Federal Conference to debate revocation of Article 50

Like many others, I was horrified to see that our Federal Conference in Bournemouth was only going to have a consultation session on Brexit and our relationship with the European Union.

That, I felt, was an opportunity missed to make very clear and unambiguous policy. We were a bit too equivocal during the election. Had Tim Farron said on the day the election was announced that if he walked into Downing Street as Prime Minister, the first thing he would do would be to revoke Article 50 because the political earthquake that would had happened would justify it, people would have understood and been convinced that we are an anti-Brexit party. Our referendum on the deal is a good mechanism to stop Brexit but it’s not a good message.

Since the agenda was published, there have been a great number of behind the scenes representations to the party leadership and Federal Conference Committee saying that a consultation simply isn’t good enough.

The good news is that there has been a rethink and Conference will now be given the opportunity if it wishes to have a debate rather than a consultation session. A motion will be published today on the party website. This motion will be amendable.

Because we are a democratic party, we don’t just allow the agenda to be altered by anyone, so Conference has to give its consent. A vote will take place to enable the motion to be discussed in the very first session, at 9:05 am on Saturday 16th September, so those with sore heads from Lib Dem Pint will have to power on through and get in to the hall.  If Conference allows the change, then the motion will be debated on Sunday 17th September between 10:45 and 12:30. If Conference votes against the change, the consultation session will take place as planned at the same time.

The motion itself will probably need amending. It calls for:

The Government to seek to reverse the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty at the earliest opportunity and for the UK to retain its current status as a member of the European Union.

The Liberal Democrats to continue to campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union.

The Liberal Democrats to commit to seeking to reverse the triggering of Article 50 in the event of a Liberal Democrat-led Government being formed prior to the UK leaving the European Union and to construe their election as a democratic mandate for doing so.

While many in the party will agree with the aims, for me the motion as it stands doesn’t outline a process for carrying this out. There has to be some sort of way of getting the people’s consent for this so that referendum on the deal looks like the best mechanism for doing it.

We will probably see some sort of amendment from the leadership which sets all this out. It is good, though, that the starting point for this discussion is a motion that has come from members.

This is a very welcome development. It certainly fits with the much more robust “exit from Brexit” line taken by Vince Cable since he became leader.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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50 Comments

  • Many of the 48% will vote LD if they see that we are absolutely anti-Brexit.
    But we have to say that long, loud, clear and unambiguously.

  • This is excellent news.

    But Caron, can I clarify what you mean about needing a process?

    “The Liberal Democrats to commit to seeking to reverse the triggering of Article 50 in the
    event of a Liberal Democrat-led Government being formed prior to the UK leaving the
    European Union and to construe their election as a democratic mandate for doing so.”

    Surely this sets out such a process?

  • And add that it would be a condition of supporting any other party if another hung parliament happened

  • I think we will struggle to be the party of the 8% (let alone the 48%) if we keep going on about this.

  • John Barrett 14th Aug '17 - 11:00am

    Is it really wise to include the phrase “in the event of a Liberal Democrat-led Government being formed prior to the UK leaving the European Union”
    in the motion, or will be used to show that we have completely lost touch with reality.

    People must know that the party and its members have more self awareness than this and if we are going to hang anything on the peg that depends on a Lib-Dem led government in the near future, it is a very “shoogly” peg indeed.

  • A referendum would essentiall change the policy back to what it is now, and is therefore a wrecking amendment.

    If we go to the electorate and say “these are our principles but we won’t act on them if we win, unless half the electorate tells us it’s ok”, then who’s going to bother voting for us?

    We need to have the courage of our convictions and quite our bloody referendum habit. Has anyone else noticed we keep losing them?

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Aug '17 - 1:07pm

    It’s extremely good that this has come from the members and we should be emphasising that at every opportunity. What I’m not clear about is whether conference gives an opportunity for members to send an equally strong message that we will reverse austerity and improve life for people in need of help.
    I am unable to attend conference or put together any motions but if anyone agrees with me could they please step up. This is necessary to persuade many Leavers to change their minds, show that we are listening to them and to bring about a truly Lib Dem society.

  • Another Mark 14th Aug '17 - 2:27pm

    I agree with Sarah and Andrew Hickey. Nobody elected my next-door neighbours to create policies that affect me, they’re not accountable to anyone and there’s no way to get rid of them.

