Brexit Day is especially difficult for EU nationals who have been treated most cruelly – Willie Rennie

The UK must secure the closest trading partnerships with our friends in Europe and remain an open and internationalist country, writes Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie says the UK must work to stay close to Europe after Brexit (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie says the UK must work to stay close to Europe after Brexit (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

For passionate pro-Europeans like me, today is a sad day. Being members of the European Union has served us well since 1973.

It’s one of the greatest peacekeeping initiatives the world has ever seen, and it’s afforded Brits unparalleled opportunities to live, work and move across the continent.

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For the last three years, the Liberal Democrats have fought tooth and nail to protect our place in that union and promote the endless benefits it provides us, many of which are often overlooked.

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It wasn’t until the Brexit fiasco was well underway that many across the UK were made aware of the huge benefits of being part of the European community, the customs union, the single market, the common travel area, Euratom, the European Investment Bank, the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control, Erasmus, and much more.

These bodies have kept continent-wide policing, health research and cross-border trade chugging along smoothly for decades. All of that is in jeopardy now and dependant on Boris Johnson’s priorities and powers of persuasion. Many people are rightfully sceptical and scared.

But we should all remember that Brexit has a human cost. For many EU nationals, the referendum and its aftermath have cast a dark cloud of anxiety over their continued future here.

That’s cruel and dismissive of their contribution, but also a bad move for the health of our economy. We depend on the skills and support of European nationals who make up big chunks of the workforce in a range of key sectors. Those who provide care to the elderly and vulnerable, who keep the seasonal agricultural sector afloat and who teach in our world-leading universities, to name but a few.

It’s an especially difficult day for them.

Leave/remain divisions have plagued our country for too long. The debate has been hostile and unpleasant. The celebrations planned for today, the appeal for contributions to the astronomical cost of making Big Ben bong for Brexit and the new 50p coins all play into that same fight.

We have an enormous task ahead of us in challenging and cajoling the UK Government through the trade negotiations, so that we ensure we have the best and closest trading partnerships with our friends in Europe. We must be an open and internationalist country and stand up for our place in the world. You can count on the Lib Dems to do that.

The politics has changed but the people haven’t and neither has the geography. We will continue to sit close to Europe and fight to preserve close ties to our friends and neighbours.

WIllie Rennie is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and MSP for North East Fife