Thank you to the 300-plus people who attended my public meetings on Brexit on Friday in Buxton and on Saturday in Glossop. Brexit does raise strong feelings, but all speakers were courteous and informative, and I thank everyone for a useful and interesting discussion.
With so many details and practical issues to be decided about Britain’s deal with the European Union, I wanted to hear from as many constituents as possible before votes on the final stages of the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons this week.
Many concerns were raised about how Brexit could affect us in High Peak. The key issue was ensuring that we have access to free trade with Europe within a Customs Union to support our economy. Many people were worried about local businesses and employment, as well as the impact of the predicted economic downturn on those who are least well off.
Our ability to travel and work abroad was also raised frequently, with local employers concerned about their ability to continue to recruit skilled staff from the EU, jeopardising local jobs if contracts cannot be fulfilled, and worries about the high vacancies in the NHS with so many staff from the EU leaving the UK.
I was saddened that EU citizens at both meetings said they felt unwelcome since the referendum, and one was leaving the UK as she saw no future here. Whatever our political views, I would hope we can all welcome people as individuals to High Peak, and celebrate the different skills, experiences and outlook they bring.
Other concerns were around very practical issues – farming and environmental subsidies, continuing protection of our rights at work, consumer rights, food standards and environmental protections, and funding from the EU Social Fund that currently supports many local charities, businesses and organisations.
Although High Peak voted almost equally for Remain and Leave in the referendum, there were only two contributions from Leave supporters, despite requests at both meetings. One speaker in Buxton felt trust would be lost if we did not leave the EU following the vote.
I still believe we should seek the best deal possible and the meetings strengthened my commitment to keep the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union.
A fuller report of both meetings will be on my website, or can be sent to residents on request. I continue to seek views with a detailed Brexit Options survey and I will hold ‘Brexit summits’ for businesses and young people in the coming months, with further public meetings when we have more details of our final deal with the EU.
With Parliament, having voted for a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final deal, I will make sure I am aware what High Peak people want from Brexit before making any decisions.