Lib Dems must lead the fight against the calamity of Brexit

Whatever motion we debate at Conference next month, we already know that the majority of us oppose Brexit. We all need to persuade the people around us of what a developing calamity it is. We also need to take the lead nationally. No new party is required to campaign on this: the Brexit Exiters are us.

But we need to shout about it, not leave it to retired government ministers and would-be leaders from other parties to grab the limelight.

For the country is in dire need of Brexit being called off.

Poverty worsens. Austerity bites harder as living standards sink. Health services decline with too few doctors and nurses. Councils struggle to keep meeting local needs, Young people lack decent rental accommodation at an affordable price. Working people with zero-hours contracts or temporary jobs can’t pay all the bills, fall into debt and resort to food banks.

Yet we have a disunited government which, so far from tackling these ills, is almost entirely occupied with the enormous, wasteful task of trying to accomplish a Brexit which will make conditions worse. Negotiations with the EU on all fronts are stalled – rights of citizens living abroad, the Irish border, the size of the bill to be paid, and future trade relations.

As for the Labour opposition, with a better will to tackle the ills but no power to do so, it is no less divided on the terms of Brexit yet firmly keeps step with the government on the necessity of it.

So it is up to us to show unity and passion now in asserting the essential conditions of any Brexit and preferably of no Brexit, with the consent to be obtained not only of parliament but of the people.

But we haven’t done it yet. Here are two contrasting statements referring to Lib Dem policy on Brexit made a short time before the general election.

1. “Let me make one thing very clear. Brexit will happen. Nothing can stop that. Of course I campaigned and voted to Remain. But we’re a democracy. We must abide by the referendum result. But we must also take care. Cornwall is at risk of being the biggest loser from a self-harming, shambolic Brexit.”

2. “I keep reading that their (the Lib Dems’) ‘hardline stance’ on Brexit is ‘alienating voters’. What hardline stance? Where is the tub-thumping for free movement, so vital for urban prosperity? Where is the impassioned defence of EU subsidies, so vital to rural areas? The Lib Dems’ problem is not that they have made this election a re-run of the referendum. It is that they are afraid of doing so in case they lose it again.”

The first statement was in a letter sent to voters by Andrew George, Lib Dem candidate and former MP for St Ives. In the same letter he wrote that “This election is about the future of our NHS.” Andrew wasn’t re-elected, though he came close.

The other statement is from an article by Hugo Rifkind in The Times on May 23, under the heading, ‘Lib Dems are about to go down in flames’. The sub-heading read, ‘A third party wins voters by offering an alternative vision or by inspiring protest but Farron’s team can’t manage either.’

Whatever the particular situation in St Ives, I believe we should indeed have campaigned more strongly and persistently against Brexit in the general election. A firm united stance, emphasising the need to stay in the EU internal market and the customs union, would surely have shown up the two-facedness of the Labour party and persuaded more Remain voters to vote for us.

The need for the country to stay close to the EU which we did not sufficiently convey in the election campaign must be strongly asserted now. The need is urgent – for Cornwall, for Northern Ireland, for Scotland and for England and Wales. Because we have a British government which fiddles while our country shrivels.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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58 Comments

  • Michael Cole 15th Aug '17 - 10:16am

    Absolutely right.

    I fully agree that “… we need to shout about it, not leave it to retired government ministers and would-be leaders from other parties to grab the limelight.” Of course we will be accused of being undemocratic for ‘ignoring the will of the people’.

    There is talk of forming a new anti-Brexit party but Katherine is right to assert that “No new party is required to campaign on this: the Brexit Exiters are us.”

  • Michael Cole 15th Aug '17 - 10:17am

    Sorry Katharine that I mis-spelt your name.

  • “Most people don’t care enough about Brexit itself either way for it to drive their vote.”

    And that’s our problem. The craziest comment is the ubiquitous “Let’s just get on with it!” – as if Brexit were just a quick stroll in the park. When we – and others – point out that Brexit will be ten years of chaos followed quite possibly by a century of impoverishment, the voters just don’t want to know. It’s an inconvenient truth. Why fuss with it, when you can go and sunbathe in that hammock?

    We need allies. We need to promote and publicise the smart pundits –
    like Ian Dunt
    http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2017/08/14/hammond-gets-into-bed-with-the-brexit-headbangers
    and John Springford
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/14/eu-brexit-transition-period-liam-fox-philip-hammond

    who can explain the utter folly of what this incompetent government is doing.

    We need to convince people – because it’s the truth – that May and Davis are right up there alongside Maduro and Chavez as the global champions of grotesquely blinkered, ideologically driven government mismanagement which is heading for the rocks!

    We need to scare people. Brexit is truly scary. How soon before the flight of capital out of Britain, as footloose investment moves abroad, the FTSE crashes, and 2008 starts to look like a minor financial wobble?

  • Peter Martin 15th Aug '17 - 12:24pm

    I’m one of those odd people who are pro-Europe and even pro-EU who voted to leave. This can be a tricky point to explain.

