Kenneth Clarke’s speech in the Article 50 debate

Today, MPs began debating amendments to the Government’s White Paper entitled “The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union” in the Committee stage. We publish this speech from Kenneth Clarke (from last week’s Article 50 Commons debate) in the hope of putting some “backbone” (Alistair Campbell‘s word) into MPs as they contemplate a national cordless bungee jump into a dark abyss.

We don’t normally publish speeches by Conservatives, but this one has a particularly good section about Alice in Wonderland, and an excellent ending, referring to Burke:

I am very fortunate to be called this early. I apologise to my right hon. Friend—my old friend—but 93 other Members are still waiting to be called, so if he will forgive me, I will not give way.

The Conservative Governments in which I served made very positive contributions to the development of the European Union. There were two areas in which we were the leading contender and made a big difference. The first was when the Thatcher Government led the way in the creation of the single market. The customs union—the so-called common market—had served its purpose, but regulatory barriers matter more than tariffs in the modern world. But for the Thatcher Government, the others would not have been induced to remove those barriers, and I think that the British benefited more from the single market than any other member state. It has contributed to our comparative economic success today.

We were always the leading Government after the fall of the Soviet Union in the process of enlargement to eastern Europe, taking in the former Soviet states. That was an extremely important political contribution. After the surprising collapse of the Soviet Union, eastern and central Europe could have collapsed into its traditional anarchy, nationalist rivalry and military regimes that preceded the second world war. We pressed the urgency of bringing in these new independent nations, giving them the goal of the European Union, which meant liberal democracy, free market trade and so forth. We made Europe a much more stable place.

That has been our role in the European Union, and I believe that it is a very bad move, particularly for our children and grandchildren, that we are all sitting here now saying that we are embarking on a new unknown future. I shall touch on that in a moment, because I think the position is simply baffling to every friend of the British and of the United Kingdom throughout the world. That is why I shall vote against the Bill.

Let me deal with the arguments that I should not vote in that way, that I am being undemocratic, that I am quite wrong, and that, as an elected Member of Parliament, I am under a duty to vote contrary to the views I have just given. I am told that this is because we held a referendum. First, I am in the happy situation that my opposition to referendums as an instrument of government is quite well known and has been frequently repeated throughout my political career. I have made no commitment to accept a referendum, and particularly this referendum, when such an enormous question, with hundreds of complex issues wrapped up within it, was to be decided by a simple yes/no answer on one day. That was particularly unsuitable for a plebiscite of that kind, and that point was reinforced by the nature of the debate.

Constitutionally, when the Government tried to stop the House from having a vote, they did not go to the Supreme Court arguing that a referendum bound the House and that that was why we should not have a vote. The referendum had always been described as advisory in everything that the Government put out. There is no constitutional standing for referendums in this country. No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems. The Government went to the Supreme Court arguing for the archaic constitutional principle of the royal prerogative—that the Executive somehow had absolute power when it came to dealing with treaties. Not surprisingly, they lost.

What about the position of Members of Parliament? There is no doubt that by an adequate but narrow majority, leave won the referendum campaign. I will not comment on the nature of the campaign. Those arguments that got publicity in the national media on both sides were, on the whole, fairly pathetic. I have agreed in conversation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that he and I can both tell ourselves that neither of us used the dafter arguments that were put forward by the people we were allied with. It was not a very serious debate on the subject. I do not recall the view that £350 million a week would be available for the health service coming from the Brexit Secretary, and I did not say that we going to have a Budget to put up income tax and all that kind of thing. It was all quite pathetic.

Let me provide an analogy—a loose one but, I think, not totally loose—explaining the position of Members of Parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years, and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public, in their wisdom, have occasionally failed to take my advice and have by a majority voted Labour. I have thus found myself here facing a Labour Government, but I do not recall an occasion when I was told that it was my democratic duty to support Labour policies and the Labour Government on the other side of the House. That proposition, if put to Mr Skinner in opposition or myself, would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. Apparently, I am now being told that despite voting as I did in the referendum, I am somehow an enemy of the people for ignoring my instructions and for sticking to the opinions that I expressed rather strongly, at least in my meetings, when I urged people to vote the other way.

I have no intention of changing my opinion on the ground. Indeed, I am personally convinced that the hard-core Eurosceptics in my party, with whom I have enjoyed debating this issue for decades, would not have felt bound in the slightest by the outcome of the referendum to abandon their arguments—[Interruption.] I do not say that as criticism; I am actually on good terms with the hard-line Eurosceptics because I respect their sincerity and the passionate nature of their beliefs. If I ever live to see my hon. Friend Sir William Cash turn up here and vote in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, I will retract what I say, but hot tongs would not make him vote for membership of the EU.

