Tim Farron MP writes…A Liberal Democrat plan for Britain in Europe

Today, I am announcing a plan to keep Britain at the heart of Europe. First and foremost, I believe the British people should be given the right to vote on the government’s negotiated Brexit deal.

Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. This is not an attempt to re-run the first referendum; we must respect the result. But the British people should be allowed to choose what comes next, to ensure it is right for them, their families, their jobs and our country. Our relationship with Europe affects our economy, our security, climate change, our influence in the world and so much more.

Until people get that choice, we will hold the Conservative Brexit Government to account and fight to make sure that Britain gets the best deal possible. So I am also setting out our approach on everything from the triggering of article 50 to the rights of EU citizens in the UK. While all the other parties are ducking these vital issues, we are tackling them head on. These questions are simply too important to ignore.

On that grim morning when we learned that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, I told the BBC that I remained as passionate about our European future then as I was before the vote. And that remains true today.  If anything, as I see the Conservatives doing their best to turn the country I love into something of an isolated, international laughing stock, and I see an increase in hate crimes on our streets, my determination to see Britain remain outward-looking, open and generous at the heart of Europe has actually increased.

With the Conservative Brexit Government failing to set out its plan and explain to people what the consequences of Brexit will be, it is more vital than ever that passionate pro-Europeans hold their feet to the fire. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has abandoned the field, offering no meaningful opposition whatsoever. And so it falls to the Liberal Democrats to provide the opposition to the Conservative Brexit government. We are the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

So our policy on Europe is simple: we want to stay in the European Union. We wanted that the day before the referendum, we wanted it the day after and we want it today. We may have lost the referendum but that doesn’t change what we believe is right for the United Kingdom. So when the Conservatives do eventually present the country with a deal for life outside the European Union, we believe people have a right to have their say.

And let me be clear: I don’t believe there is any deal that Theresa May can do that will be better for Britain than being a member of the European Union. So when people are given that choice, I intend to make the case loudly and clearly that we believe Britain should stay in the European Union.

People have been let down for decades by short-termist politicians who put the needs of one part of society above the rest. Now, in the wake of the Brexit vote, those divisions are more exposed than ever. With our country facing huge challenges – from inequality and injustice to an NHS in crisis and an economy in jeopardy – we are left with a reckless, divisive and uncaring Conservative Government – and a Labour Party fighting with itself rather than doing its job as the official opposition.

This is why the Liberal Democrats are now the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government – and the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

* Tim Farron is Leader of the Liberal Democrats, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and a former President of the Liberal Democrats.

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73 Comments

  • Mark Goodrich 7th Sep '16 - 7:02am

    Top stuff, Tim. Hope you get some decent press coverage for this.

  • Dave Orbison 7th Sep '16 - 7:25am

    But having declared in advance that the LibDems will reject any Brexit deal it does sound like a device in which to rerun the referendum. I do feel quite conflicted on this as a Remainer.

    Politics has such a poor reputation I am concerned that anything seen as preventing Brexit will be seen as ignoring a democratic vote and this will turn people away from politics even more.

    Trust seems in short supply these days and without it any party is simply toast. Yes 48% of us voted to Remain. Yes there were lies (on both sides) but finding ways to set aside the vote leaves me feeling uneasy.

    I think any party that goes down that route needs to trend carefully.

  • Great.

    You also said we would attempt to derail Brexit and we would commit to fighting the next election on a pledge not to leave or to take us back in. It would be great to see these pledges honoured to, and it is key that we do not u-turn on them.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 7th Sep '16 - 8:01am

    This is exactly the right position for the Liberal Democrats to take.

  • Richard Tutin 7th Sep '16 - 8:10am

    We need to be clear that the EU Referendum vote was not a vote FOR anything – there are three very different possible types of Brexit and the public has not been given a choice between them. Giving the government carte blanche would be most unwise.

    Tim isn’t asking for a re-run of the same referendum; he’s asking for a referendum on the deal the Tories put on the table. But if the Liberal Democrats are to pursue that policy, it is essential they make that distinction very clear.

  • David Cooper 7th Sep '16 - 8:15am

    Perhaps we should pledge to stay in Europe. I’m sure the British people would respect such a move.

  • Barry Snelson 7th Sep '16 - 8:35am

    My concern about another public vote is that it wouldn’t conveniently be a mature national debate on tariffs and harmonisation of regulations.

    Rather, the clause on ‘immigration’ would take all the media attention and that will end up being the ‘deal’ that is voted on. It risks re-opening the dreadful, and scandalous, claims and counter claims we saw before the first referendum.

    This strategy would need very careful presentation and messaging to get a positive electoral response from the voters.

    I may be in a minority of one, but I can’t help feeling that the creation of a narrative around “blithering Tory incompetence and the mess they have made of our future” would be easier and more productive at the ballot box in 2020.

  • Dinah Douglas 7th Sep '16 - 8:35am

    Finally someone says it out loud! Thankyou!

  • Andrew Tampion 7th Sep '16 - 8:43am

    This policy hasn’t been thought through sufficiently. Before I could support it then I need to know what would happen if the result of the proposed referendum was not to endorse the governments negotiated Brexit deal. If the answer is that the government go back and try to renegotiate another deal which is then put to the vote in yet another referendum then it’s a recipe for chaos. If the answer is we stay in the EU on our existing basis then it’s an attempt to re-run the first referendum. Any other suggestions welcome.

  • Alan Depauw 7th Sep '16 - 8:56am

    Thank you for this clear statement of principle and overall direction.

    Events will intervene. The UK’s options will be limited after Article 50 is triggered. A debate on whatever will be negotiated may well once again be hijacked by heated claims about immigration.

    But they can be steered through because the leader and (hopefully to be confirmed at Conference) the party clearly know where they want to go.