    Most people aren’t economists and I don’t believe there is anywhere near enough appreciation of the enormity of the blunder made by the EU in prematurely introducing a common currency. Especially when the requirement is to make it mandatory on all members apart from the UK. There needs to be a common taxation system to make it work properly. That means there needs to be a political entity in charge of the currency which can only be the United States of Europe.

    It would have been difficult enough with just a dozen countries. With 27 its is just about impossible. IMO.

    It will mean that taxes will have to be collected in Germany to be spent in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal etc. I may be over pessimistic but I just can’t see that happening. But it has to happen for the EU to survive. Edit 2: We’re talking about having a tax system which needs to be at least 10% of GDP. Hundreds of billions of euros every year. Germany’s surplus of around 270 billion euros ALL needs to be redistributed through a common taxation system.

    The move towards a USE is even less likely if the UK is an EU member which is why those genuinely in favour of the EU might want to give it some, albeit small, chance of success and help keep the UK out until the euro situation has resolved itself.

    Incidentally, the relatively strong euro isn’t an argument for its success. The problem is in the inflexibility. It’s too strong for Spain but too weak for Germany.

    If I thought there was enough support in the UK for REAL EU membership, ie using the euro, being part of Schengen etc then I would have voted remain. We could then have pushed for the move to “ever closer union” which is where the EU needs to be to survive. One currency means one country essentially.

    https://www.ft.com/content/fbaae6e0-7f35-11e5-98fb-5a6d4728f74e

  • Michael Cole 15th Aug '17 - 12:41pm

    I don’t always agree with Peter Martin but he is quite right to remind us that it was an enormous “blunder made by the EU in prematurely introducing a common currency.”

    At the time I described it as ‘putting the cart before the horse’.

    Furthermore, it is axiomatic that “There needs to be a common taxation system to make it work properly.”

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Aug '17 - 12:53pm

    Peter Martin, I understand your reasoning about the premature common currency and its logical outcomes, but Britain is not in the Eurozone or going to be. Lib Dems surely favour being in the outer ring of states, as we are, and rejecting ‘ever-closer union’, and in that we agree with general public opinion and (if I am right) should publicise that as part of our appeal to stay in the EU.

    Joe, if the British Election Study published on August 1st is correct, you are wrong to say that ‘Most people don’t care enough about Brexit itself either way for it to drive their vote.’ In the minds of the voters, says this report from University of Manchester professors who have studied the same 30,000 voters for the past three years, this was indeed the Brexit election. More than one in three surveyed said Brexit was ‘the single most iimportant issue facing the country’, compared with one in ten who mentioned the NHS and one in twenty the economy. And the study found that ‘The Lib Dems were not the first choice for those favouring a soft Brexit’ , so that ‘about a quarter of 2015 Lib Dems went to Labour’. I rest my case, that we should have campaigned more strongly against Brexit and shown up Labour’s ambiguity at the same time.

  • David Allen 15th Aug '17 - 1:02pm

    Peter Martin is right about the disaster that is the Euro, wrong to conclude that the formation of a United States of Europe is the only resolution to that disaster. Almost nobody has yet got their mind around the idea of a USE, so other resolutions are more probable. These could be e.g.:

    (1). EU just lurches onward from pillar to post with a succession of financial crises around the euro, while its poorer nations get poorer. (Had Britain stayed in, UK financial success due to its independent currency might have eventually taught the EU something. Sadly, Britain having left will also get far poorer, and will have nothing to teach anyone.) And/or:

    (2). PIIGS and Eastern Block eventually revolt against euro-driven oppression and demand a return to single currencies as their price for not breaking up the EU.

    (3). France / Germany / Benelux / Finland concede single currencies to the EU “outer zone” but retain the euro, along with some sort of “ever closer union” or “USE” plan, for their EU “inner zone”.

    (4). UK considers rejoining the EU outer zone group, but probably bungles that for the usual reasons – excessive misplaced national pride – and continues to slide toward penury.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Aug '17 - 1:17pm

    I agree with you Katharine. However I believe we also haven’t been clear about austerity either and for me that is the other side of the Brexit coin. We are still tarnished by our association with the Tories and I believe what is required is for members to demand an end to austerity and clearly show that we have turned our backs on the Coalition economics which forced us into some horrible decisions. Our aim should be to improve the Liberal inspired Welfare State so that people no longer fear illness or the kind of poverty that forces people to rely on food banks. Then we cannot be accused of not listening to the result of the EU referendum and instead provide a dignified way out of the Brexit mess for those who would like to change their minds.

  • Katherine,

    I think you make a reasonable proposition in saying “it is up to us to show unity and passion now in asserting the essential conditions of any Brexit and preferably of no Brexit, with the consent to be obtained not only of parliament but of the people.”

    However, as most of the comments above note, the Eurozone and therefore the EU is undergoing a major transformation, that we appear to be blind to here in the UK. As Mervyn King noted:

    “There’s a game of pretence going on here, in which German taxpayers are told that they’re not making transfers to other countries, and this isn’t a transfer union, but the longer this goes on, the bigger the liability that will eventually have to be accepted by Germany because people will simply default on their claims, which the European Central Bank [ECB] – with Germany as the single largest shareholder – will eventually have to pay. Other forms of debt also lead to an inability to repay. It’s better to face up to this problem now and say: “What is the strategy to enable countries to be able to finance full employment external deficits?” If they can’t regain competitiveness, then they will have a full employment trade deficit. Who’s going to finance it? When it looks like being a permanent deficit because they can’t regain competitiveness, then it is no longer a loan, but a gift. It won’t come from the rest of the world. It’ll have to come from other members of the euro area.”