I must move on, but I am told that I should vote for my party as we are on a three-line Whip. I am a Conservative; I have been a decently loyal Conservative over the years. The last time I kicked over the traces was on the Lisbon treaty, when for some peculiar reason my party got itself on the wrong side of the argument, but we will pass over that. I would point out to those who say that I am somehow being disloyal to my party by not voting in favour of this Bill that I am merely propounding the official policy of the Conservative party for 50 years until 23 June 2016. I admire my colleagues who can suddenly become enthusiastic Brexiteers, having seen a light on the road to Damascus on the day that the vote was cast, but I am afraid that that light has been denied me.

I feel the spirit of my former colleague, Enoch Powell—I rather respected him, aside from one or two of his extreme views—who was probably the best speaker for the Eurosceptic cause I ever heard in this House of Commons. If he were here, he would probably find it amazing that his party had become Eurosceptic and rather mildly anti-immigrant, in a very strange way, in 2016. Well, I am afraid that, on that issue, I have not followed it, and I do not intend to do so.

There are very serious issues that were not addressed in the referendum: the single market and the customs union. They must be properly debated. It is absurd to say that every elector knew the difference between the customs union and the single market, and that they took a careful and studied view of the basis for our future trading relations with Europe.

The fact is that I admire the Prime Minister and her colleagues for their constant propounding of the principles of free trade. My party has not changed on that. We are believers in free trade and see it as a win-win situation. We were the leading advocate of liberal economic policies among the European powers for many years, so we are free traders. It seems to me unarguable that if we put between us and the biggest free market in the world new tariffs, new regulatory barriers, new customs procedures, certificates of origin and so on, we are bound to be weakening the economic position from what it would otherwise have been, other things being equal, in future. That is why it is important that this issue is addressed in particular.

I am told that that view is pessimistic, and that we are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with a great new globalised future that offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently, when we follow the rabbit down the hole, we will emerge in a wonderland where, suddenly, countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that we were never able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. Let me not be too cynical; I hope that that is right. I do want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt somewhere a hatter is holding a tea party with a dormouse in the teapot.

We need success in these trade negotiations to recoup at least some of the losses that we will incur as a result of leaving the single market. If all is lost on the main principle, that is the big principle that the House must get control of and address seriously, in proper debates and votes, from now on.

I hope that I have adequately explained that my views on this issue have not been shaken very much over the decades—they have actually strengthened somewhat. Most Members, I trust, are familiar with Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol. I have always firmly believed that every MP should vote on an issue of this importance according to their view of the best national interest. I never quote Burke, but I shall paraphrase him. He said to his constituents, “If I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.” I personally shall be voting with my conscience content, and when we see what unfolds hereafter as we leave the European Union, I hope that the consciences of other Members of Parliament will remain equally content.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is a councillor and one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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38 Comments

  • Paul Murray 6th Feb '17 - 6:24pm

    “If I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.”

    Mr. Clarke can quote or paraphrase Burke with confidence – he abstained in the second reading of the European Union Referendum Bill. Some other MP’s of this parish are not in the same position.

  • Great speech; agree with the sentiment if not all the content. Obviously parliament must be allowed full scrutiny and to my mind they must be allowed to vote in whatever way they believe is best for the country. If that means we end up staying then we stay and I will hope and believe that the this government and others to come will continue to campaign for what they believe is in the interest of Britain and the E.U.
    Always liked Ken’s style, even when I disagreed with him.

  • RICHARD WOOD 6th Feb '17 - 7:12pm

    A truly brilliant speech and a mark of high esteem in which he is held (seemingly by all sides) judging from the way he was allowed to deliver it uninterrupted and without the usual silly comments and noises. Whether you agree with him or not, it is a contribution to be heard and considered before rejection, a view many can find much to agree with and – most importantly of all – was very much NOT a call for a second referendum either now or at any other time!

  • I always secretly wanted Ken Clarke to jump ship and join the Lib Dems as I actually think he now has more in common with us than the Tories

  • Matt (Bristol) 6th Feb '17 - 7:57pm

    As I write, I am now cheering on Mr Clarke in the current debate – he has just spoken in favour of the Harman amendment to protect the rights of non-EU citizens.

    However, I am not of the opinion that he should have been a LibDem, nor that LibDems should adopt a policy platform that he would advocate (except in one or two areas).