  • Mick Taylor 14th Aug '17 - 2:40pm

    John Bennett. Oh no it isn’t. We had a vote in 2016, an advisory vote, in which a small majority voted to leave the EU. Since then we have started to see exactly what it means and how complex a process it is to quit the union we have been in for 40 years. Anyone who looks at the reality of Brexit surely recognises that to go ahead with it is almost certain economic suicide, which will leave the vast majority of UK citizens worse off and will severely limit any UK government’s ability to spend money on its citizens for vital services without significant hikes in taxation.
    The leavers never accepted the overwhelming vote in 1975 to join and continued to campaign against the EU. Why would anyone expect those of us who want to remain do any less? Democracy doesn’t stand still when a decision is taken or when one party or another wins a general election. People continue to debate issues and some change their minds as the facts change. As we saw in 2017 Mrs May lost her majority in a vain attempt to increase it, because those who voted didn’t like what they saw.
    I think Caron is wrong to talk about mechanism for changing the decision. In this and any other case the constitution of the UK requires each and every decision to be made by Parliament. I would argue that a general election that returned sufficient MPs who wanted to tear up article 50 would be adequate to affect the change, or indeed if sufficient MPs in the current Parliament wanted to do so. We are after all a Parliamentary democracy not a direct one. I am no fan of referenda which tend to answer a different question to the one that is actually on the ballot paper.
    What this country now needs is credible statesperson who is willing to start saying to the people of the UK something along the lines of
    ‘I know many of you voted in 2016 to leave the EU, but the information that has now emerged during the negotiations show clearly the many benefits of the EU and how harmful leaving the EU would be to the UK and I therefore recommend to Parliament that Brexit be abandoned and we remain in the EU.’
    I am hopeful that Vince Cable may be the person.
    It is of course a matter for the conference to decide if a further advisory referendum is needed on the terms for Brexit if ever this totally incompetent government gets any. I will vote against such a proposal if it is put, because Parliament is sovereign and should make the decision. MPs should lead debate and make decisions.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Aug '17 - 3:19pm

    If we scrap brexit without a referendum then any future constitutional change could happen without one too.

    This is the dangerous policy of making the Commons on its own supreme. We should have the Irish system where a referendum is needed for constitutional change or a vote by the Commons and an Elected Senate.

  • David Miliband was surely right to say over the weekend “it is essential that parliament or the public are given the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative. That is a democratic demand, not just a prudent one.”

    Vince Cable seems to echo this approach when he notes “We must work together to avoid the extreme Brexit that the leadership of the Conservatives and Labour Party seem intent on bringing about.”

    The Parliamentary vote for serving notice under Article 50 was overwhelming. The best hope for those who wish to see an ‘exit from brexit or maintenance of UK membership of the single market and/or customs union is a referendum with an option to remain.

    If Parliament makes the final decision, the EU exit will be in accordance with the strategies and direction of the current leadership of the Conservative and Labour parties for a hard brexit. In a sovereign parliamentary democracy the only way to avoid that outcome is via a referendum.

  • Oh Dear. LibDems need to be very, very careful here and I hope some serious political heads will intervene on this. I am a Remainer, but we are risking some serious unrest If we think we can just waltz in and revoke art50 on the back of a 40% GE mandate. You might even find that people wont support us because they disagree with the principle and fear the consequences. We are going to have to be a lot more subtle about this. Maybe vote to revoke art50 (if possible) with a view to renegotiating terms of membership (immigration is the only issue that has serious traction). Much as we would like it we cannot just sweep the referendum under the carpet and still call ourselves democratic. Remember that we voted for the referendum.

  • Laurence Cox 14th Aug '17 - 3:59pm

    In the meantime, before there can be referendum on the terms of Brexit, we need our Parliamentarians acting with others of like mind, to amend the first of the Great Repeal Bills to make it clear that leaving the EU under Article 50 does not constitute leaving the EEA. Even those who are pro-Brexit must agree that continued membership of the EEA is essential to avoid a cliff-edge departure from the EU. They may want this to be for a limited time, but the UK has to remain in the EEA at least until there is a full bilateral treaty between the UK and the EU.

    We will continue to fight against Brexit, but we need to ensure that whatever happens it causes the least damage to our economy.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Aug '17 - 4:05pm

    For the majority of our MPs to vote against implementing Article 50 was fine, since party policy was that there should be a final say by the public on the terms of the deal. But to seek to reverse the process and stop Brexit without having that referendum would be undemocratic, since a majority of the voters in last June’s referendum voted to leave.

  • Paul Pettinger 14th Aug '17 - 4:34pm

    Encouraging news. Couldn’t believe the tepidity of FPC’s motion when I first saw it.