    “Germany’s top officials will say: “Of course, we understand in the end Germany will have to pay. But we can’t tell our voters yet.” It is an enormously risky strategy, because when people do find out they’ve been misled, then the reaction is likely to be pretty strong. You can see it’s growing in Europe already. What we’re seeing is paralysis now. Policy-makers don’t want to go backwards because that would mean they’re admitting that they started monetary union prematurely. They want to go forwards.”

    It is not enough for Libdems to be simply anti-Brexit. A credible party has to be able to offer a better vision of the future, and that means a peripheral relationship with a politically integrated EU, with the UK as an outer ring non-euro member.

  • Arnold Kiel 15th Aug '17 - 2:46pm

    Supporting Brexit with euro-bashing is superficial thinking. May I refer to my contribution on the subject:

    http://www.libdemvoice.org/is-the-euro-a-good-reason-for-euroscepticism-and-brexit-53952.html

    Asking for full financial or even political integration as logical complement of monetary union is cheap talk from Britons who, even if pro remain, would never support either for their own country. Please think through the nonsensical conclusion of this: you would support remaining in an EU that still used DM, Lira, Peseta, Drachma… It is worth asking whether such a thing would still exist; it certainly would be much poorer, less aligned, and no global force to be reckoned with (and much less painful to leave).

    The euro is, when compared with its absence, a resounding success which only some radical fringes in some countries are questioning.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Aug '17 - 2:53pm

    Joe Bourke – Hi, Joe, thank you for this Mervyn King useful quote (as well as originally pointing me to the BES findings), and I take the point, in non-economist terms, that something has to give in the Eurozone financing. I think I agree with your final paragraph, especially on your point that we should offer a better vision of our European future; but surely that will involve us being in the outer ring – as now, not the only country to be so – OF THE EU. France, Germany, Italy and others will be in the Eurozone inner ring, with greater integration than at present; we will be in the outer ring with more national sovereignty. Of course there is much to be worked out, debates which we should be contributing to, but I was always aware that the EU is in a state of development.

    Sue Sutherland: thanks, Sue, I think you are completely right. We do need to show that ending the ills of austerity and the sad state of the nation even before the proposed Brexit makes things worse remains our aim.
    ,

  • Richard Easter 15th Aug '17 - 5:21pm

    Support for the Euro would be political suicide in Britain.

  • Most people aren’t economists and I don’t believe there is anywhere near enough appreciation of the enormity of the blunder made by the EU in prematurely introducing a common currency. Especially when the requirement is to make it mandatory on all members apart from the UK. There needs to be a common taxation system to make it work properly. That means there needs to be a political entity in charge of the currency which can only be the United States of Europe.

    This is all correct except that it wasn’t a blunder: the whole point was that the creators of the Euro wanted a United States of Europe, but knew there was no popular support for it, so they started first the ERM and then the Euro in an attempt to create something which they knew would end up in a massive crisis requiring the creation of a political superstate, in the hopes that by the time that happened either public opinion would have shifted so much it was acceptable, or at least that the alternative would be unthinkable so that the European publics would be forced into political union whether they liked it or not.

    That project is alive and well, with, for example, the lying to the Germans about the reality of the transfer union: the basic idea is, lie to the people until they have no choice.

  • Philip Rolle 15th Aug '17 - 5:41pm

    Monetary unions tend eventually to fail and fade away.

    A next step might be to have two versions of the currency; one for the likes of Germany and one for the likes of Greece.

  • Peter Martin 15th Aug '17 - 9:09pm

    “Britain is not in the Eurozone or going to be”

    “Supporting Brexit with euro-bashing is superficial thinking.”

    “I see very little Euro Angst in the Euro using countries.”

    “Support for the Euro would be political suicide in Britain.”

    Even if we accept all these statements as true, does it mean that the euro and its attendant economic problems have no bearing on us in the UK? Did the PTB in the EU really understand what they were doing when they introduced the common currency? Is it something we can just ignore? Is the fall-out from the eurozone’s problems contained within National boundaries?

    The decision to adopt a common currency in the EU changed everything. The Maastricht treaty and then later the Lisbon treaty have changed what the nature of what we call “Europe”. The EEC and EC which we could have all supported are both no more, but it sounds like what we think we can still have with our opt-outs and special deals.

    Why would we only want to be partial members of the EU with little or influence and no power to make any improvements?

  • I absolutely agree.

    The parallels between the referendum and the UK’s entry into the second Iraq war are striking. Both could be called, despite a lot of opposition, “the will of the people”. That “will of the people” was secured by a false prospectus, tapping into that romantic nationalism that lies within all of us (to some extent) and bolstered by a press that demonised dissent. The falsity of the prospectus in both was rapidly laid bare (in a few months we have gone from “sunlit uplands” to need for a “Dunkirk spirit”). With the Iraq war the “will of the people” decidedly turned. The same may well happen with Brexit, offering a way out of this mess.