    He does, though, speak for a historic incarnation of the Tory party that has – by and large – ceased to exist, and it is probable therefore that people who might have sought out that party in the past have rallied to our colours.

  • “The referendum had always been described as advisory in everything that the Government put out.”

    Much as I have a lot of time for Ken Clarke, he’s factually wrong about this.

    Some quotes from the Government’s leaflet, delivered to every household in the country :-

    “On Thursday, 23rd June there will be a referendum. It’s your opportunity to decide if the UK remains in the EU.”
    “This is your chance to decide your own future and the future of the United Kingdom.”
    “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.

    My emphasis on that last one.

    We all know the referendum was “advisory” in a very narrow legal sense. But morally? No way.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Feb '17 - 10:12am

    Stuart – the government deliberately and misleadingly swung both ways on this:

    “This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.”

    http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7212/CBP-7212.pdf

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Feb '17 - 10:16am

    …So everything that was put to parliament emphasised the advisory nature of the referendum, and _some_ things that were put to the people _implied_ it was not advisory. Cameron is at fault.

  • Little Jackie Paper 7th Feb '17 - 10:28am

    Matt (Bristol) – It is I think worth noting that the 2015 Conservative Manifesto contained the sentence, ‘David Cameron has committed that he will only lead a
    government that offers an in-out referendum. We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome.’

    Now we can argue about the meaning of the word ‘respect,’ but as far as MPs elected on that manifesto go, that’s pretty clear to me.

    More generally here, let’s face it. A big driver for that vote was the perception (at least) that the political classes stick two fingers up at people. I really don’t see how confirming the perception helps anyone. You are absolutely right of course that in legal terms that referendum wasn’t binding. However politically the voters are free to make of ignoring the referendum what they wish.

  • Now we can argue about the meaning of the word ‘respect,’ but as far as MPs elected on that manifesto go, that’s pretty clear to me.

    Well, it seems clear to me that it proves the claim that David Cameron was being duplicitous, trying to say two entirely different things to different groups of people (the MPs vs the public) and hoping that circumstances would mean that his lie was never caught out.

    In this he was basically playing the part of Max Bialystock and Leopold Bloom, with their two sets of ledgers, trying to put on a flop just for show and then pocket the cash — or in this case, pocket the reputation of being the Prime Minister who finally sorted out the UK’s place in Europe.

    Unexpectedly, of course, his production turned out to be a hit, which meant that his deception quickly unravelled as the various groups to whom he had made his mutually incompatible promises came to collect.

    No wonder he quit ASAP after the vote: he knew that his quick tongue had finally talked himself into a position from which there was no escape, and preferred to head off to Rio while there was still time, leaving his successor to clean up the mess.

    Anyway, this means he leaves two groups of creditors to which he promised incompatible returns: Parliament, and the majority of the public who voted ‘Leave’.

    Which one will be first in line to collect the cheque? Well, I think it’s been pretty much decided that it’s the ‘Leave’ voters, and the MPs are going to be the ones left clutching their now-worthless share certificates.

    All together now: ‘Haben Sie gehört …

  • @LJP – It is also worth remembering that the courts effectively put manifesto promises on the same level as gambling debts.

    Reading Stuart’s comment following my look at last night’s debate, where May for the first time in public (?) admitted that leaving the EU was daft and would be damaging to the UK, I do wonder how many of those currently shouting about the moral imperative for Brexit, will be saying something totally different in the near future…

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Feb '17 - 5:30pm

    LJP and Dav, the problem here is that Cameron allowed a situation where the nature of ‘leaving’ was deliberately undefined (I suspect this was because a) he did not care to do so and b) it allowed him to attack it in any way he wanted) and there was no clarity about the speed with which he would proceed to do so, should he the need to respond in such terms to the legally advisory but implicitly instructionary referendum.

    … and then disappeared, expecting to leave a lingering vacuum that would slow down the process, but actually causing such chaos that he ushered in a successor who decided to redefine the referendum result exactly how they wanted, who had remained largely unenthusiastic and aloof from the referendum campaigns, and therefore whose opinions had effectively remained unknown and untested in the public forum, and therefore unmandated.

  • @Matt (Bristol)
    The document you quote (from the impartial House of Commons Library, not the Government) merely confirms what I have already acknowledged – that in a legal sense the referendum was non-binding. Of course it was.