  • Peter Sturdgess 7th Sep '16 - 9:12am

    It is good to see an politician putting his convictions and what is best for the country first. That is not to say we should ignore the result of the referendum. There is no plan, let the current government come up with a plan and put it to parliament and then the electorate in a fair referendum with a franchise that includes all sectors of those affected. The 52 per cent who voted to leave, this because they were misled by the media and distrust what they see as the Westminster elite must be listened to. There should be a rein on the lies spread by the media and Westminster must radically change to ensure that it represents the countries that make up the United Kingdom.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Sep '16 - 9:34am

    Tim, I have read your post carefully, and I feel that it leaves many unanswered questions.
    You say that you respect the referendum result, and do not want a rerun of that referendum. But you also say that you will continue to campaign for us to stay in the EU. It is hard to see how this is compatible with respecting the result.
    You say that you want a second referendum to give the public a final say on any Brexit deal. You do not really explain how many options there should be on the ballot paper of this second referendum.
    Would the options just be whether to accept a particular deal, or to reject it and continue negotiations to get a different deal? Would it be a choice between two
    different possible Brexit deals ?
    It is hard to see how either of these options would actually work in practice. There can only be a deal when we have triggered article 50. After article 50 is triggered, there are two years to negotiate a deal. A final deal will probably only emerge when the two years are almost up. There will be one deal – not two alternative deals to choose from. So the public could not be offered two possible deals to choose from in a referendum.
    A referendum option of continuing negotiations would not really be possible if the two years were almost up. It is true that we could possibly be given more time to negotiate if all countries in the EU agreed to this. But is it likely that they would all agree, if they felt we had already been offered a perfectly good deal? Even if a different deal could be agreed at this point, it would be likely to be less favourable to Britain than the first deal had been.
    Although you do not spell it out, you imply that you want “Remain” to be one of the options on this second referendum. Although you have said you do not want a re-run of the first referendum, it sound as if in practice you do want to treat this second referendum as a re-run, and that you will be campaigning for a “Remain” vote. I do not feel that this is really acceptable, when the public have already voted to leave.
    You do not go into much detail about what sort of Brexit deal you would advocate, if you do have to accept that we will leave the EU. I assume that you probably would want a deal that allowed us to keep freedom of movement and access to the single market, but you do not actually say so.
    Also, you present your suggestions as the party’s policy, but surely this would only be official party policy if it was voted for by Conference?

  • Doesn’t Mr Farron’s argument on the nature of democracy on BBC Today prog. lead inevitably to the conclusion that having elected a government, the first Budget, for example, (and every other measure ) should be put to the electorate for approval?
    No, that is the job of M.P’s, our elected representatives in our democratically elected government.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Sep '16 - 10:12am

    Following my remark earlier about how you do not go into much detail about what sort of Brexit deal you would advocate – I see that there is more detail on the Liberal Democrat website.
    I do feel strongly that our focus now should be on campaigning for the best, most liberal sort of Brexit deal, rather than giving the impression that we want to stop a democratic decision from being implemented.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Sep '16 - 10:21am

    Catherine Jane Crosland: We respect the last general election result, but still campaign for Liberal Democrat policy and our MPs vote against government legislation. Our stance on the referendum result is exactly analogous to this. I do not get why people seem to think that after a referendum everyone has to get blindly behind a groupthink based on the winning outcome. It’s not what we do after an election; why should a referendum be any different?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Sep '16 - 10:35am

    Alex Macfie, your remark that we respect the general election result but continue to campaign against government legislation, is a poor analogy.
    We accept a general election result, in that we accept that the party that wins should be allowed to form a government. We can campaign against particular legislation of that government, and we can campaign for there to be a government next general election. But if we tried to stop the party that won from having a chance to govern at all, that would not be respecting the result.
    Similarly, we should accept that the referendum result means that Britain will leave the EU, and should not prevent it from happening. But we can campaign for a particular sort of Brexit deal. And eventually, when Britain has left, and the public have had a chance to see what life outside the EU is like in practice, we could perhaps campaign for a referendum on whether to apply to re-join the EU.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Sep '16 - 10:37am

    Above, I meant “we can campaign for there to be a DIFFERENT government next general election…”

  • There has never been a vote on any other treaty agreement between the UK and international bodies so why this one?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 7th Sep '16 - 10:45am

    Alex Mcfie, A referendum is, anyway, different from a general election, in that it is presented as an opportunity for the public to decide an issue one way or the other, probably for a generation. Of course it is always possible for this decision to be reversed at some point in the future – but only after the first decision has been implemented, and enough time has passed for the public to be able to form a judgement on whether it was the right decision

  • This the right approach.
    Some of the above questioning submissions are seemingly rather pedantic.
    One of the problems with Liberal Party, Liberal Alliance and Liberal Democrat Party polices over the years has been precisely that, pedanticism and trying to be all things to all people. Only when we have a clear, concise , simple easily understood stance that we follow do we get support, Iraq is one example. This is not like Tuition Fees because it depends so much on what happens external to the party, the negotiations etc etc and may have to be amended in say 2 – 2 years time depending on events..
    The party has taken a clear stance, whether the public agrees or disagrees does not really matter, it is a clear distinguishable policy that identifies the party – that is what is important over the next 2 years.

  • We need to be clear that the EU Referendum vote was not a vote FOR anything

    Yes, it was: it was a vote for leaving the EU.

    There are various options for the form that could take, of course, but the one thing we do know is that we’re not staying in the EU.

    Because we voted to leave.

    If there is a second referendum, it must be between different options for leaving.

  • Geoffrey Hinkley 7th Sep '16 - 11:09am

    Demanding another referendum is the wrong answer. We already have a situation – as a result of one ill-advised referendum – where the government is required to deliver a policy that it has little agreement or enthusiasm about and which will consume the vast majority of its attention and resources for the foreseeable future.

    Government policy should not be determined by plebiscite. Parties should seek a mandate in a general election for the policies they believe should be implemented.

