30th March 2019

I was in a meeting the other day, and someone (I forget who it was) asked an interesting question “What is the party’s message on 30th March” – a day after we leave the EU (if it happens). The answer seems to be we don’t have a message.

Potentially, what message can we have? I suppose that will depend on the situation we face on 29th March 2019. Below, I speculate regarding the focus of the message for the different scenarios we may encounter.

Scenario 1 – We call and get an extension before we leave the EU

We get a short extension where we don’t need to elect MEPs, or we get an extension, but we have to elect MEPs. If an election happens then it is likely a Brexit party will win significantly as will a remain party. The Tories may well suffer a significant blow to their MEP base.

What would Lib Dem message be around:

The inability of this government to agree on a deal. Following the result of the European elections will be a good indicator of what the public now think about Brexit. This in effect is an indicator for a people vote. Could the government ignore the results if it faced a crushing defeat? We would have a strong message not to leave.

Scenario 2 – The UK get what they want re backstop, and we leave the EU with a ‘deal’  on 29th March 2019.

What would Lib Dem message be around:

The message would be around the poor or botched agreement around the backstop. Currently, all eventualities seem to have been discussed and rejected (including Farage trying to persuade Ireland to leave the EU). The message would also be on the impact of all the companies leaving the UK to set up operations in Europe. The message would also be around the very messy and the implications resulting from the considerable sway of poor legislation passed.

Scenario 3 – We leave the EU without a deal.

What would Lib Dem message be around:

The difficult and genuinely depressing stories following the introduction of WTO tariff will give us much to comment on.

The chaos, which will be significant and very unfortunate, will give the party opportunities in different areas to provide a constructive and strong message.

Scenario 4 – The government gives us a people vote.

What would Lib Dem message be around:

Move away from the scare stories of leaving the EU – but make positive comments on the dangers (there is a very fine and difficult distinction between scare stories and putting a positive but a caution spin on a situation). Learn from the mess of the last two years and build a case around the interdependence of us being Europeans wanting to be in Europe.

Scenario 5 – Political parties implode under poor leadership

The Labour MPs who split to form an independent group gets larger and continue to be critical of Corbyn ’s inability to call for a people vote. The new Brexit party led by Farage attracts some Tory MPs. Similarly, some Tory MPs may leave and form their own Independent Group. Parliament fragments over Brexit.

What would Lib Dem message be around:

Admittedly, we need to highlight the incompetence of Tory negotiations with the EU. Poor management of the parliamentary process and the government’s inability to listen to the growing concerns of business and voters. The argument about 17 million voting to leave falls apart.

Just as a side comment. We get a number of briefing messages from the Party on the day’s events. I wonder how effective they are and would we do better to have less briefing notes?


* Cllr. Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • What is wrong with the party? Vince needs to go and Layla needs to step up.

  • John Barrett 20th Feb '19 - 2:26pm

    With the DUP on 10 MPs, the new Independents on 11 and the Lib-Dems on 11, it might be worth making sure that someone is speaking to Stephen Lloyd.

    If he joins the new independent group and they then become a larger group at Westminster than the Lib-Dems, it will be a real blow to our attempts to be seen as a major political party by the press and media if we become the fifth largest party in the Commons.

  • Scenario 1 – we carry on with our end to Brexit policy.

    Scenario 4 – we campaign to remain the EU.

    Scenario 2 and 3 stop talking about Brexit, have policies to stop people being left behind, push ending austerity and the need for an economic stimulus, have policies to remove everyone out of poverty, have regional policies to ensure the poorer regions catch up with London and the south east, have free training policies for the unemployed, and a job guarantee for everyone unemployed for more than 6 months (not compulsory).

    Scenario 5 could happen with the other four so policy will depend on the other four.

  • @John Barrett: “… it might be worth making sure that someone is speaking to Stephen Lloyd.” According to the Eastbourne Herald, despite having resigned the Lib Dem whip in Westminster (due to his election pledge to uphold the 2016 referendum result), Mr Lloyd is still campaigning in his constituency as a Lib Dem MP! Another example of “cake-ism”?

  • Matt (Bristol) 20th Feb '19 - 4:13pm

    Stephen Llloyd and Frank Field (who seem, intriguingly, to be voting together) present a realy challenge to TIG because of their facilitation of Brexit so far. Neither appear to be pro-Peoples-Vote, which is a key characteristic of TIG to date. I’d be surprised if either of them join them, as they make an already woolly group considerably woollier.

