Brexit and the Ibero-American Community
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd July, 2016
Many immigrant communities in Britain are worried about the possible consequences of Brexit, including the hundreds of thousands who belong to what is sometimes referred to as the “silent community” of several hundred thousand Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian, Latin American and Lusophone Africans in the UK. This morning, along with Simon Hughes (former UK Minister of Justice), Jean Lambert MEP, Andrew Boff AM and others, I spoke to a gathering of Ibero-Americans at the Catedral Internacional in West Norwood, London. Below is an English translation of my speech, delivered half in Spanish, half in Portuguese:
One month ago, after the Referendum, I just wanted to hide under the duvet on my bed and die. It seemed to me that the 51 per cent of voters who voted for Britain to leave the European Union had made a terrible mistake. Indeed, I still believe that to be the case. Despite its faults, the EU has helped to bring peace and posterity to this country over the past four decades and already we are beginning to feel the negative effects of just saying we are going to leave. But one of the things that upset me most about the result is the message that it sent to, as Spanish and Portuguese and Latin Americans living and working here in London. Some people have said to me, “I don’t feel welcome here anymore. Should I leave? Will I be forced to leave?”
The good news is that London voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, and we Londoners are proud of the cosmopolitan and multicultural nature of our city. Yet even here some people who do not look typically white British have reported verbal abuse over the past four weeks, as the vote for Brexit gave encouragement to the minority of racists and xenophobes in our midst. That is an intolerable situation and every decent person must stand up against such behaviour.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Even if Prime Minister Theresa May invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty at the end of this year, Britain will still be a member of the EU until at least the end of 2018. All of you who have Spanish, Portuguese or other EU citizenship will continue to enjoy your full rights under the principle of free movement enshrined in the European Single Market. Moreover, my party, the Liberal Democrats, will work hard to ensure that you will continue to enjoy those rights even after Brexit. However, we are campaigning for more than that. We still believe that Britain is better off in the EU. Of course, we cannot ignore the result of the referendum vote. But I suspect that very soon many of those who voted for Leave will realise that they made a terrible mistake, as the British economy takes a hammering.
Already the pound sterling has fallen sharply in value and the Bank of England has had to intervene to bolster business confidence. We cannot just have a second referendum, asking the same question as the first. But we certainly could have another referendum after the terms of the Brexit deal with our EU partners are available. It is certain that that deal will be worse than what we have already, which would give the British electorate the opportunity to reject it and therefore stay in the EU. I hope that is indeed what will happen.
Each day I hope I will wake up from the nightmare of Brexit, but of course that has not happened. But we must not lose hope. And in the meantime, London is open for business and you are all most welcome.