  • Alex Macfie 7th Sep '16 - 11:18am

    Catherine Jane Crosland: By voting against the government in the division lobbies, the Opposition is “[trying] to stop the party that won from having a chance to govern at all”. And we succeed every time the government is defeated. So are you saying that by acting as an opposition, we are disrespecting the election result?
    We have a representative democracy, not a mandatory democracy in which our MPs are “delegates” who are bound to support some a particular line in Parliament. Democracy ultimately sits in Parliament with our MPs.
    Also in a democracy, no vote can bind future votes. This means that there is nothing undemocratic about seeking a mandate, at the next election, to overturn the referendum result.

  • I think Tim would be better employed looking at how we can make Brexit work rather than wasting time over a fight that’s already been lost. Yes parts of the UK were devastated after the referendum, but now most people seem to be accepting the result and getting on with life. The world hasn’t ended and in many ways there seems to be a new hope and confidence in the UK. Tim is trying to “re-run the referendum” but he needs to look to the future and that future isn’t in the EU.

  • This,… ‘Let’s have a second referendum, which is not really a second referendum but actually is a blatant second referendum to overturn the first referendum which threw us liberals into a hissy fit’,… is so full of obvious flaws I can’t help wondering if Tim ever runs his ideas past someone before grabbing a fag packet and starting to write.?

  • Paul Holmes 7th Sep '16 - 12:36pm

    I am not an expert on the EU constitution so maybe someone who is could clarify for me if I have got it wrong? As I read it:

    The Constitution says that once a country has invoked Article 50 it leaves after 2 years.

    There is no provision in the Constitution for second thoughts, testing the water through negotiations, holding a new Referendum that decides they don’t want to leave after all.

    It just says you initiate Article 50, negotiate leaving terms as best you can (such as whether or not you want to stay part of the Single Market and so accept Free Movement of people, pay large sums into the EU Budget and have no say on EU regulations which you have to abide by) but leave after the 2 years anyway, regardless of where negotiations have reached?

    Some people say we can get the Constitution renegotiated especially for us to allow us to change our mind and stay. Really? Or is that rather like those Conservatives/Leavers who believed that the UK was so important that that the EU would let us have the Single Market without Free Movement while the rest of the world was just waiting to fall at our feet in terms of trade -see Japan, Obama and Australia’s observations over the last 2 or 3 days for the reality check on that.

  • There can’t be a vote on different options for leaving. When the time comes, there will only be one negotiated leave path available. This will be whatever Davis, Fox, Johnson and co. manage to negotiate – your future in their hands.

    So ask yourself – are you prepared to accept whatever that lot manage to negotiate, without question or challenge?

    If the answer to that is no, then what Tim is proposing is the only sensible way forward.

    To be clear, and per the main party web site, this is – “When the deal is negotiated, in however many years’ time, the British people must have a chance to say if they would prefer the new arrangement, outside the European Union, or would prefer to remain inside the European Union”.

    There is no doubt in my mind what I prefer.

  • ALASTAIR Forsyth 7th Sep '16 - 12:53pm

    Free movement will not survive unmodified in the EU, especially after the Merkel setback. We should be patient. Some form of controlled or conditional free movement is acceptable. Ideally as part of a Europe wide policy on migration , of which we. in or out of the EU, should be protagonists

  • Alan Depauw 7th Sep '16 - 1:03pm

    Paul Holmes: I thought as you, that there is no provision for second thoughts after Article 50 is invoked, until I read an article in the FT by Jean-Claude Piris, a former director-general of the Council of the European Union’s Legal Service.

    He writes: “the interpretation of the process [following the triggering of Article 50] as a one-way path does not appear to be legally correct”. He explains that the “Article 50 procedure provides for notification by the interested state only of its ‘intention’ to leave.” He continues “In law, the word ‘intention’ cannot be interpreted as a final and irreversible decision. Legally, you may withdraw an intention, or change it, or transform it into a decision.”

    His main conclusion is “Nothing in Article 50 would … prevent the UK from deciding, in conformity with its constitutional requirements, to withdraw its unilateral “intention”. In legal terms, this would stop the two-year clock, removing the possibility that Brexit would occur automatically after these two years. Paragraph 5 of Article 50 confirms this interpretation: an ex EU member state can be a candidate to rejoin but only after having withdrawn. If the intention to leave was withdrawn, the process would be interrupted and the status quo ante would prevail. The UK would still be in the club.”

    The full article is here, behind a paywall:
    https://www.ft.com/content/b9fc30c8-6edb-11e6-a0c9-1365ce54b926

  • Barry Snelson 7th Sep '16 - 1:47pm

    I don’t know what the clueless trio will spend the next couple of years doing (they know even less) but will there even be a (singular) deal to vote on?
    Or will there (by then) already be a huge portfolio of agreements, working arrangements and plans covering every thing – fish, agriculture, services, immigration, standards and product compliance, tariffs, borders etc etc ?
    And not just with the EU but an even bigger pile of the same stuff covering any number of other trading partners ?
    Some of these will be tentative, some first, some final, draft and some even implemented.
    Isn’t it a bit naive to expect there to be a nice tidy “The EU says we can stay in the single market if we pay X pounds and take N migrants. British people now decide”.

  • As others have said, we can ask 100 detailed questions, but in terms of the broad brush picture, “we want a second referendum on exit terms” is smart and simple, and I think the right message.

    In any second referendum, it would switch the Leavers to having to argue for the ‘Yes’ option and my reading is that there is such an anti-esablishment feeling over the EU that it’s far easier to argue any “No” case than for a single option.

    In practice, it’s not so simple of course – it’s far from certain the other option(s) would be to stay in. But that’s getting into the nuance. In the meantime we should attack 100% on competence, the latest is this mooted trade deal with Australia that will take at least 5 years to negotiate, with the EU expected to conclude a deal sooner!

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '16 - 2:29pm

    Here’s another “Tim Farron writes …” from LibDemVoice, when he explained why he would be voting against a motion calling for an EU referendum during the last government:

    I am passionate about our membership of the EU, but I am equally passionate about allowing the British public to decide the future of that membership. An ‘in-out’ referendum is important for democracy, but it would also act as a catharsis. It would force those who take cheap shots at Europe whilst not actually wanting us to withdraw, to face up to realities.

