On Tuesday evening the Politics Society and the Trinity College Law Review (TCLR) hosted a panel discussion on Brexit in the GMB. The event was well attended, with much excited conversation before the start.
Speaking first was Gina Miller, the founder of the True and Fair Campaign and the chief litigant against the Secretary of State for Exciting the EU in the UK Supreme Court case last summer. Miller described the government’s attempts to use its prerogative to trigger Article 50 as a “precedent that would have fundamentally undermined our democracy” and the Supreme court’s decision was one of the most contentious issues in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum.
Miller recounted how “very few people stepped up” to help fund the cases against the government last summer and how she believes the personal abuse she and her family were receiving deterred potential legal donors. She also highlights the media coverage “by a particular right wing press” as “irresponsible”. Miller described the highlighted UK press as having “a political agenda” and how “they are not allowing responsible debate” and that this is “despicable”.
Miller placed great emphasis in her address on responsibility and how those in power must act in a measured and transparent way. She criticised the government’s attempt to withdraw from the EU and the need for full parliamentary scrutiny on the exit bill to avoid the UK government, “alone in a dark room”, deciding what Britain does and does not keep from EU membership. She believes that the issue of Northern Ireland and the border and not a Brexit bill that will cause the UK government to fracture, “it is Ireland that will cause the fracturing of this government”, and that the UK Government need “to start being grown ups”.
The next speaker was UK Independence party’s David Kurten, member of the London assembly and former candidate for leadership of the UKIP political party. He recounted his decision to join UKIP in response to the developing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the USA and the EU. Kurten described the Investor State Dispute Settlement Decisions (ISDS) mechanisms within the Trade deal as his main opposition to the deal and his main motivation to getting the UK out of the EU.
A cheerful speaker, Kurten also criticised the EU commission as “unelected bureaucrats” who produce far too much regulation and hinders UK trade and business. He believes the customs union is a barrier to greater prosperity and wider global trade and criticised the EU commission’s autonomy to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the member states.
Kurten also expressed his frustration with the Article 50 leaving process and he hoped the UK does leave soon if “People don’t keep throwing up barriers”, a pointed reference to Millar’s supreme court case the previous summer.
Kurten spoke at great length about the issue of immigration in the Brexit vote and the wider political attitudes to discussing the issue. He believes that people in London are “stuck in the political/media bubble who have a very nice experience of immigration” and that they have “slurred” members of the public who have raised their concerns in the past. He refers to Gordon Brown’s “bigot” comment about Gillian Duffy in 2010’s general election as his favourite example.
A question from Kurten’s Q&A drew a spontaneous round of applause when Kurten was held to point over a comment on EU regulation of cabbages. Kurten had previously cited out of date regulations on cabbages, which were repealed in 2009, in his criticism of EU regulations and bureaucracy. This cabbage regulation argument was a popular argument during the Brexit referendum.
Stephen Donnelly was late as he was attending a motion in the Dail before the panel discussion and arrived just after Miller’s Q&A. The Fianna Fail TD and party spokesman for Brexit began his address by declaring the economic argument for Brexit “facile”, that it did not stand up to rudimentary economic assessment and described the Brexit vote as a story of loss for the UK, the EU and Ireland. He believes the referendum vote was incomplete as no one was asked about a hard or soft Brexit and predicts “an escalation of job losses” in the UK.
Donnelly described the EU as not just an economic bloc and that “the point of the EU is peace”, and although it has many flaws it is the world’s leading voice on climate change, gender equality and other progressive issues. Donnelly spoke about his 10 year working career in the UK and expressed his admiration for the UK as a country and believes that without the UK the “EU is a poorer, weaker union” and that Britain was an important and necessary dissenting voice.
Donnelly also acknowledged the issue of immigration in the Brexit debate however ,although he believes concerns and tensions are serious, in his time in the UK he never heard anyone say, “Do you know what the problem is, those bloody Italians”. Donnelly placed emphasis on a socioeconomic model that is “depriving more and more people of security” as the main reason for Brexit and wider global developments and described workers struggling in a globalized economy who work “longer and longer hours just to stand still”. Donnelly also stressed that Ireland “must learn from Brexit” or else face a similar phenomena in the future.
The general theme of the evening was wider political discussion about globalization, migration and citizens struggling for economic security.
This may have inconvenienced attendees expecting a legal conference on constitutional and EU law matters arising out of Miller’s supreme court case or the Brexit Bill to leave the EU. However the engagement from the audience was high and the discussion finished to a long round of applause.
Asked for comment, Politics Society Auditor Eunice Collins said, “We’re really glad it went so well and it’s great to hear from some speakers from both Ireland and Britain about an issue that is so important to both nations”.