    But you are incorrect to conclude from that: “So everything that was put to parliament emphasised the advisory nature of the referendum”

    When Parliament debated the second reading of the referendum bill on 9th June 2015, Philip Hammond opened with these words :-

    “This is a simple, but vital, piece of legislation. It has one clear purpose: to deliver on our promise to give the British people the final say on our EU membership in an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.”

    Not much equivocation there. As far as I can see the only Lib Dem contribution to the debate came from Tom Brake, who, when asked by another MP if he agreed that a second referendum would “cause great harm” to the UK, responded thus :-

    “Absolutely. I hope that the outcome of the referendum, whatever it is, will give a certainty about the future of the EU which, unfortunately, the outcome of the Scottish referendum did not give for Scotland.”

    Everybody understood and believed that the government would execute the result of the referendum – unless, that is, someone can provide a quote from a government minister who gave any impression otherwise…

  • Alex Macfie 8th Feb '17 - 10:19am

    Roland:

    “the courts effectively put manifesto promises on the same level as gambling debts.”

    Given how utterly unworkable the alternative would be, I think that’s a good thing.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Feb '17 - 10:34am

    Stuart, my personal view is that, having had the referendum, it is hard to argue for an unconditional resumption of EU membership on the previous terms. I do not take the Clarke view that all referenda are alien to UK constitutional process; having devolved even an element of participation to a consultative/advisory referendum would place pressure on any government to take serious and meaningful consideration of it.

    I am not arguing that referendum being advisory means it can be ignored.

    However, the significant problem for me is (and I agree that our own MPs, and many MPs from many parties, failed to argue for this strenuously enough before the referendum) that the referendum failed to clarify the form and the timing that exiting the EU would involve, and that (narrow) result is being waved in the faces of those who voted Remain by people who now wish to define the nature of leaving as a fait accompli with no meaningful further consultation.

    The vagueness of the Referendum question meant that a vote to leave could not be definitive, because it did not define the form of leaving.

    There are people who are arguing that any deviation right now from a precipitate course of leaving with as much symbolic and real separation as possible from the EU and its institutions is a betrayal of the ‘moral’ mandate of the referendum. This is not the case.

    What is more annoying is that some of these are people – particularly on the Tory side – who clearly assumed that the referendum would be won by Remain, or that arguing for Leave was just a bargaining tool to go back to the EU and renegotiate even better terms.

    That is why Clarke is refreshing, as he blows away this nonsense.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Feb '17 - 11:03am

    Matt (Bristol) – I’m a bit in two minds. The first paragraph of your 5:30 post I think I’d mostly agree with. The second paragraph about, ‘unmandated,’ is a weak effort at a procedural duck. If that’s a problem then what Corbyn and Farron need to do is call for an election and explicitly commit to abrogating the Fixed-Term Parliament Act. As far as I’m aware neither has done so.

    On the rest of it, I think that there was always a certainty that any LEAVE would be conditioned by the rest of the EU. Perhaps that wasn’t talked about in detail, but I think it was always there. My guess (and I stress it’s a guess, I claim no evidence) is that despite what was said in public there were pre-negotiations and there were informal discussions. Those then conditioned the May speech and plan. The European Commission’s failures on stewarding A50 have caused a lot of problems in this picture.

    More generally as I said earlier given that a driver for that referendum result was the sense that politicians don’t care about people’s views I don’t think reinforcing the perception is a good idea.

    Even more generally however I’m just bothered that REMAINers seem determined to repeat their own mistakes. Raising points of procedural nicety is all well and good but the stark reality is that there weren’t all that many people, LEAVE or REMAIN, belting out Ode to Joy on referendum day. Is the argument that the EU is all A-OK, which appears to be the Farron line? Is it that it’s OK in the round, but not great, which seemed to be the Corbyn line? Or is it that things can and should be different? What I wanted to hear from REMAIN was how it planned to address the concerns at the referendum which clearly extended well beyond internal Tory melodrama. What is the EU that the public-at-large wants? No one seemed to want to tell me what that is or what it looks like, still less what could be done to enthuse people. REMAIN’s argument seemed to be ‘vote for the EU – it’s not all that awful.’ Months on after that referendum I don’t really know what leave looks like. But to be honest REMAIN’s ‘more of the same’ isn’t really any the better.

  • Andrew McCaig 8th Feb '17 - 11:16am

    Jean

    Welcome to the Liberal Democrats! I hope wherever you live, you have been made welcome….
    As you will see on here, we love to argue with each other (although quite a few people posting on this site are not Lib Dems at the moment!)

