK stays within the EU, then it could be okay. If the UK is able to remain a member of a Single Market, accept all the rules and pay in, the relations still will be okay.
But if we’ve left the Single Market completely, there will be a difference and I have no doubts that the EU would like to make an example out of the UK. You can’t blame them, because if the UK just decided to walk out, the UK cannot expect special treatment.
What will happen organizationally when the UK leaves the EU, or even before? Would you lose your job?
If the UK leaves the EU, I will finish being an MEP. Labour MEPs say that we should largely continue as we are. We were pleased last week when Martin Schultz said in the EP, as long as the UK is a member of the EU, we will be full MEPs, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with the job, so we will insist on that. There is no way that we may lose our voting rights because, until we leave the UK will still be paying to the EU budget, so we should have a vote in a budget.