    I see three scenarios where we do not follow Katharine’s advice

    1. The public turn on Brexit and Brexit is cancelled. If we aren’t seen as the people who lead the struggle in the biggest issue of our times then we will be seen as an irrelevance.

    2. The mood turns to a lesser extent, to the extent that Brexit is not cancelled but would have been had we led the struggle. Could you live with yourself?

    3. Our actions either way would be irrelevant, Brexit will go ahead. Myself, I don’t care. To be on the side of Brexit is to be on the side of civilisation against barbarity. I will be on the side of civilisation whatever.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Aug '17 - 10:46pm

    “May and Davis are champions of grotesquely blinkered, ideologically driven government mismanagement which is heading for the rocks. We need to scare people. Brexit is truly scary…” – thank you, David Allen, for your splendid comment of this morning (11.56 am), and for pointing out the articles by Ian Dunt and John Springford, which I have just caught up with. As you rightly say, we need such allies. ‘Nothing is negotiated yet, so the government can’t possibly deliver…’ Quite so.

    Listening to David Davis on the Today Programme this morning, I simply felt incredulous. This government is talking to itself, talking through its hat, or a worse metaphor. We absolutely do need to convince people in time to stop this complete folly.

  • I think the majority of contributors here have allowed the drip drip drip of anti – Euro criticism slant their attitudes. From what I see and read Arnold Kiel and Martin are correct in their view that there isn’t a great deal of anti – Euro feeling around in the eurozone.

  • Peter Martin 15th Aug '17 - 11:40pm

    Tim13

    “Arnold Kiel and Martin are correct in their view that there isn’t a great deal of anti – Euro feeling around in the eurozone.”

    This may well be true. The euro wasn’t, of course, around in the 20s and 30s but there was then a general problem of demand management in the world and European economies which wasn’t helped by having currencies link to gold. Keynes and others struggled to get their ideas across at the time. When we had high levels of unemployment people turned to political extremes. They might have linked the failure of capitalism to the conspiracies of Jewish people and other ethnic minorities or, if they were more of a Marxist inclination, they would have argued that capitalism had reached the end of the road and needed to give way to Communism.

    They didn’t march for a currencies to be taken off the Gold standard or for Keynesian economics to be incorporated into Government policy. That happened naturally when WW2 started. The thinking afterwards, in the UK and USA, was that if these policies can work in wartime they can work in peacetime too. The situation in the eurozone is similar now. True, the euro isn’t on a gold standard but the over-restrictive rules of the SGP create the same effect.

    I doubt if Arnold Kiel has read much of the work of Keynes. If he has he’s perhaps not understood what he’s read. As he seems interested in the UK Lib Dems he might want to try to rectify that by trying again to acquaint himself with the Liberal Party’s best known economist.

  • “The decision to adopt a common currency in the EU changed everything. The Maastricht treaty and then later the Lisbon treaty have changed what the nature of what we call “Europe”. The EEC and EC which we could have all supported are both no more,”

    The signing of Maastricht without the UK electorate being asked was the deciding factor for me to vote Leave. Handing our sovereignty away, at the stroke of a pen, was simply unforgivable.

    The EU is only 25 years old, not 40 years, as is often suggested. No doubt it was hoped that these incremental ‘stealth’ Treaties turning an acceptable EEC Common Market into this imperious EU behemoth would just go unnoticed?
    Like we didn’t notice the sleight of hand, when Nick Clegg stared into the camera on a national TV debate with Farage, and said that Farage’s suggestion of proposals for an EU Army were pure fiction, only for a few months later commissioner Federica Mogherini to stand up in Brussels and declare her proposals for an EU Army?
    And yet we’re still expected to believe remainers when they say that an entity which gives every outward impression of being a Superstate is not actually, really, a Superstate, and yet it incredulously, still has the audacity to demand its own EU army?

    The EU game is up. The liberal cry that Leave voters are thick and didn’t know what they were voting for simply doesn’t wash anymore. Voters have proved savvy enough to have seen this incremental EU con-trick unfold over its short 25 year life, and they don’t like what they see. The British public IMO, have wisely said, to the 27, we wish you all the very best of luck with your ‘ever closer union’, but No Thanks, we’re leaving.

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Aug '17 - 7:38am

    @ Peter Martin, I do not want to bore other participants by arguing with your much more literate economics. We shall see how the UK’s own currency, which continues to produce massive deficits, will bail out the country from this Brexit calamity.

    @ Sheila Gee, your sentiment is, I believe, quite common. You seem to believe that what the average woman/man does not want is wrong. Clearly, neither the Mastricht treaty, nor the Lisbon one (or NATO, the UN-charter, the WTO, UNESCO, the EURO, or the unification of England and Scotland, etc.) would ever have survived a referendum in the UK or most other countries.