    The best way to lance the boil of this unnecessarily poisonous relationship with the EU from the British side would be to have an ‘in-out’ referendum. It’s vital that our relationship with the EU is one that the British people consent to – so I am strongly in favour of a referendum, but I’m equally firmly of the view that it shouldn’t be now! [2011]

    (http://www.libdemvoice.org/tim-farron-writes-eu-referendum-the-conservatives-are-not-acting-out-of-patriotism-25691.html)
    Looking further back to 2008, Tim Farron (and others) resigned from the Lib Dem frontbench because he voted for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty against Nick Clegg’s instructions to abstain, because

    The party’s position is certainly cogent – a simple ‘in or out’ Euro referendum is long overdue to allow both sides of the argument to make their case honestly about why they think the UK should remain within, or else leave, the EU. The EU has changed beyond all recognition since the 1975 referendum, a vote in which anyone under the age of 50 was unable to take part. This is a popular and right case to make.

    (http://www.libdemvoice.org/three-lib-dems-quit-front-bench-over-lisbon-treaty-referendum-2284.html)
    I can see a consistent line in the approach of Tim Farron (but not those Lib Dems who simply want to ignore the result of the referendum), but the current debate gives the impression that his position (and the policy of the wider party) has become somewhat contorted by trying to adapt to the surprising reality of being on the losing side of that EU membership referendum.

  • Denis Loretto 7th Sep '16 - 3:13pm

    Broadly I support this plan albeit like everything else agreement from the iminent conference must be sought.

    Three points –
    1. This issue is just too important to allow everything now to be decided by government fiat.
    2. I have no doubt that an EU member which triggers Article 50 is legally entitled to terminate negotiations and stay within the EU during the 2 year period, in the absence of any treaty provision against this.
    3. Obviously the aspects of the terms briefly set out in this plan are negotiating terms. For example if some modification of absolute free movement were to emerge – especially if accepted across the entire EU – I would expect our party to contemplate that.

  • Denis Loretto 7th Sep '16 - 3:14pm

    Sorry – “imminent” of course!

  • David Evershed 7th Sep '16 - 5:01pm

    There is no need for a referendum on the terms of Brexit.

    Once we have left the EU we will be able to vote for which ever government has the policies we prefer at general elections – in perpetuity. Whichever government is elected can amend the Brexit terms the way it wants, subject to negotiations with the EU members of course.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '16 - 5:12pm

    Basically I support this plan. On the counter arguments:

    “You do not really explain how many options there should be on the ballot paper of this second referendum. Would the options just be whether to accept a particular deal, or to reject it and continue negotiations to get a different deal?”

    Well, it would be rather presumptuous to assume that the Lib Dems could specify precisely what should be done, never mind what anyone else thinks. There comes a point where you have to leave the fine details to future debate. That said, I think I would suggest a three-option referendum (with AV voting): Leave on the negotiated terms, or: Renegotiate the terms and seek to leave, or: Remain.

    “After article 50 is triggered, there are two years to negotiate a deal. A final deal will probably only emerge when the two years are almost up. There will be one deal – not two alternative deals to choose from. So the public could not be offered two possible deals to choose from in a referendum. A referendum option of continuing negotiations would not really be possible if the two years were almost up. It is true that we could possibly be given more time to negotiate if all countries in the EU agreed to this. But is it likely that they would all agree, if they felt we had already been offered a perfectly good deal?”

    This (from Catherine Jane Crosland) is speculative. It might or might not turn out to look rather like that. If it did look rather like that, then fair enough, not many people would vote “Renegotiate”. However, my alternative speculation is that a deal offering some immigration restrictions and some (not very good) trade access will be negotiated, AND that there will be plenty of people arguing that it is not good enough. UKIP would doubtless be yelling that we should just walk completely away, forget all about trade, and pull up the drawbridge. Now, if we did not offer a “Renegotiate” option on the ballot paper, we would totally disenfanchise the UKIP vote – a dangerous thing to do, they would be tempted to go for direct action. There will always be a “renegotiate and leave on different terms” option, so that should be on the ballot.

    So – Tim’s plan makes sense and will work.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '16 - 5:12pm

    Just one cavil though:

    Tim: “Any deal negotiated for the United Kingdom outside the European Union must include membership of the Single Market and protect freedom of movement.”

    No, I don’t think we should go to the wire to defend absolute freedom of movement. An emergency brake, a barrier against mass expulsions of e.g. whole Balkan communities, and measures against aggressive recruitment of cheap EU labour would all be well worth us considering.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Sep '16 - 5:19pm

    I’m surprised many think this is a good idea. At first it seemed brexit was going to be a disaster and I wanted to ignore the referendum, but now the economic data is fine and the EU wants us to get on with leaving. The polls show that there is no significant “regrexit” factor and an even bigger majority are against a second referendum, which the vote on the deal would be seen as, in my opinion.

    The only reason we should stay is if we can’t get assurances pre-article 50. A referendum on the outcome of the negotiations kind of misses the point because once article 50 is triggered we can get kicked out whether we vote in favour of the brexit terms or not.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '16 - 5:32pm

    “now the economic data is fine”

    We haven’t left yet! All we have done is to devalue, which always boosts an economy. Let’s see how the economic data look when Toyota ups sticks.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Sep '16 - 6:09pm

    I’m also still a bit unsure how pro EU the party is going. So if the party loses a referendum on the brexit terms, and the EU gives us breathing space, then what is the party’s position then? Will it allow the government to take us out of Europe or will they demand a parliamentary vote and vote against coming out? In that case what is the point of having a referendum on the brexit terms at all? It would be wasting the public’s time if whatever happens the party won’t support coming out.

    I assume the party will then campaign to take us back into the EU. It really would be EU fundamentalism, without the violence. Not sure unswerving loyalty to institutions is liberal.