    I agree 100% with you that electoral reform and fair votes would make a huge difference to politics in this country, including reducing the feelings of alienation in many communities that have led to the Brexit vote.

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Feb '17 - 12:42pm

    LJP – mypersonal view is that the EU could have been better with collective action by leaders across the continent, but Cameron p*ssed away that opportunity by repeatedly failing to create a bloc of likeminded countries with a common version of reform, because he always (and Tory strategy historically has usually been in this direct) favoured a unilateral approach that gave him the free hand for further improvisation if he saw fit.

    If we accept that those somersaults and missed opportunities have created a loss of UK credit and leverage and that that is likely to remain the case for some time, the options for those who believe the EU continues to have a useful role – despite flawed processes and muddled agendas – would have been
    1) for a UK remain on whatever terms could be negotiated (and, post-referendum, the Cameron deal is almost certainly off the table, even if there was renewed desire to remain, which seems highly unlikely),
    2) A Norway-style deal with a loss of direct control, but the retention of indirect control and influence and the possibility of rebuilding a bloc of countries with a common cause.

    I guess what I am arguing for is some way of rebuilding and renewing the old concept of a ‘two-track Europe’. (In the past, I honestly recognise that in an ideal world I would have preferred UK membership of the ‘inner track’, but that was lost years ago). However much European leaders may argue that that is not possible, it clearly is possible, because it exists. Pragmatic, Kenneth Clarke-esque, leadership, would try to build on this fact and create a common Eruopean recognition of it as a necessity.

    But now May’s leadership has blown the chances of that happening too.

    It look like the UK will continue to end up with various leaders who will come up with variants on Cameron’s ‘I’m a winner’ delusionalism, convinced that somehow we can drive a better deal than has ever existed, that always works for us in all circumstances, because we are ‘special’. The UK have been unique (in certain senses of the word), but it is not ‘special’, and has no special destiny. The Tory flailing embrace of the duplicitous American-egotist Trump (if carried through) may finally teach us that lesson, but I doubt it.

  • Nick Collins 8th Feb '17 - 2:43pm

    “I agree with Ken”: especially when he says:

    “I have made no commitment to accept a referendum, and particularly this referendum, when such an enormous question, with hundreds of complex issues wrapped up within it, was to be decided by a simple yes/no answer on one day. That was particularly unsuitable for a plebiscite of that kind, and that point was reinforced by the nature of the debate.”

    and when he continues:

    “There is no constitutional standing for referendums in this country. No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems. ”

    I hope never to be invited to vote in a referendum again. So, as a resident of Surrey, I am pleased to see that my county council has withdrawn it’s proposal for a referendum on its council tax precept.

  • Nick Collins 8th Feb '17 - 2:46pm

    Sorry, not sure how the unwanted apostrophe found its way into the last sentence!.

  • If you are against any and all referendums, how do you think the constitutional question of Scottish independence should have been settled?

  • Nick Collins 8th Feb '17 - 3:00pm

    It is none of my business; i do not live in Scotland. But no history book which I have read makes any mention of a referendum on either side of the border prior to the Act of Union in 1707.

  • Do you think people (on either side of the question) these days would respect the result of a 1707-style political process as legitimate?

    If not, how do you suggest the matter should have been settled, such that all sides would accept it as legitimate [or at least, not as more illegitimate than the SNP currently do]?

  • Matt (Bristol) 8th Feb '17 - 4:12pm

    Nick Collins – this where I depart from my admiration for Ken Clarke – one cannot embrace an unwritten constitution and argue for paleoconsitutionalism, ruling out all innovation unconditionally. The two are untenable, imho.

  • Also: did you express your objection to referendums in 2011? Or were you okay with them then?

    Is your objection to the process, or to the result?

  • Nick Collins 8th Feb '17 - 5:07pm

    @ Dav I took very little interest in the referendum in 2011. I saw little to choose between AV and FPTP and regarded the process for making that choice as a farce.

    If your second question refers to last year’s nonsense, the answer is “both”. Did you really need to ask?

    @ Matt (Bristol). So we shall have to agree to disagree then.

  • Nick Collins 8th Feb '17 - 5:59pm

    And, Matt, A considered objection to referenda does not equate to “ruling out all innovation unconditionally”. I am glad that your assertion was made with humility since, otherwise, it would have been offensive.

  • @ Dav “Do you think people (on either side of the question) these days would respect the result of a 1707-style political process as legitimate?”

    I tend to be with Robbie Burns on this one :

    But pith and power, till my last hour,
    I’ll mak this declaration:-
    `We’re bought and sold for English gold’ —
    Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

    Looking at the Brexit referendum last June, Gove, Johnson et al certainly fit the description of a parcel of rogues.