    In contrast to you, I believe that the world’s affairs should be advanced by democratically elected, visionary politicians who, unlike most voters, have the capacity to think dynamically and beyond the status quo. Admittedly, I have no fear of democratically constituted United States of Europe with common social security, foreign policy and defense. It would be fantastic: higher standards of living, emancipated from (and therefore able to be equal partners with) the US and China, and able to address Africa as a development opportunity, not merely a source of refugees.

    Don’t worry: referenda which count unimaginative majority voices like yours will prevent this from happening. But can you explain to me what’s wrong with my vision?

  • Peter Martin 16th Aug '17 - 8:11am

    @ Katharine,

    “Poverty worsens. Austerity bites harder as living standards sink. Health services decline with too few doctors and nurses. Councils struggle to keep meeting local needs, Young people lack decent rental accommodation at an affordable price. Working people with zero-hours contracts or temporary jobs can’t pay all the bills, fall into debt and resort to food banks.”

    I could have written all this prior to the 23rd June 2016 as a reason for us all to vote Leave. But I’m sure the Remainers on this blog would have felt it was terribly unfair to blame the EU for ALL our economic ills. And they’d have been right.

    So am I right now when I say that is terribly unfair to blame not so much Brexit but more the prospect of Brexit? We aren’t ex-EU members quite yet.

  • Philip Knowles 16th Aug '17 - 8:52am

    I agree with most of what everyone has said apart from scaring people. It is no good scaring people because it will be Project Fear Mark II. Brexit is scary but people will put their hands over their ears and ignore it.
    What we need to do is ridicule the proposals. The furore over the Irish border is a case in point. Every time a suggestion comes up it needs to be countered with ‘How is that better than what we have now?”. Leave was (allegedly) about giving us more autonomy, more economic freedom and control of our borders – none of which are going to happen anytime soon.
    The only way we can win is to make people realise what we have before we throw it away. That’s about positives not scaring people.

  • But can you explain to me what’s wrong with my vision?

    It is based on the idea that ‘most voters’ are stupid, and need to be ruled by more intelligent, more enlightened sorts who know what they want better than they do.

    That’s not democracy: that’s technocracy, and what’s wrong with it is what is always wrong with a system whereby you set up one group of people, tell them they are superior to the common herd of humanity, and give them free reign to rule.

  • Antony Watts 16th Aug '17 - 9:59am

    The EU is great! For just two reasons

    1 Freedom, of the movement of people and other things. The EU wants to increase this, not decrease it.

    2 It is people based, it is for the “union of people” – do not subvert this to mean union of governments. The EU is for nation states that make common agreements.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Aug '17 - 10:07am

    The ills that our country is suffering from, Peter Martin, I referred to for two reasons. Firstly, to point out that our government hasn’t the capacity in time, attention or monetary resources to deal with them while wasting all those on attempting Brexit. Secondly, to reassert that we Lib Dems care deeply about all these ills and deplore the massive, wasteful distraction of Brexit negotiations.
    We want to have a government – hopefully to have a place in it – which will tackle the country’s deep malaise, as Sue Sutherland insists. But meantime the Brexit intention IS making ills worse, because for instance of the fall in the value of the pound, increasing inflation, and declining living standards. As I wrote, while the government fiddles, our country shrivels.

  • Antony Watts 16th Aug '17 - 10:12am

    By the way the euro does have a common tax system: but it has to be respected by every nation – and this isn’t happening.

    The system is

    1. aligning macroeconomic policies between countries.
    2. five convergence criteria EU member states are required to comply with to adopt the euro:
    – Inflation targets aligned
    – Government budget deficit, must not exceed 60%, deficit < 3% GDP
    – Exchange rate stability, between entrants
    – Long-term interest rates, within 2% between countries
    3. Compatible legislation

    So it is a matter of proper government, not individual taxation. Taxation has to be locally applied to meet the EU criteria.

  • It is people based, it is for the “union of people”

    Whether the people like it or not!

  • Gwynfor Tyley 16th Aug '17 - 11:11am

    As so often happens, the question of “what do we do now” just ends up as a rerun of all the arguments for and against the EU. I very rarely see anyone, in relation to brexit, ask the questions “what are the problems that led so many people to vote leave? Are there solutions to these problems that don’t involve leaving the EU?”

    Identifying these problems and solutions that lie in our hands, rather than requiring the agreement of 27 other countries, provides us with a way of shifting leavers to remain whilst acknowledging that their vote to leave was justified (in that their problems were not being addressed and would not be addressed by a vote to remain).

    The lib dems can then present themselves as the party seeking to reunite the country by conciliation and positive compromise (as opposed to the negative compromise of soft brexit which isn’t satisfactory for anyone).

    Now as it happens, I believe many of our policies address the underlying issues that led people to leave, eg electoral reform to address the feeling of disenfranchisement, regional devolution to address the feeling of disempowerment.

  • Arnold
    “But can you explain to me what’s wrong with my vision?”

    I think Dav has covered the point very well, as to why we should be deeply suspicious of self-declared visionaries who consider everyone else to be ‘unimaginative majority voices’
    But that brings me to another point. Does not potential tyranny, at the very least need an in-built political off-switch? So why did the original ‘visionaries’, design an EU with no valid voter off-switch, unless it was for the sole purpose of assuring that no ‘unimaginative voices’ could hinder the ‘progress’ of our EU visionaries?

