Three disabled peers have pledged to do all they can to avert the significant impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit, with one warning of a “time bomb” that is now likely to “detonate”.
They spoke out this week as MPs and peers returned from their summer recess, facing the threat of the UK being forced to leave the European Union (EU) without an agreement at the end of next month.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) from the House of Lords that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for disabled people.
She said: “I will do everything I can to avoid it.”
She said she was “completely against a no-deal Brexit” but was unclear about what action she would take.
She said: “The action I’m likely to take is more likely to be in the chamber rather than outside and I’m just trying to get through each vote and plan around that.
“It’s unprecedented times in so many ways. We are going through procedures and debates that I’ve not really seen in the chamber before.
“I spent a lot of the summer trying to plan through all the possible scenarios and I’m not sure all the time I spent moved me any further on.
“At the moment it seems that things are changing by the minute at times.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson (pictured) said it felt as though the impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit had “been forgotten and will be ignored”.
But she also expressed concern at the feverish political atmosphere, both within and outside parliament.
She said: “I worry about how angry everyone is on the outside. I don’t know how we heal some of those divisions.
“The atmosphere around Westminster is also quite challenging. This week it’s been more aggressive than before. People are feeling angry (from all sides).”
Another disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, also pledged to do all she could to avert a no-deal Brexit, even though she feared that it was now too late to do so.
She said: “In my view, it’s gone way beyond a surreal episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, to becoming an extremely worrying time-bomb about to detonate.
“I’m very dubious whether we can prevent the explosion now. The next few days will be critical and that’s why you will find me [in the House of Lords] until I drop on Saturday.”
She warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “very bad news” for disabled people.
She said: “Disabled people will suffer from all that Brexit will mean for them, especially if we crash out without a deal.
“Decreased protection from EU rights, shortage of vital medicines, a slowdown on vital medical research due to greater difficulty of UK/European data sharing, NHS and social care workforce shortages, affecting personal assistant recruitment and retention of EU workers, etc.”
She added: “For over two years now as I read and began participating in the detail of the EU withdrawal bill in the Lords, I have tried my hardest to amend and support amendments to secure disabled people’s equality and human rights, with very little success.
“Withdrawing from the EU is bad enough with a deal, but without one it’s very bad news for us indeed.”
The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said a no-deal Brexit could cause “incalculable” damage, and she was another to pledge to do everything she could to stop such an outcome.
She said: “I have on many occasions in the House spoken of the despair I, and many disabled people, feel at the way invaluable European workers in the care sector, the health service and the hospitality industry are being treated, with the environment becoming quite hostile to them.
“I was in hospital for two months 18 months ago and saw clearly how much we rely on European health workers in every sector.
“And now there is the worry, in a no-deal Brexit scenario, if we need certain medicines – and many of us do – they may not be available quite soon.
“Even if they are held up for a few days crossing a border, this could do incalculable damage to those who desperately need them.
“So I will do everything I can to stop no-deal Brexit. This doesn’t mean speaking in the House at the moment, because speeches take time, and time is something we do not have.”
The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat and now sitting as an independent, was another to “wholly oppose” a no-deal Brexit.
As with other disabled parliamentarians, he was unable to say what action he might be able to take over the next week because of the unpredictable nature of the events in Westminster, but he added: “I’ve always been clear I’ll never back a no-deal.”
Lloyd quit the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons last December so he could keep his promise to his constituents to respect the result of the EU referendum, and he voted three times for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May that was rejected on each occasion by MPs.
He declined to say if he still believed that the UK should leave the EU, but he said: “I have kept my promise to my constituency by voting for the withdrawal agreement (three times) but I will never back a no-deal and have said so for the last two years.”
He added: “Crashing out of the EU with no deal serves no-one, least of all our country.
“I also believe it would leave the UK so desperate to do a deal with President Donald Trump that our NHS will be up for grabs in any treaty with the US.
“Trump is all about America First and our beloved health service with its £120 billion budget is something they will demand the ability to sell into.
“And whatever this shambles of a government says, they won’t be in a position to push back.
“This will have an impact on the cost of drugs which many disabled people need to lead independent lives.”
The disabled Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who resigned from her position as shadow minister for children and families in March after voting against a second referendum – when the party leadership told its MPs to abstain on the vote – was not available to comment this week.
The disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin failed to respond to a request to comment.
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