    On a different subject, much to my surprise, Corbyn got the better of May at PMQ’s today. A very shaky performance by St. Teresa.

  • @Matt (Bristol)
    You make a lot of good points, and it’s certainly astonishing in retrospect just how little discussion there was prior to the referendum about how Brexit would take place in the event of a Leave vote. How many people had even heard of Article 50 before June 23rd? As my quote from Tom Brake makes very clear, even Lib Dem MPs seemed to think that the referendum, whatever the result, would at least draw a line under the whole thing and be an end to uncertainty! How could everybody have got it so wrong?

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '17 - 12:30am

    Nick, I’m sorry for any offence. I reacted primarily to your comment on precedents for a referendum; I appreciate you did not specify whether or not you favoured any non-refererendum-esque innovation, but (to me) you seemed to imply that the reason you disliked referenda was because they were innovations..

  • Nick Collins 9th Feb '17 - 10:14am

    Apology accepted, Matt. I don’t think anything I said should be taken to imply that my objection to referenda is that they are an innovation. I appreciate that our constitution was evolving in 1707, has continued to evolve since and will hopefully, if it survives, evolve further in the future. But referenda are a mutation which i should prefer not to see replicated.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '17 - 10:45am

    I take the view that now the genie is out of the bottle, after 30-odd years of usage, they are now part of the constitution. What is lacking and must be made up, is more clear guidance on how they are to be used. Which a written constitution would provide.

  • Interestingly, presumably those people who are complaining that there should be a requirement for a majority of 66%, or more, in a referendum, for any change to the constitution, would logically have to argue that that should apply to any future referendum on Scottish independence, right?

    So such people, if their argument were accepted, could help save the UK from break-up, if Brexit caused (a) a second Scottish referendum that (b) was, say, 55% in favour of independence.

    Hm. I like this idea.

  • Nick Collins 9th Feb '17 - 4:59pm

    @ Matt (Bristol)

    I don’t know about genies. Today’s Guardian describes them as “cuckoos in the nest of parliamentary sovereignty”. I think that is more apposite.

  • Nick Collins 9th Feb '17 - 5:22pm

    @ Dav

    Despite my aversion to referenda, i think that the Scots deserve their chance to seek to negotiate continued membership of the EU as an independent nation if that is what they choose to do. And I think it would be a little unfair, at this stage, to raise the bar which they need to surmount in the exercise of such a choice.

    One last referendum within the UK before it breaks up and the southern portion thereof exits the EU: a fitting end to the process which we started when we embarked on last year’s folly, don’t you think?

  • And I think it would be a little unfair, at this stage, to raise the bar which they need to surmount in the exercise of such a choice

    So why, logically, do you think it would be fair to have raised the bar which those who wished the UK to leave the EU needed to surmount?

    It seems to me you are basing your views on what the process should be on how much you like the outcome, which is totally the wrong way around!

    Tell me, if there were to be a referendum on changing the voting system to STV, what threshold do you think that vote should have to reach before it was deemed valid? 50%? 66%? 70%

  • Nick Collins 10th Feb '17 - 9:57am

    @ Dav.

    I have made no mention of raising the bar for any referendum. Please stop trying to put words in my mouth and please do not ask me to defend a position which i do not hold.

    I have not called for a referendum on STV. Have I not already made it clear that I do not support referenda? So the question of a threshold does not arise.

    Nice try , but no cigar.

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  • User AvatarAlain Desmier 24th Jul - 7:35am
    Wow - can't believe its this time again!
  • User AvatarTonyH 24th Jul - 3:16am
    Just realised that nobody has answered Alan Brown's question (first message). Alan, frankly I don't know the answer. Our policy on brexit is to stop...
  • User AvatarRoland 24th Jul - 12:55am
    "Bill Gates and others started the computer revolution" Clearly memory getting a little befuddled. Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 at the age of 19. The...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 24th Jul - 12:54am
    'Liberalism is completely other': I agree with you, Adam Cain, in that I think the Liberal Democrats are completely different both from the Tories and...
  • User AvatarMike S 24th Jul - 12:04am
    @ Katharine "Do the two largest parties anyway have clear identities?" Hi Katharine: Clear enough for the vast majority of the population to vote for...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 23rd Jul - 11:44pm
    @ Adam Cain “The point is that it is the role of the citizen that defines our approach;” I don’t agree. This sounds like Blairism...