  • Seems very corragraphed, I wonder when Vince will waltz, tango or foxtrot onto the dance floor with his dance troop. Poor Sivo will have a fit

  • Ian Hurdley 21st Feb '19 - 9:08am

    Despite our best efforts to highlight our policies on the whole range of social ills of the UK emphasis on People’s Vote/Exit from Brexit is all that the media, and thus a very large part of the electorate, focus on.
    Right now we are seen as a single issue group. That issue is very likely to vanish on 30th March. Who are we then? The danger is that we will be seen as an eccentric irrelevance.
    We could become the ‘I told you so’ party but I suspect that would do more harm than good. To borrow a topical phrase, time is running out. Yes we must keep on working with others for a People’s Vote, but behind the scenes; for our own survival and growth we now need to bring our policies for all the neglected aspects of Britain today into sharp focus. My view is that we should deal with promoting each of those policies according to a structured strategy, not a scattergun approach where we attempt to cram all of them into each communication.
    And let’s borrow a tactic from other parties; when the media want to talk about Brexit let’s respond with “We’ve already made our position on that absolutely clear. What I want to talk about today is……..”

  • Michael Romberg 21st Feb '19 - 10:14am

    If Brexit happens, the vagueness and non-binding nature of the political declaration means that it’s all to play for on the future relationship. No point in campaigning for early re-entry. But we should campaign for Norway plus plus plus. That means glorying in freedom of movement. Being positive about co-operation with EU partners.

    If there is an extension to the Article 50 period, we come out strongly for Remain, for a referendum, for our whole-hearted positive pro-EU-membership stance in the referendum/ European Parliament elections/ general election/ any other vote that is going on

    So no mourning the past, bewailing the harms of Brexit. Positive and forward-looking

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '19 - 10:46am

    @ Tahir,

    There’s lot of ‘what ifs’ that could arise in the next few months which can only properly be analysed by game theory. Game theory usually starts with a discussion of the ‘prisoners dilemma’ which involves two prisoners. Each can only gain their freedom at the expense of the other having a long sentence – which means informing on the other. If they both keep quiet they can settle for a relatively short sentence. However, human nature being what it is, they’ll both likely spill the beans and both will end up with the worst possible outcome.

    It’s slightly more complicated with Brexit but nevertheless, if we apply the same game theory methodology, it is easy to see we’ll likely end up with worst possible outcome. Which is a no-deal for Remainers and not leaving at all for Leavers.

    In other words even if there’s a natural majority for some sort of compromise that likely won’t happen. So we’ll either end up with no deal or no Brexit at all. In other words it’s a winner-take-all scenario which will leave the country bitterly divided for decades to come.

  • Joseph Bourke 21st Feb '19 - 12:05pm

    Peter Martin,

    didn’t the Nash equilibrium show there is an equilibrium for every game. The UK and the EU are in Nash equilibrium if the UK is taking the best position it can, taking into account the EU’s position while that position remains unchanged, and the EU is making the best decision it can, taking into account the UK’s position while our official position remains unchanged. Likewise, MPs are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best individual decision possible, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game as long as the other parties’ decisions remain unchanged.
    The question to ask – Is the UK taking the best decision it can given the EU’s position . If the answer is no, the way to get to a new equilibrium is for Mrs May to change her position by extending article 50 and putting the decision back to the people in the referendum.

  • @Peter Martin

    Clearly the prisoners’ dilemma is a useful way to think about this. However I would suggest the risks are not symmetrical. And there are more than 2 players in this.

    I would suggest there is a majority in Parliament or very close to it to stop no deal.

    The big risk for Tory MPs and Tory Cabinet ministers is that a no deal risks wrecking the economy, causes logistical problems on medicines, food, prices and customs and wrecks their political careers and the Tory party along with it. There is no such political risk for the politicians in the EU27 which is what counts ultimately not the commission. Indeed they have a ready made excuse of blaming any economic downturn on those “stupid short-sighted bolshie Brits”.

    It is the EU27 who have the big market and the existing trade deals. I prefer the analogy that May is driving the car of the British economy towards the cliffs. She is saying that to avoid going over you have to turn right to my deal. But if the Tory MPs and ministers see that the cliff edge almost upon they will apply the brakes. The chances of an acceptable deal to the ERG and DUP have improved slightly. And the ERG and DUP face there own calculations. But there are enough ERGers who think no deal is the sunlit plands rather than a plummeting down a cliff. And the DUP only care about how they are perceived in Northern Ireland and it is possible that something could be offered to them on the backstop.