    FPTP has its pitfalls, but Theresa May admitted to shedding a tear when she realised we had used our democratic off-switch to good effect, thereby shutting down her more draconian right wing ‘visions’. So as flawed as it is, UK democracy has the facility to put a hand on the shoulder of UK politicians who get too visionary for their own good. But the citizens of Europe have no equivalent off switch facility, for when EU commissioners get a bit too ‘visionary’.

    So British voters, having realised that they are sitting on a runaway EU Juggernaut, stupidly designed with no brakes, have quite sensibly decided that getting off, and ‘leaving’ is the only sensible option.
    For those remaining ‘visionaries’ who are so smitten by their United States of Europe, I would suggest in the interest of fairness, that the more Northern EU States put their hands into their very deep pockets, and transfer some real hard cash to their poorer Southern EU States. Or is a policy of a fairer wealth transfer, a bit too visionary?

  • Sheila Gee – It’s simply not true that Commissioner Federica Mogherini declared “her proposals for an EU army”. In her own words: “It is not the European army – I know this is the label that is going around – but it is a more effective way of handling our military work…” To create an ‘EU army’ would require the unanimous support of member states, and certainly no member state could be forced to join any such army.

  • Dav, Sheila, I did say “democratically constituted United States of Europe” which clearly does not advocate to “give them free reign to rule”. This is also no “potential tyranny”.

    I do, however hope that elected politicians are overall “more intelligent, more enlightened sorts” than the average voter.

    It was not an inherent “off switch” of a superior UK democracy that produced the referendum and its result. You don’t like what you call a “runaway EU Juggernaut” (without explanation, though); could you specify a bit better the attractiveness and problem-solving capacity of your preferred little England?

  • Dav, Sheila, I did say “democratically constituted United States of Europe”

    You did, but as the rest of what you wrote was dripping with contempt for ‘unimaginative majority voices’ it seems fair to suggest that you only approve of democracy when it gives you answers that you like.

  • Peter Martin 16th Aug '17 - 12:44pm

    @Anthony Watts,

    You’re missing the point. A common tax system doesn’t mean that VAT and Corporation Taxes have to be the harmonised everywhere in the EU. In fact it would be better if they were lower in Greece, Spain, Portugal etc than in Germany. It means that taxes are collected from everywhere in the EU and the proceeds then spent everywhere in the EU. So naturally the wealthy areas would be net payers and the less affluent areas would be net receivers. This is how it has to work in any currency union to avoid the poorer areas accumulating debt which quickly becomes unrepayable.

    The examples you give about 3% and 60% limits just show why the rules are over restrictive. What’s special about these numbers? How are they arrived at?

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    For once we are in agreement. For reasons already outlined, a U.S.E. is exactly what is needed to make the euro and the EU work properly. Of course the slight problem is that hardly anyone wants it! Never mind. As you say, it’s probably better to not ask them and so they won’t be able to veto the idea.

    I very much doubt if Angela Merkel would win another election if she explained to German taxpayers just what was going to be required of them in the future!

  • Peter Martin 16th Aug '17 - 1:03pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    You aren’t going to win many friends on either side of the debate by using phrases like “your preferred little England” and your previous call for “unconditional surrender.”

    What about your preferred little Monaco? They aren’t even in the EU !

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Aug '17 - 1:20pm

    Gwynfor, you are right to raise the idea that we have to address the problems that caused so many people to vote leave, but I disagree that this has not been much discussed. The problems cited as ‘lack of sovereignty’ and the nebulous ‘lack of control’ have been raised here, and such replies as ‘there has to be shared sovereignty in this interlinked world’ explored. Where you are quite right, I think is in suggesting that part of our message to the leavers should be, that we do understand. and believe that participating in the EU we want to help develop can to some extent allay your fears and work towards your desires. Besides, as you say, Lib Dem policies can also help to address the issues, as we need to explain. Conciliation and acceptable compromise are a great way for us to lead forward; thank you for that message.

    The naysayers writing here are probably not to be convinced to do anything but oppose, but for example it is unlikely that there will ever be a European Super State, and even if there ever were neither the Lib Dems nor Britain as a whole would agree to be part of it. It’s unlikely ever to exist because of the contradictions in the EU, such as the mounting problem of diminishing democracy in eastern countries such as Hungary and Poland, and the difficulty of the Schengen area at a time of enormous pressure from migrants. There are various countries besides ourselves who can form an outer ring with less control in future, even if the centre led by Germany and France manages closer integration – understandably desirable to them given their history of conflict.

  • Arnold Kiel 16th Aug '17 - 1:39pm

    @Dav,

    I am not “dripping with contempt for ‘unimaginative majority voices’ “, as they are too commonplace for that. I like representative democracy, because it produces mostly intelligent solutions for a dynamic and global world. Referenda don’t.

    @Peter Martin,

    making friends is admittedly not my primary motive, but at least I never get personal. I am a UK resident, btw. I don’t think it matters here, but feel free to call me a citizen of nowhere, if you are disinclined to return to substantive arguments.