  • Bill le Breton 7th Sep '16 - 6:32pm

    I agree that there should be some way of involving the citizens of our country in the ultimate decision, but this could easily be done in a 2020 General Election which might conveniently coincide with decision time.

    I do not agree with Tim when he says that he doesn’t believe “there is any deal that Theresa May can do that will be better for Britain than being a member of the European Union.”

    Membership of EEA/EFTA is a superior position for the UK. See the comparison put together by the Adam Smith Institute in its paper Evolution not Revolution here:
    http://static1.squarespace.com/static/56eddde762cd9413e151ac92/t/57222a0222482eb0d498821d/1461859051090/?format=1000w

    The UK would pioneer this route out of the EU for other countries in the 27, leaving those countries that are committed to European Monetary Union and fast track towards political union to proceed and a strong contingent in the EEA/EFTA grouping – able more effectively to respond to the needs of their populations and moving ahead in the cause of Free Trade. This is the only way to bring about reform across Europe.

    That the Tories feel unable to commit to this should be seen as an opportunity for us to to be the lead campaign.

  • @Alan Depauw
    I’m afraid most normal people (i.e. not lawyers) would regard Mssr Piris’ argument as pure sophistry, of the kind which keeps consitutional lawyers in very lucrative employment.

    He states that “the word ‘intention’ cannot be interpreted as a final and irreversible decision”, yet fails to notice that the very sentence of Article 50 in which the word ‘intention’ appears also contains the word ‘decide’ :-

    “A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention”.

    A member state which was merely considering withdrawal as an option could of course discuss this with anybody it liked at any time it pleased, with no need to trigger Article 50.

    Moreover, paragraph 3 states clearly that this notification (whether you want to call it an intention or decision or both) will lead to automatic exit in two years, unless there is unanimous agreement from all EU states to pause proceedings.

    Unless the European courts were to rule that Mssr Piris has a point (which I think is incredibly unlikely) then all this talk of a second referendum is pointless. We could spend £90m quid on another plebiscite, vote by a large majority to stay in, and it might all be a waste of time and money if the government of (say) Estonia said “no way, what’s done is done”.

    Or we might, as Dav suggests, have a referendum to choose between two alternative exit deals, but again the EU would not be beholden by the result of such a vote at all – it could simply refuse to agree any deal and let us drop out automatically.

    So, much though I was as desperate as anybody for a second referendum in the days following June 23rd, I think everybody needs to accept that unless the EU were to agree beforehand that such a referendum would be binding, there would be no point in having it.

  • Tony Vickers 7th Sep '16 - 7:44pm

    No to another Referendum. Yes to Britain staying in the EU.

    Let’s remember we are a Parliamentary Democracy, not one where major decisions affecting every aspect of our lives is decided by a kind of modern ‘mob rule’. The Referendum we just had was, in Constitutional terms, only advisory. So we need a General election fought on a Programme for Government that either involves Britain leaving the EU or not. The Tories can no longer be allowed to funk it: they have to choose. We have chosen Remain.

    We hear what the People said on 23 June: they have lost faith in politicians and The Establishment in general. But all the alternatives to Parliamentary Democracy are (in Churchill’s words or similar) worse than what we’ve got. We should be offering a total overhaul of British Government, following a Constitutional Convention. We should not accept the lie that scapegoats the EU with blame for our home-made ills, which far outnumber theirs.

    We need not deny the public their wish for better control over immigration and over their lives in general, because that (“Power to The People” through a functioning democracy) is what Liberalism is about. “Take Back Control” is a very good slogan, so lets claim it back!

  • Gwynfor Tyley 7th Sep '16 - 8:04pm

    I am very happy with this as our position on any brexit deal but we need to talk about it in conjunction with policies addressing/refuting the issues that drove the anti EU vote eg:
    Immigration is not a problem – a lack of investment in health, housing and education is and here are our plans to invest
    Brussels isn’t the cause of the feeling of a loss of “sovereignty” – our own flawed electoral system is which our proposals for PR will address
    etc

  • I have been an ardent supporter of the Liberal /Lib Dem party for nearly 40 years and stood as a local council candidate twice before I was 24. I was and am still devastated by the pro Brexit vote and the inadequacies of the referendum campaign both in its construction and execution. Whether we like it or not the government made it very clear to the people that this was an “IN or “OUT” vote with no going back. Very clearly there is no justifiable democratic case for staying in the EU now. The relationship the UK has with the EU on exit is a separate question, but if a referendum was to be called to confirm it was acceptable to the electorate and it was rejected (which it might not be) then the government would still be morally bound to continue on another plan for exit. How would they possibly determine the components of alternative exit terms, especially as this is a complex negotiation where the other side can’t enable us to have what we originally had as part of the EU? We have to recognise we simply can’t have everything we had whilst in the EU. I am afraid all we can justifiably do is campaign for the UK government to provide the same levels of investment in projects that were previously funded by the EU and fight for social and economic policies as comparable to those we have now in the EU. If it becomes clear that the country made a mistake and there is overwhelming support demonstrated in polls and electoral success then maybe calls for a new referendum could be justified in the long term – let’s say at the earliest in about 10 years time having left the EU and negotiated new trade deals around the world. However, the problem then would be that we would have to renegotiate ourselves back in to the EU and who knows what would involved and whether it would even be possible? The bottom line is I believe we should fight strongly for Liberal policies in the UK, but recognise that we will be doing this whilst being outside the EU for the foreseeable future.

  • Peter Watson 7th Sep '16 - 10:18pm

    @Tony Vickers “Let’s remember we are a Parliamentary Democracy, not one where major decisions affecting every aspect of our lives is decided by a kind of modern ‘mob rule’.”
    But … under the “rules” of that representative parliamentary democracy the Tories were elected with a manifesto commitment to hold an in/out referendum and honour the result.
    And on the subject of referendums (of which Lib Dems delivered 2 in Government and offered more in their manifesto, so appear keener on them than other parties!) , Lib Dems have long called for an in/out EU referendum (over time moderating that demand by adding in 2015 the condition that it would be in the event of a transfer of sovereignty to the EU). The party now gives the impression that it only took that stance because it misjudged the popularity of the EU with the British public and is now frantically back-peddling from an attempt to call the bluff of eurosceptics.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Sep '16 - 10:21pm

    Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination… Absolutely.