  • David Allen 14th Aug '17 - 6:53pm

    David Miliband made a sensibly pragmatic proposal which stands a fair chance of achieving its aims, i.e. to get Brexit reversed. He called for “parliament or the public” to be given “the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative.” So he wants to leave the door open to enable a Remain majority in Parliament to take the decision to abandon Brexit, if the deal (or no deal) is clearly disastrous. That’s sensible. Alternatively, he wants to leave the door open to enable a public referendum vote. That’s also sensible. There are merits and demerits in both of the options. Miliband wants the flexibility to decide at the right time what will work and put a stop to Brexit.

    The Lib Dem motion is a complete contrast. In place of sensible practical suggestions, we get: “The Liberal Democrats to commit to seeking to reverse the triggering of Article 50 in the event of a Liberal Democrat-led Government being formed…” It might as well have said “Until the twelfth of never…”! The effect is to encourage the public to think of Brexit as inevitable.

    Come on guys, brains in gear. You don’t want to encourage those who think only a new centre party can beat Brexit, do you?

  • Alex Macfie 14th Aug '17 - 9:37pm

    PJ / Arthur Bailey: I suppose you also think that we shouldn’t be campaigning against the Tory/DUP coalition as to oppose the democratically elected government would be undemocratic.

  • Jackiecharlton 15th Aug '17 - 5:18am

    This is a good start to debate and there are views on both sides which I agree with. However to have in the motion that Lib Dems would overturn article 50 if in government does not wash. Agree with those who say this is just pie in the sky. Yes, as a Lib Dem I am totally opposed to leaving the EU and want to stop totally. But the motion must be credible. At the moment it isn’t. Will leave better thinkers than me with the job of changing it to ensure an enlightened and credible debate at conference. There will be many eyes on this.

  • Wonderful!

  • Andrew McCaig 15th Aug '17 - 8:42am

    I really really hope this motion is thrown out in favour of maintaining our current policy. As said above, our MPs voted in favour of holding the EU referendum and we cannot simply ignore the vote by 52% to Leave. I have lost count of the number of people on the doorstep who have accused us of being undemocratic (including many who voted Remain) where I have simply been able to say “How can it be undemocratic to call for another vote by the people?”
    Meanwhile, we have been doing knock and drop surveys in Huddersfield and the idea of another referendum is gaining popularity.. It is a clear policy, understandable once you explain it. Let’s keep a bit of consistency!
    Finally, Caron asserts we would have done much better in the Election if we had adopted her favoured policy – I see no evidence in polling or the British Election Study or anywhere else for that, but perhaps I have missed something?

  • We have stated our position on the EU and IMO we should just wait and watch….

    After all,..
    Yesterday..May, Hammond and Fox: We will leave customs union during Brexit transition
    Today….May, Hammond and Fox: We hope to strike a temporary deal with the European Union to retain the key benefits of the customs union for an interim period after Brexit, to avoid cross-border commerce grinding to a halt.

    Just pick up the pieces when the country shouts, “Arghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!”
    should be ju

  • David Franks 15th Aug '17 - 9:16am

    Yes we all understand the referendum result but it has not changed my mind or what I believe. If I am to campaign on anything it will be for what I believe in, not what I think might be popular. We should remain a member of th EU and I will not stop saying so.

  • It makes sense to have a motion reasserting policy that we should remain in the EU, but the wording of this motion is abysmal. The third paragraph makes us sound as though we are living in fairyland and needs more than an amendment; it needs a complete rewrite.
    As others have suggested it also needs something that acknowledges the need to deal with problems faced by people due to unfair implementation of austerity; also people’s feelings about immigration and the need to work for changes within the EU.

  • John Probert 15th Aug '17 - 10:03am

    Before long, when a majority of MPs can see that our negotiations with Brussels are getting nowhere and that the national economy and Ireland’s stability are at serious risk from brexit, surely they will want another referendum on whether or not to halt negotiations. Liberals must lead the way on this, while enlisting cross-party support in Parliament and across the nation.

  • Simon McGrath 15th Aug '17 - 11:59am

    @andrew Hickey “I agree with Sarah. No more referendums. EVER.”

    so if the SNP win the next scottish election they should be allow to declare scottish independence ?

  • @ Simon McGrath “so if the SNP win the next scottish election they should be allow to declare scottish independence ?”

    An interesting use of the word ‘allowed’ there. A revival of post colonial hankering ?

    It’s also an interesting conundrum to suggest that a parliament elected on first past the post – with a Government propped up by a one billion pound bribe to the Ulster Unionists (four times the Barnett formula for a population a fifth the size of Scotland) –
    and with less than 10% of its members elected in Scotland should be able to overrule a Scottish parliament elected on PR which would make it extremely difficult for the SNP to get an over all majority.