  • I like representative democracy, because it produces mostly intelligent solutions for a dynamic and global world.

    So as I wrote, you approve of democracy as long as it produces results you regard as intelligent. When it produces results you don’t like, you don’t approve.

    at least I never get personal

    Calling someone ‘unimaginative’ is quite personal.

  • Peter Martin 16th Aug '17 - 2:12pm

    @ Katharine,

    “..meantime the Brexit intention IS making ills worse, because for instance of the fall in the value of the pound, increasing inflation, and declining living standards.”

    We’ve possibly had this conversation previously, but it’s worth making the point again that a high pound isn’t necessarily going to maximise living standards. True, a high pound will minimise prices in the shops, or at least it should if retailers resist the temptation to increase their profit margins, but that’s not the only factor to consider. If UK industry becomes uncompetitive and workers lose their jobs as a consequence then slightly lower prices in the shops aren’t going to compensate for the loss of a reasonable pay packet.

    @ Arnold Kiel,
    I’m just going on what you have on your FB account. I sent you a link that I thought may be of interest some weeks ago and I happened to notice the phrase “lives in Monaco”. Maybe that was out of date and you’ve updated it. You can live where you like and say what you like as far as I’m concerned. But I do think it’s reasonable to ask that you be open about it.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Aug '17 - 2:58pm

    Brexit isn’t going away any time soon. The electorate need to be certain that we will continue our opposition consistently for a good long time. Also, it needs to understand what exactly is our objective; a second outcome referendum, as close a relationship with the EU as possible or something else. Otherwise a new Party becomes a real possibility.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Aug '17 - 7:00pm

    Yes, Peter Hirst, as you say we will need to continue our opposition consistently for as long as it takes. If all the hopeful position papers being now produced for our government are not acceptable to our EU friends, maybe the end through declared failure of negotiation could be quicker than we think. In the meantime it’s important that all of us Lib Dems, not just our Leader and our Brexit spokesman, keep pointing out to people around us the folly and wastefulness of it all, since whatever small moves forward may be achieved, we will end up worse off than we were before Brexit. And as Tony Lloyd wrote truly at 10.24, ‘If we aren’t seen as THE people who lead the struggle … we will be seen as an irrelevance.’
    My plea is that none of us set it aside as a tiresome subject, but keep hammering the theme. There are plenty of new lines to explore – for instance the possibility of Rumanians streaming into Britain via the proposed barrier-free Irish border! (Remember the millions of Turks who were going to come, Leavers?)

    One other small plea. Please, no more abuse of Arnold Kiel, a good friend of ours, and to me a valued contributor to LDV.

  • @davidallen, Brexit will cause a century of impoverishment? Obviously voters won’t want to know if you make such ridiculous and unprovable claims, they probably think you’ve got a screw loose.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Aug '17 - 9:48pm

    Gwynfor Tyley – ‘I very rarely see anyone, in relation to brexit, ask the questions “what are the problems that led so many people to vote leave? Are there solutions to these problems that don’t involve leaving the EU?”’

    That is bang on. At the moment the argument seems to be at the Cameron level – basically imploring everyone to buck up.

    If people in ANY party who want to remain are not thinking about why that vote happened then they are not thinking deeply enough. I don’t know what to say in many respects. Free movement in and of itself may not be a problem, but the wholly asymmetric free movement we have seen is a big problem. Some indications suggest that a clear majority of REMAIN voters want SOME level of control over immigration. The question is what to do about it, not how to explain it better.

    As others have correctly pointed out post EZ what we have is different. The EEC has gone and I get a feeling some people look at the EU with rose-tints. The call often goes up for reform – we’re upto our necks in reform. EFSF/ESM, Fiscal Compact, Eurozone QE – all reform is being led by the EZ. For that reason I have long found the Norway option to be compelling. In the long term we may well see an EEA and a full-blown EZ.

    But first of all that vote has to be seen for what it was – a whacking great vote of no confidence in ‘the system.’ EU and all. Until there is recognition of that the debate will just go round in circles.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Aug '17 - 9:55pm

    Antony Watts – But that’s the exact problem, there isn’t anything even close to that level of convergence. There isn’t even anything resembling that level of convergence or anything that can bring it about. The EZ is not an optimal currency area, but before we even get to that we have to see that it is not an optimum political area. For that level of convergence 19 central banks are hopeless.

    Macron’s ideas are probably right, but they need full-blown political integration and a single set of institutions. That mean reopening treaties because the ones we have aren’t complete. It means a set of rules enforced on the deficit countries AND the surplus countries – otherwise the asymmetries in the EU will just gape.

    Your post is right, but it’s not what we have. And alongside this Juncker is talking about a high-spend social rights pillar!

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Aug '17 - 9:57pm

    Katharine Pindar – ‘There are plenty of new lines to explore – for instance the possibility of Rumanians streaming into Britain via the proposed barrier-free Irish border!’

    Sorry – you think that is a winning pro-EU argument? Or am I missing something?