    This is not an attempt to re-run the first referendum … Yes it is

    we must respect the result… Absolutely.

    But the British people should be allowed to choose what comes next… They must, May wants consensus. A General Election would do it. Not just what destination but choose your driver.

    When the deal is negotiated, the British people must have a chance to say if they would prefer the new arrangement, outside the European Union, or would prefer to remain inside the European Union… that’s a re-run of the first referendum. If it was a choice of destinations that would be different but it’s a departure question again.

    Conservative Brexit Government failing to set out its plan… The PM and Chancellor and significant numbers of Tory MPs were Remain supporters and presumably keen to minimise damage. And the plan has to be acceptable to a majority of voters, to the Tory Party, to Scotland to preserve the Union, and to 27 other EU member states. And you want that plan less than 2 months after May has taken the helm? That’s ridiculous. Taking a completely unreasonable stance will lose friends not gain them.

    While all the other parties are ducking these vital issues … but when you repeatedly duck Nicky Campbell’s question about Lib Dem migration policy, a vital issue, it’s not just other parties.

    we want to stay in the European Union… although apparently a third of the party voted Leave, and voters in several of our remaining seats voted Leave.

    I don’t believe there is any deal that Theresa May can do that will be better for Britain than being a member of the European Union… I didn’t believe we’d lose the referendum.

    Key issues for negotiation… Definitely. But where are the solutions to the issues that pushed people to vote Leave – the infrastructure that can’t cope with unlimited migration from Eastern Europe.

  • David Allen 8th Sep '16 - 12:08am

    I’ve lost count of the number of alternative strategies posted below the line in this thread. GE instead of second referendum. Constitutional convention instead of second referendum. Just pledge to stay in. Just pledge to rejoin. Just castigate the Tories for creating the mess and leave it at that. Parliamentary vote instead of second referendum. Just try to make Brexit work less badly. Go for the EEA option. Go for various different variants of the second referendum. I’ve probably missed a few.

    At the end of the day, we are a small voice. We will only be heard briefly. We had better have a simple, coherent, clear, and consistent approach. Then we might get listened to. As Tim was today.

    Events, not Lib Dem pressures, will dictate what happens over the coming years. Brexit may very well fall apart, not because we campaign for that, but because the self-contradictory goals of the Brexiteers just can’t be met and the economy starts to head off down the pan. If all that happens, then we may not even need that second referendum in order to stay in! But we won’t look silly for having stuck to our pro-European guns.

  • Oliver Rowland 8th Sep '16 - 12:22am

    I generally like the plan. But if article 50 is triggered next year the exit negotiations may be over well before the next general elections. Would you still if necessary campaign on a platform of bringing us back in or, if a referendum had been held on the proposed exit terms and it went against us (the UK voted to accept them), would that be that?
    Another issue is that no one really seems to know if triggering article 50 is actually reversible if we don’t like whatever deal is proposed after the negotiations, or not. I think this needs clarifying before anyone triggers it! By my reading of art. 50 there certainly doesn’the seem room for endless demands for a better deal. A strict reading of it suggests there are talks, then the other states say “here’s what you can have”, then the UK has to take it or just leave with nothing in place at all.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Sep '16 - 12:35am

    I support Tim’s stance and plan, as appropriate at this time. But peace, peace, there are still so many debates to be had, and time for so many changes to occur. The other EU countries are themselves seriously divided, for instance between those wanting to take power back from the Council and Commission and others seeking closer union. The former, Visegrad group, should perhaps understand a British need to put some carefully managed limits on immigration. And now we have both America and Japan showing that they prioritise trade deals with the EU over those with Britain: how many rebuffs will it take for the Brexiteers to see we are only cock of a very small walk? Meantime, let us at Conference develop our policies for improving life here for British people, and for all the Europeans and foreigners settled here as well.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Sep '16 - 8:16am

    I mentioned above some reasons why, although it might appear democratic to give the public a say on the final deal, this would not really work, because by the time there is a deal to vote on, there would probably not be time to negotiate another deal.
    But the main reason why I am unhappy about Tim’s plan is that, although he denies it, he obviously does want to treat this second referendum as a re-run of the first referendum, in order to try to get a Remain vote. This is clearly not respecting the vote of the first referendum, as he claims to do. If the party adopts this policy, it will make it look as if we do not care about democracy.
    In practice, of course, Theresa May has made it clear that there will be no second referendum, and it is highly unlikely that she will change her mind. So Tim is actually suggesting that we centre our whole policy around demanding something that almost certainly will not happen – and which the majority of the population, even those who voted Remain, do not want anyway.
    It would be far more constructive to accept that Britain is going to leave the EU, then decide what sort of Brexit deal we support as a party, and then campaign for that. That would not mean that we actually support Brexit, it would just mean accepting that it will happen, and given that this is the case, campaigning for the best, most liberal, Brexit deal.

  • Go for it Tim. I am fully on board. There is no better deal than what we currently have (with our opt-outs, non-adoption of the Euro, outside Schengen). We do need a referendum on whatever is negotiated.

  • Andrew Tampion 8th Sep '16 - 9:08am

    Two fallacies need to be laid to rest
    MPs should have a confirmatory vote: the Parliamentary Democracy argument.
    MPs have already had a vote when they passed the European Referendum Act 2015. They could if they so wished have made provision in the Act for a confirmatory vote in Parliament or for a second referendum but they did not do so.

    The referendum was only advisory. Not only is that contrary to representations made by David Cameron and other Remain leaders during the campaign but if that is true then it works both ways. So that if hypothetically the vote had gone the other way and then David Cameron had been ousted by Boris Johnson in a Tory party leadership election Boris could have said “the referendum vote to stay in was only advisory so I’m going to take us out anyway”.

