Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Manchester has a few parting words for Brexit Day
I want to say sorry – I did not want this day to come. At 11pm tonight, we will leave the European Union.
This government will ignore dire economic predictions, the threat to jobs and the collapse of key industries. It will turn its back on international commitments and our country’s most vulnerable.
We will fight for a progressive and optimistic future because it’s the right thing to do
But most depressingly, this is the climax of the worst, most divisive political debate we’ve ever seen in this country, where the public has been repeatedly lied to, and neighbours, families and friends have been pitched against each other.
It’s the day our country’s future starts to be shaped by a Tory government without shame or principle, propped up by an incompetent and complicit Labour party.
Our divided country will be run by a group of people who have stumbled upwards into Westminster, broken the law, and cosied up to Donald Trump.
That said, across the North, the positive legacy of the EU will remain no matter what, and we must remember that when our working-class communities are abandoned.
It wasn’t Conservative or Labour governments that came to our aid, it was the EU, which showed it was far more willing to redistribute resources more fairly and stand up for us.
Brexiteers must not be allowed to re-write history.
In Manchester alone, we have benefitted from hundreds of millions in EU funding. They ploughed millions into our Metrolink system, refurbished stations to offer better-disabled access and improved connectivity across the city.
They protected our shared heritage and local history like the Manchester Museum and Museum of Science and Industry.
Our most at-risk communities in hundreds of council-owned buildings now enjoy warmer homes throughout the year thanks to improved developments and social housing from the EU.
But that’s in the past now.
Nearly a billion pounds from the EU was ringfenced for the North West this year. Do you expect this government to match that investment?
Let’s remember that it’s not going to be the Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees-Moggs of this world who will be affected by cuts to community projects, social care and our NHS when they come into force.
It will be hardworking Northerners.
Just hours before the final vote on triggering Article 50, this government tried to bury the news that only 350 unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and elsewhere can settle in the UK.
This number is thousands short of their own estimates last year.
Yet another walk-back. Yet another heartless policy.
But the people of Manchester are not stupid. We expect and deserve better.
A lot of faith has been placed in Boris Johnson, for whatever reason. I hope he is up to the task of repaying that faith, but I won’t be holding my breath.
So it is up to every one of us to decide what kind of history is written today. Without the EU, it will be up to us to hold the government to account. Ignorance, political fatigue and anger is not an excuse.
For my own part, I will fight for every last penny of pre-Brexit investment in the North to be matched by the UK government, and I will speak up for what is right for the residents of Manchester.
The jokers in Number 10 want us to believe the EU did nothing for us. It’s far more convenient to believe it has been an evil trap, holding us back and stifling our progress. But we know this wasn’t the case.
That’s why Liberal Democrats fought harder than anyone to stop Brexit.
We voted against triggering Article 50 and attempted to secure a Second Referendum 17 times. We did everything we could to stop today from happening because we know Brexit will hurt you, your family, friends and our great city.
So, I’m sorry that this year, the 31st of January will go down in history, and I’m really, really sorry we couldn’t do it for you this time.
But you must know this: while today is happening and it hurts, it really hurts — it is not in our name, and we will fight back.
We will fight for a progressive and optimistic future because it’s the right thing to do – it is always the right thing to do. And we look forward to sharing that future once again with our European neighbours and friends with hope, courage and confidence in our hearts.
The European Union has been a really good friend to Manchester. Please, let’s not forget that.
John Leech is Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Manchester. While he was an MP, he voted against holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU warning of the likeliness of misinformation and misleading campaigns. He took a leading role in the campaign to remain and has argued for a People’s Vote or Second Referendum since 2016.