    There is also the British electorate to consider. The Tories want to keep their Leave vote without alienating too much their much smaller but crucial Remain vote and vice versa for Labour.

    Clearly all sides – the Government, the Tories, Britain, the EU, ERG, Labour, People’s Vote face their the own versions of the “prisoners dilemma” and with different short term and medium term risks and rewards. It might just be why there is something of an impasse in Parliament.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '19 - 12:34pm

    @ JoeB,

    It really depends on what you consider to be ‘best’. From a remainer’s POV it is obviously to remain in the EU.

    From a prisoner’s perspective it is obviously to minimise the length of time he spends time in jail. So if two prisoners do agree do agree to say nothing they will spend, say, 6 months in jail as the authorities try to wear them down. But if one prisoner tells all he will have only spent a month or so in jail whereas his co-charged will spend 10 years. If they both tell all they are both equally stuffed!

    So the point of the prisoners dilemma parable is to show that the result of trying for the very best outcome can also lead to the worst outcome.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '19 - 12:55pm

    @ Michael1,

    You’re right it is quite complicated and there are three main players in all this. Leavers, Remainers and the EU.

    The way it looks to me, and I’m not claiming any great expertise in the subject of game theory, is that the Ultra Leavers are actually relying on the EU to get them what they want. ie no deal. Maybe it’s not possible for the EU to give enough to enable a sensible compromise. That’s for them to say but without it we won’t have one.

    Maybe they could if they chose? Instead they are playing an all or nothing game too?

    Just to clarify my own position: I’d prefer a negotiated leaving deal. But I agree that game theory tells us that Leavers can’t rule out the possibility of no-deal.

  • Peter Hirst 21st Feb '19 - 4:33pm

    Under scenario 5 we could start talking about a realignment to British politics (again). If the centre ground becomes a credible place to be this would be a positive from months of incompetence. Talk of pacts and deals at least gives those concerned headlines though a change to our electoral system is far preferable.

  • Ian Hurdley 21st Feb '19 - 6:05pm

    Am I alone in thinking that the majority of comments on this thread are working very hard to avoid the issue of what this Party should be doing to plan a post-29th March future?
    I’m sure games theory is a fascinating intellectual pastime, but we risk sinking without trace in the not very distant future.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '19 - 9:00pm

    @ Ian Hurdley,

    Well, if the UK is out then you can start planning to get us back in I suppose! Good luck with that!

    I’d prefer to be out with a deal rather than without one. The point that I was trying to make earlier, was that if we do end up without a deal it will be just as much the doing of the ultra-Remainers as the ultra-Leavers. I don’t agree with J-C Juncker on much but he’s right in saying that it’s no good just saying we rule out no-deal. If we want a deal we have to negotiate one.

    Whatever happens after the 29th March,we can be sure of at least one thing. Joseph Burke will still be spruiking his LVT!

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '19 - 9:48pm

    “Brexit is a symptom of the disintegration of the European Union.”


  • Ian Hurdley, I did address what policies the party should be pursuing, if we leave the EU. I think even if we stayed in the EU we should be pursuing the same policies.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 22nd Feb '19 - 8:22am

    @ Peter – I like your example of game theory. Reminds me of another example ‘ ‘what is power: An assassin goes into a room to kill someone – inside is a PM, a King, and the Pope – which one does he kill. He kills the one he perceives to be the least powerful. Power is projection. Although it has nothing to do with Brexit I thought it was a nice aside comment 🙂
    @David – I quite like Stephen Lloyd as a person and was saddened when he quit the whip. I do hope that he comes back

  • Ian Hurdley 22nd Feb '19 - 3:29pm

    @ Michael BG Yours was one of the contributions which prompted me to say ‘the majority ‘ and not ‘all’.
    I see that I apparently qualify as an ultra-remainder; don’t know whether to be flattered or offended.

  • A couple of lines, this afternoon, in the Guardian says much..

    …The British side now privately admit that a time limit or unilateral exit mechanism on the backstop will not be accepted by the EU…..

    It doesn’t look as if the Tory hardliner’s strategy that, “The EU will blink first” is happening. May needs to stop her posturing and accept that, although she might not want it, a parliamentary vote between ‘Her Terms’ and another referendum is the only way to move forward.

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