    In any case as others have said our Party’s influence is too limited especially after the catastrophic reduction in our vote and number of MPs since the 2015 election. Calling for something that clearly isn’t going to happen is a best empty gesture politics.

    Moreover if as Steven Rose says a third of the party (membership?) voted leave then strident calls for a second referendum to stay in the EU could seriously damage the Party.

    By all means let us as a party campaign for the best terms for Brexit and and to try to build up support for the EU in the country in the hope of rejoining in future but no to a second referendum in any form.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Sep '16 - 9:13am

    The Liberal Party and later the Liberal Democrats enjoyed 25 years of expansion – in that time, this expansion was driven by relentless campaigning. The campaigning imperative ceased to be our primary activity around 2007.

    We allowed our selves to slip into pontification – we are now a very ‘preachy’ Party. The issue of our future relations with Europe (which is larger than the EU) typifies this change in the character of our activities as a political party.

    That is why Catherine Jane Crosland is right when she writes above, “It would be far more constructive to accept that Britain is going to leave the EU, then decide what sort of Brexit deal we support as a party, and then campaign for that. That would not mean that we actually support Brexit, it would just mean accepting that it will happen, and given that this is the case, campaigning for the best, most liberal, Brexit deal.”

    We should be filling the vacuum left by Labour and the Tories on this issue by campaigning for the EEA/EFTA option. Those who don’t appreciate what this is should search for articles published here on LDV by Paul Walter – here’s a starting place: http://www.libdemvoice.org/we-need-a-dual-track-approach-which-embraces-rejoining-efta-while-staying-in-the-eea-51184.html

  • Go for it Tim. I am fully on board. There is no better deal than what we currently have (with our opt-outs, non-adoption of the Euro, outside Schengen).

    Thing is, the opt-outs were mostly secured because successive British PMs have been able to threaten that if Britain doesn’t get special treatment, they will not be able to sell the deal to the British public and therefore Britain will leave, bringing the whole European Project crashing down.

    If that is shown to be an empty threat, how long do you think Britain’s special treatment will last? When the next land-grab of powers comes, do you think the EU powers will let us carve out an opt-out, or will they laugh and say, ‘And what are you going to do, have a referendum, vote to leave, and then bottle it at the last moment, again?’

    And how long before the existing opt-outs start being chipped away? I mean, I can’t see us in Schengen or joining the Euro, but when the next budget negotiations come up, I can imagine the rebate being reduced, gradually being removed altogether, again on the grounds that what are awe going to do about it, now we’ve shown we don’t have the guts to leave?

    Having said we’re going to leave we have to follow through — to do otherwise will leave the next Prime Minister to have to face down an EU negotiation and try to carve out a special favourable deal for Britain, weaponless and naked at the table.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Sep '16 - 1:43pm

    So many sensible comments herein, Stevan Rose , Bill le Breton , Barry Snelson, and especially and regularly on this issue , Catherine Jane Crossland, well done !

    I feel very sure Tim is in danger of alienating fully one third of our party and support , in a knee jerk reaction on a regular basis, for just as he gets more realistic and conciliatory, so he appears yet again more idealistic and naive.

    This one issue obsession needs to tone down. Brexit is not what we want , not most in our party .It is unnecessary , but happening. We can be for a reformed EU and say so , why do we or does he or any of our spokespeople so lack ideas, rather than reactions?!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Sep '16 - 6:07pm

    Thank you so much for your comments, Lorenzo.
    You are absolutely right in saying that Tim is in danger of alienating the one third or so of Lib Dem voters who voted Leave. But he is also in danger of alienating many who voted Remain, but who consider belief in democracy to be a more important principle than support for the EU.

  • Stevan Rose 8th Sep '16 - 9:27pm

    Exactly Lorenzo and Catherine.

    We are supposed to be able to repeat our leader’s line without fear of ridicule. It should hold water in a general conversation with a non-party member. This is not an attempt to re-run the first referendum, it is an attempt to run a second referendum with modified wording. Totally different. Nope, a 10 year old could see straight through that. It’s the Emperor’s new clothes. Why didn’t the people around Tim tell him that 95% of the population will look quizzically at a claim that a second referendum is not the same as a re-run of the first, curl their lip contemptuously, and recommend a care home. Most of the remaining 5% believe they have been abducted by aliens or are Brexit deniers or both. A bit like the suggestion we should go around telling people that if we leave the EU air fares and car prices will go up.

    There’s one more thing. In Referendum 1 the Government machinery was behind Remain, and the arguments were based on the imminent threat of the end of the world. What happened was a surge in the stock markets and a dip in the £ down to 2013 levels. In Referendum 2, the Government will be behind their Brexit plan that we’ve not influenced because we’re a one trick pony, and you wouldn’t be able to scare the skin off a custard. If you think you can win Referendum 2 on the strength of the Remain positives without scary bits, why didn’t you mention these in Referendum 1? It is totally unwinnable even if May did a U-turn and conceded a second referendum. Since she won’t this is all a complete waste of breath when the party could be working on a credible EEA/EFTA Brexit plan and policies to address the legitimate concerns of Brexit supporters who might be turned.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Sep '16 - 9:56pm

    Catherine, those of us supporting this present stance also care about democracy. Lorenzo, this wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction by Tim, but a carefully thought-out plan setting out our principles and offering a way forward as far as anyone can see in the present obscurity. What you and others seem to take as a basis all the time is that the EU is a fixed entity. It isn’t, it can change radically in the next two years: the Visegrad countries will be asking for that in a summit at the very time when we are meeting in Brighton. What seems to me lacking in these debates of ours is any detail of how we Lib Dems want the EU to reform, what OUR EU should look like. Do we want more power for the nation states, less power for the Commission and Council, and less bureacracy and more democracy at the centre? We used to say that we should hope to stay in a reformed EU, so exactly what reforms are we hoping for? Any responses, please?

