Penny Post recently managed to catch up with Judith Bunting, one of the three Liberal Democrats who were elected for the South East Region in the European elections last month. She was also the party’s candidate for the Newbury constituency at the 2015 and 2017 general elections.
Before entering politics, Judith was a science journalist and TV producer at the BBC for more than 20 years, directing films on green energy for Tomorrow’s World and quantum physics for Horizon and Discovery. More recently, Judith was co-creator of Magic Hands, the CBeebies television series which is presented in British Sign Language.
Judith studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. In 2017, she was selected by the Royal Society of Chemistry to be one of their 175 Faces of Chemistry.
Obviously these elections were held in highly unusual circumstances and several different interpretations are being put on the results. Speaking as one of the successful candidates, what’s yours?
If you consider people’s voting preferences by principle rather than by party and accept, as I think we have to, that neither Labour nor Tory parties had clear campaign messages, more people in the South East voted remain than voted leave. It was also surprising that the Brexit Party took over only the four seats previously help by UKIP. The South East of England is Nigel Farage’s own constituency – if support for leaving the EU is growing, as many have claimed, I would have expected them to have won five seats at least. The country is still deeply divided over Brexit, of course, but in contrast, the Liberal Democrats took their number of seats nationwide up from one to fifteen, with three in the South East of England, which shows a clear and unambiguous increase in support for remaining in the EU and stopping this awful, damaging Brexit.
As matters currently stand, the UK is set to leave the EU on 31 October. What will you be concentrating on as an MEP between now and then?
I have two key priorities for my work until October, the first to keep fighting for a People’s Vote until the final deal with the EU is signed. The second is to help local people navigate the uncertainty that surrounds Brexit and, in particular, to help small businesses make the most of the exporting opportunities while we are still members of the EU. Europe isn’t going anywhere, and will remain our biggest market whatever happens. This is a good time to establish or to consolidate links with European trading partners.
What do you think would be the major negative aspects of Brexit?
That trading standards would drop, life would become expensive and the gap between rich and poor will grow even larger.
Clearly, a large number of people felt in 2016 and still feel now that leaving the EU was and remains a good thing. What do you think is the main reason why they feel this way?
I have tried very hard to answer this question for myself. The EU has a stronger tendency to advance individual liberty and prosperity than national governments – maybe The Brexit Party finds this offensive. The EU has also introduced many measures in areas such as workers’ rights, consumer protection and environmental action, which our government did not.
As for independence, we enjoy a high level of national independence and good relationships with trading across the world – including the ‘special relationship’ with the USA. All have developed within the European structure that helps ensure shared values and standards.
Being part of the EU is like having muscle in the room. If the UK is exposed to the US, China and other trading nations after Brexit, we will have only our own home-market of 60m to use as a bargaining chip, rather than the 560-million market of the EU nations. I find it hard to see how being on our own will get a better deal.
One of the major issues in this and other elections has been the environment. What achievements can the Lib Dems point to and what else do you want to see accomplished?
At council level, our team is campaigning to make West Berkshire Council carbon neutral by 2030. Newbury and Thatcham Town Councils, now both controlled by the Liberal Democrats, are working towards this already. In government, we have led on environmental matters and took significant, practical steps on biodiversity, clean air and to halt climate change. You can read more about our achievements on the renewable energy front here. In Europe Liberal Democrats were the first major political party to call for a zero-carbon Britain and we believe this target must be met by 2045, contributing to a zero-carbon EU by 2050. Our 2019 Manifesto, which can be found here, has more on this – see the section “Working together to tackle the climate emergency”.
One of the reasons that we are keen to work with other groups, such as the GreenParty, to stop Brexit is because we know that the current government would use Brexit as an opportunity to water down climate change and wildlife regulations. You can find out more on that here.