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Vince Cable Discusses Brexit Concerns In UoB Visit
During his address to the University of Birmingham Liberal Democrat Society, former minister Vince Cable expressed his opinions regarding the vote to leave the European Union and on the UK's future trade deals
Vince Cable, the former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, joined the University’s Liberal Democrat Society as a guest speaker on Tuesday 7th March, during which he addressed his concerns towards the UK’s exit of the European Union (EU).
Introduced as ‘one of the most prolific and articulate voices on the economy in the country at the moment’, Cable is a prominent member of the Liberal Democrats and was briefly acting-leader of the party for a period in 2007.
“'one of the most prolific and articulate voices on the economy in the country at the moment'
Most of his speech revolved around the issue of Brexit. Cable told those assembled that he had supported Remain but ‘at the same time [he does] recognise reality’.
The former cabinet minister commented on the city of Birmingham's majority support for Leave, which he associated with lower levels of education. He also claimed that older Leave voters had negatively shaped the futures of younger people, a more pro-remain group, which made for a ‘very dangerous dynamic’ between the two social groups. Cable also blamed the ‘alienation’ of white working class voters on the financial crash of 2008.
He argued that ‘a clean break’ was the kind of Brexit desired by about 40% of the UK population, whilst stating that approximately 30% of the population do not want any kind of Brexit at all and do not accept the result of the 2016 referendum. Cable said that the supporters of a soft Brexit ‘hold the key to the political future’, depending on the outcome of negotiations with the EU. However, Cable was clear to underline that ‘we don’t know what Brexit is going to produce’.
“He argued that 'a clean break' was the kind of Brexit desired by about 40% of the UK population
‘The way to think about [Brexit] is in terms of a divorce’, Cable told students, but said, ‘the problem is that there is a partner in the relationship’. He emphasised that the UK will only be able to secure an agreement that also satisfies the EU, and warned that he saw no signs of Britain receiving a pragmatic response. Rather, he claimed that the reaction being seen from the EU was hostile.
‘One of the main casualties’, Cable said of the negative impacts of Brexit, ‘will be universities’, which he claimed would lose access to research funding. ‘The position of EU staff in British universities’, he added, ‘is now very insecure’.
Cable was cynical of the idea that the UK could easily agree trade deals with other countries. He said that the only country with an interest in a trade deal with the UK was the USA, and asked students, ‘do we seriously want to be a satellite of a Trump-led United States?’
However, Cable was not entirely pessimistic about the current state of the country. He said that he did have a lot of respect for the Prime Minister and called her both ‘capable’ and ‘conscientious’. He also said that he believed in the potential for positive outcomes of Brexit.
“'do we seriously want to be a satellite of a Trump-led United States?'
Chiefly, he suggested that the government should take the opportunity to improve the economy, which he claims is currently limited by EU regulations. The government has suggested that it will act otherwise, but Cable said that he did not believe that the Prime Minister intends to deregulate and compete with the EU. Nevertheless, Cable told UoB students that this was an important question, and raised concerns regarding why the British public are not actively involved in this debate.
The politician also took some questions from the audience. In response to a question about whether the rise of populism could have been avoided if populist grievances had been addressed ten years ago, Cable argued that it ‘wasn’t that policies were to blame ten years ago’, but that politicians had allowed the financial crisis to happen.
Whilst responding to an audience member about whether the ‘British union’ could survive Brexit, he said that while ‘Scots are now inevitably angry, […] where I think dramatic things will happen is in Ireland’. Cable stated his belief that there may be ‘Irish unity’ within 50 years.
Answering a question about whether the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to Brexit was going against the people’s will, he stated that he thought a desire for more immigration controls was ‘entirely reasonable’. When Cable first revealed his lack of support for freedom of movement in a New Statesman article in January, his party was quick to respond with a reminder that he is not an MP and he does not speak for party as a whole.