  • 1/3 of the unfortunately rather small number of Liberal Democrat voters did vote Leave, according to the polls. No poll shows the proportion of members who voted Leave, but given that we have been the most pro-European Party for decades I suspect <5%. And amongst the 17,000 who joined since the referendum, 0%.

    Meanwhile the polls have shown various things about public opinion. About 40% still think leaving was a mistake, a couple of % less than those who think it is a good thing (quite a few don't knows). About 40% agreed with Tim's position of a second referendum on leaving. A smaller but substantial % would like a rerun of the last referendum. The available evidence is that a small majority think remaining in the single market is more important than ending freedom of movement..

    All these numbers are several times greater than our support in the polls, and significantly greater than our highest ever General Election vote. The idea that we cannot support a policy because 52% of people do not like it is ridiculous! As is the idea that we cannot win in areas that supported Brexit. As far as I can see the Remain vote probably exceeded our 2015 general election vote in every one of our eight seats, although in most cases that cannot be confirmed. And tonight we have come from 4th place to win a by-election in Sheffield Mosborough, an area that almost certainly voted Leave..

    So I say well done to Tim for maintaining our clear position on the benefits of EU membership. If we can just get a new policy on tuition fees we might even regain the under 30 votes we so catastrophically alienated in 2010

  • Stevan Rose 9th Sep '16 - 12:06am

    “Any responses, please?”

    The people have chosen to leave, reform on a scale sufficient to change a million minds is simply not possible. Talking about what EU reform do we want to see is another side of Brexit denial. You are right the EU is not a fixed entity, it’s not the EU of relative economic equals with few push-pull migration factors it was before the expansion into Eastern Europe. This is not just about the UK. Bulgarian depopulation of youth and skills is devastating. Romania similarly. What we desperately need now is a broad choice of destinations led by this party, not a re-run of the departure question.

  • The real issue is freedom of movement. Any party that doesn’t compromise from its extreme hard remain principles is dead in the water nationally whatever happens at local byelections. The people have spoken – they want Brexit and an end to the illiberal and unfair freedom of movement that punishes the poor. They have a Prime MInister willing to pursue that uncompromisingly thus can vote Lib Dem for the town halls with impunity – nothing to do with buyers remorse or now wanting remain.

  • Andrew Tampion 9th Sep '16 - 8:30am

    AndrewMcC
    In the 2014 European Parliamentary election our party’s vote halved to less than 7%, our number of MEPs was reduced from 12 to 1 and we dropped from 4th to 6th most popular party. This would not have happened if as you imply being passionately pro EU is a vote winner.
    There is a danger of group think here: just because you and most of your friends are passionately pro EU it does not follow that the electorate as a whole is.
    As far as what percentage of LibDem members voted Leave, that can be resolved by an internal party questionnaire I think more than 5% but less than 30%.
    Katherine Pindar I don’t share your understanding of the word democracy for the reasons stated by Steven Rose and others above far more eloquently than I can.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Sep '16 - 10:05pm

    Hi, folks, I do see why Catherine, Stevan, Andrew et al think the notion of a second referendum can be seen as undemocratic, though plenty don’t, as other comments above show. Yes, it would depend on a lot of minds being changed, but don’t forget a majority of present MPs wanted to remain, and Madame May was one of them. I think the reality of rejection of separate trade deals might begin to bite home, and maybe MM is nursing a secret hope she’ll have to change her mind. I can hear you snorting, Stevan! But one interesting fact is that my own constituency Labour MP, with whom I had a meeting today to demand more action on bringing refugees here, accepts that a second referendum on the terms proposed would be OK, and is voting for Owen Smith who also favours that. We need more work on a progressive alliance, I guess. One final point: I ask for us to have some ideas on EU reform so that people who ask us what sort of EU we want to remain in can have an answer.

  • Stevan Rose 9th Sep '16 - 11:38pm

    Katherine, there is a difference between here is our Brexit plan, yes or no, or here is Brexit destination A and Brexit destination B, choose, and what Tim proposes, which is here is our Brexit plan, yes or stay in the EU. What Tim proposes is a re-run of departure yes or no. The first two respect the first referendum, Tim’s doesn’t.

    Now suppose May comes up with EEA/EFTA because she can’t be the PM who loses Scotland, and she and Hammond and half her MPs are Remainers. Are we going to risk losing Plan B in a referendum, voting against because like petulant children we want the shiny one with MEPs attached. You don’t know what she’s going to come up with, she doesn’t know yet. I know it’s frustrating to have to wait but be patient, weigh up the plan when you see it, don’t lock yourself into policy now that might be regretted later.

    How about an EU where every country gets out what they put in, an EU where free movement can be temporarily subject to an emergency brake where infrastructure can’t keep up, an EU without a CAP and a CFP, an EU that requires a mandatory referendum of all of citizens when further expansion is proposed, an EU that cannot tell us what to tax and not tax (like energy). A smaller and less expensive bureaucracy. I suspect others may be less demanding but to throw this back… what if you get a consensus of reforms but not one is likely to happen – you can’t have the EU you/we want – now do you leave or stay?

  • Andrew Tampion 10th Sep '16 - 7:20am

    Katherine Pindar
    Speaking for myself I don’t think that a second EU referendum could be seen as undemocratic. I think it IS undemocratic. Just think for a moment. If the vote had gone the other way and Nigel Farage put forward a plan for a second referendum what would you be saying then?
    Also 18,000 new members following the referendum is wonderful news. But 180,000 people joined the Labour Party or became registered supporters to vote in their leadership election. Puts it into perspective I think.

  • david cooke 4th Dec '16 - 3:26pm

    The people voted for Brexit. Tim must respect that. As long as Tim is in denial of the wishes of the British people he will keep the LIb Dems in isolation. No-one wants to hear doom and gloom endlessly because it sounds like mithering and whining and then the electorate switch off. Tim must make it clear he accepts Brexit and on those terms push for his Lib Dem ideals.

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