    I am not an SNP supporter but I believe in a bit of honest logic being at the heart of liberalism.

  • George Potter 15th Aug '17 - 1:30pm

    Let’s be clear Caron, there was not a rethink. FCC had to be dragged into giving a Brexit motion a chance to be debated only after 400 members signed a petition calling for a special conference – forcing the party establishment to realise that they weren’t going to get away with preventing a debate and making them concede to this instead.

    I’m aware that LDV loves to take an “everything is rosy” editorial line most of the time but you could at least be straightforward and honest in reporting the facts.

  • Nigel Quinton 15th Aug '17 - 1:56pm

    Could we not just try to persuade David Miliband to join us – he seems to have the best formulation of policy on this!

  • Nigel Quinton 15th Aug ’17 – 1:56pm…………….Could we not just try to persuade David Miliband to join us – he seems to have the best formulation of policy on this!……….

    Why not? And, whilst we’re at it, let him bring along 40/50 Labour MPs who think the same…

    A note of caution; what will the new party be called?..

    ‘New Labour’ would seem to reflect the balance of power…

  • Nigel Jones makes the point I was going to make. Are we seriously going to speculate publicly about a LibDem led government bring formed in the next 2 years?? I’m all for being positive and aiming high, but honestly.
    Brexit is the only issue on which we have any chance of getting serious traction. We can be the ‘exit from brexit’ party. Lets try and do it without inviting ridicule.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Aug '17 - 4:46pm

    First we have to persuade those who voted remain and now have decided we should accept the result and those who voted for leaving and now don’t like the direction of travel that it is possible to reverse Brexit and why that is preferable to a soft Brexit whatever that means. The momentum is with the Government and many will need some significant new information to change course. All this drip, drip, drip will not alter many people. I think the country’s best bet is to go for a soft Brexit with like minded people and then perhaps hey presto we might as well remain in the EU.

  • Vernon Bogdanor is a pretty astute political commentator. He recent piece argues that a second referendum is looking more likely by the day https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/03/second-brexit-referendum-case-getting-stronger-political-deadlock-life-raft

    He puts forward four reasons:

    “First, there is probably no Commons majority for May’s version of Brexit. Indeed, there is probably a stronger representation of remain MPs in parliament today than before the election.

    Second, Labour’s electoral gains raise the question of whether the decision in the 2016 referendum is final: for, although Labour was not a remain party this year, the British Election Study found that the party’s “soft Brexit” policy played a large part in its substantial gain in votes. In constituencies where over 55% voted remain, the party
    achieved a swing of around 7%. The election was the revenge of the remainers.

    Third, the election intensifies internal divisions in both major parties. If the eventual deal is too “hard”, Conservative remainers may join with their opposition counterparts to defeat it; if too “soft”, Tory Eurosceptics could ensure its rejection. There may be no majority for any of the forms of Brexit on offer, with the Commons deadlocked.

    Fourth, the House of Lords – in which the pro-remain Liberal Democrats and crossbenchers hold the balance of power, and the proportion of remainers is probably even higher than in the Commons – will feel emboldened to reject a hard Brexit, arguing that a minority government has no mandate for it.

    With a deadlocked parliament, the possibility of an unfavourable deal and both parties so deeply divided on Europe, it may start to appear that the only way out of the impasse is a second referendum in which the government’s deal is put it to the people for legitimation.”

  • @ Joe Bourke “Fourth, the House of Lords – in which the pro-remain Liberal Democrats and crossbenchers hold the balance of power, and the proportion of remainers is probably even higher than in the Commons – will feel emboldened to reject a hard Brexit, arguing that a minority government has no mandate for it.”

    I voted remain, but if the House of Lords follow that course it will be more than ironic after the events of 1910 – and after the fact that David Cameron (responsible for creating this fine mess) is Bogdanor’s most famous ex-student.

    It will also almost certainly signal the final sinking of the SS House of Lords after it deliberately ran into an iceberg – and gave the Maybot a spectacular lifeline in a Lords v. the People General Election.

    Hey ho. You couldn’t make it up.

  • David Raw

    Can’t see the Tories giving the SS Maybot another electoral voyage under any circumstances!