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Aug '17 - 12:02am

    LJP, you are missing the point of course, and sneers (argument at the Cameron level!) do not advance the debate. I have gained useful ideas of approaches from many comments made here, such that raising the fear factor again may not be helpful, but humour may be (yes, Rumanians streaming in was in that category!), as may a conciliatory line. I have already replied to Gwynfor, and, sorry, don’t see that you are adding anything here constructive for us, though I have done you the courtesy of reading you this time.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Aug '17 - 12:53am

    Katharine and others

    I do not know what else this party has done but what is asked.

    I think while Sheila Gee takes a different stance to mine she speaks for many who could be our supporters like the s called Liberal party , they are Brexit supporters.

    We need to be so much more than this, and now face a legal and electoral challenge in the new rumbling party stealing part of our name and some of our arguments but many of our voters .

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Aug '17 - 7:48am

    Katharine, you begin your article “whatever motion we debate at conference this month…”, but make no further comment on the specific motion that seems likely to be debated.
    This motion – unless it is amended – seems to abandon the party’s current policy of calling for a “referendum on the deal”, and just calls for article 50 to be cancelled, with no referendum.
    I noticed that, in comments on another article a few days ago, you said that you felt this motion would be undemocratic. It will not surprise you to hear that I think this too. At least the current policy can claim to be democratic in that the final decision would be made by the public – although it does seem too much like trying to rerun the original referendum – making people vote again until they give the “right” answer. But how could it possibly be democratic to cancel brexit without any vote on this by the public?
    Could you possibly clarify whether you do still oppose this motion?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Aug '17 - 7:55am

    Sorry, Katharine, obviously you said “whatever motion we debate *next* month…”

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Aug '17 - 8:56am

    Catherine, I am in agreement with you on this. We must not abandon our commitment to a second referendum, which is a vital democratic principle. At the time of writing this article I had not been able to see the motion F17A, but having studied it since , though seeing much good in it I cannot accept the final paragraph or the omission of commitment to the proposed referendum. I hope there will be an amendment on those lines, which I trust and expect there will be, and I have suggested putting one forward to my local party. Thank you for raising this important point.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Aug '17 - 1:06pm

    A needed level of both enthusiasm and common sense from Catherine and Katharine, if the referendum on any deal is abandoned this party has lost it’s increasingly obvious selling point, as the public start to agree with us .

    Some in the party have with their love of the EU no idea what either Liberalism or Democracy seems to mean, you cannot really think first past the post terrible , then say if we won an election on a Remain ticket we would have a new mandate to stop Brexit, and be serious contending such an election.

    We must continue with a good unifying policy.What on earth is the need to even debate this let alone change it.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Aug '17 - 5:11pm

    Lorenzo, I agree. Even if by some miracle the Lib Dems won a general election before brexit happens, it is highly unlikely that the party would have a vote share of more than 52 percent. So this would not be a mandate to cancel brexit. Even if by an even greater miracle the party actually got 53 percent or more of the vote share, I don’t think this would really be a mandate to cancel brexit – People vote for a party for many reasons, and support for a party does not necessarily indicate support for all its policies. It could not possibly be democratic to cancel brexit other than by another referendum.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Aug '17 - 5:14pm

    Katharine, the motion that is being proposed could not be compatible with the current policy of a “referendum on the deal”. If article 50 was cancelled, as the motion seems to call for, then there could not be a deal for the public to vote on.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Aug '17 - 5:21pm

    Absolutely right, Lorenzo. The promise of demanding another referendum on the terms of the negotiated deal is not only the democratic solution, but is our flagship policy – one that we are known and respected for. If we were to drop it there would be still more confusion in the minds of the public as to what we stand for and can be trusted on. The proposal is another example of certain Lib Dems shooting us in the foot, as with the lack of support for Tim Farron, showing an extraordinary suicide tendency.

    The second referendum demand is a stronger, more defensible message even than our policy of wanting to remain in the single market and the customs union, which Professor Vernon Bogdanov has seen difficulties with. Moreover, a new poll cited on another thread shows that we have a great deal to do yet to convince enough of the public of the real harms to Britain of Brexit. There is still a lot of unawareness of the issues, as well perhaps of resignation on the part of former Remainers, which we have to challenge and provide reasons to show that our policy is both practicable and hopeful.

  • Arnold Kiel 17th Aug '17 - 6:44pm

    Dear Katharine,

    thank you very much for your personal support (despite my occasionally unsubtle language-I shall never become a real Briton). But don’t worry: the only thing that would shake me would be a powerful leave-argument.

    Concerning a second referendum maybe my pragmatic view helps: it is a prudent approach that should be pursued now, but, if the public mood is finally ready for it, it is probably also greatful for being spared the exercise. The maturation of this proposal might quite possibly supersede it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Aug '17 - 12:59am

    As ever terrific responses from Katharine and Catherine, we need you both , and do not want this absurd policy idea to water down our pitch to be Liberals and Democrats just as some fellow is making a land grab for part of our name it gives us a call to keep !

    I think the point Katharine makes about the certain shall we say to be gentle , self defeating tendency of recent months, put to the past with a common sense leader, however he may shoot off sometimes we know his substance, yet there are some bent on pointlessness !!!

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