  • wendy TAYLOR 15th Aug '17 - 8:53pm

    I do find it strange that people think a one off vote on one particular day is somehow irrevocably binding. Yes 52% voted to leave the EU, having been lied to about the consequeneces. How is that referendum any different from an election? in 2010 more than 50% of the electorate voted for the parties that went on to form the Government. On that basis should future elections have been stopped because “the people have spoken? We have seen referenda being distorted as Mick says. We saw the referendum on the alternative vote turned into “Do you like Nick Clegg” Also the media have to give equal balance to each side of the argument in a referendum, however ludicrous one of the arguments is. So no more referenda please! One of the problems our party has is not having simple, clear policies. We’re too nice. we want to put in all the ifs and buts and maybes so as not to offend anyone. So this time I’d go for a simple, unequivocal statement that the Lib Dems will campaign for “An exit from Brexit” People who vote for us will know exactly what we stand for, so let’s go for the suggested motion without amendments and please get to Conference in time to make sure it’s debated!

  • wendy TAYLOR 15th Aug ’17 – 8:53pm………..I do find it strange that people think a one off vote on one particular day is somehow irrevocably binding……….

    Firstly, had the vote been 52-48 to remain would you, and others, be demanding a re-run?
    Demanding another vote will restart the old argument about EU votes, “Keep voting until it goes the way you want”

    Those who voted ‘Out’ may well have been lied to but, over the last year, few have changed their minds…What happens if a second vote is 50.1 to 49.9 to leave; does that mean another vote?

    My forecast is that we WILL leave but, before too many bridges have been burnt, the population will realise that there are no unicorns on offer and the government will ask to rejoin…The EU will agree and the divorce will turn out to be a ‘trial separation’…

  • Richard Underhill 15th Aug '17 - 10:10pm

    The Irish have a constitution which they manage to change from time to time, such as amending the former articles 2 and 3.
    The UK does not have a constitution.

  • Michael Romberg 15th Aug '17 - 10:25pm

    Having started the process with a referendum only a referendum on the terms has the political legitimacy to stop the process.

    Also, getting other parties to join with us in obtaining an amendment to government legislation to provide for a referendum is a bit more likely than us forming the next government.

  • Antony Watts 16th Aug '17 - 10:45am

    Another referendum is not the way.

    To destroy the Conservatives and Labour “Leave”, a winning party or a free vote in parliament has to be achieved. We are a democratic nation, with an elected sovereign government that make constitutional decisions.

    This is the message we have to get across

    1. The Lib Dems are capable of government – destroying all the negative like student fees that are thrown at us
    2. That we will strongly support Remain, and play whatever political game is needed to reverse A50, its constitutional decision AND its reality for the people.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 16th Aug '17 - 5:42pm

    @George Potter: Sorry to burst your bubble, but it wasn’t just that. Discussions had been going on with all sorts of different players and while the petition might have been helpful, it wasn’t the only factor. The need for a more robust anti brexit line is very clear indeed.

  • David Whight 17th Aug '17 - 1:20pm

    Since the referendum things have changed. People have a better idea of the problems of Brexit and the ability of our government to handle these problems. As a result the latest poll on Brexit shows that 55% of the population are opposed to Brexit and 36% are still in favour. Stating that the party are unequivocally opposed to Brexit cannot help but bolster it’s support. Brexit was why I joined the party, the only party I have ever joined.

  • Neil Sandison 18th Aug '17 - 10:35am

    When our position on a second vote is gaining more traction across different political parties it seems a bit silly to change it in mid stream .Agree there is a very strong argument on sound economic grounds on insisting we remain in the EEA that would gain support from business community and show economic credibility to the electorate .I do hope some joined up thinking amendments emerge so that we dont look like the party trying to undo the result we didnt like.

  • David Becket 19th Aug '17 - 7:34pm

    This is a poorly written motion that is going to make us a laughing stock. Yes we should restate our commitment to the EU, but as far as the government is concerned it is more important now to press them to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union. As others have said we also need to address some of the underlying issues that caused so many to vote leave.
    We have got into this mess because Conference Committee showed no leadership and were prepared to offer only another consultation. having vacated the leadership role it is left to others to come up with something.
    It is time for our new leader to put his foot down, stop this nonsense and ensure we have a particle motion to debate.

  • David Whight 17th Aug ’17 – 1:20pm…………….Since the referendum things have changed. People have a better idea of the problems of Brexit and the ability of our government to handle these problems. As a result the latest poll on Brexit shows that 55% of the population are opposed to Brexit and 36% are still in favour………..

    The latest poll I saw had ‘Remain’ on 46%, ‘Leave’ on 43% with Don’t Knows holding the balance at 5%…

    At no stage have I seen a 20% margin for either….In my circle of acquaintances there has been almost no change…

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