Alistair Carmichael sets out a route map back to the EU

There has been a lot of talk about the party’s future approach to the EU. In a speech to Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire this week, Alistair Carmichael MP set out a possible route map back to full EU membership for the UK and has given us permission to reproduce his remarks.

For the last quarter century Britain’s relationship with her European neighbours has never been far from the centre of our political debate.

For the last five years it has been absolutely dominant.

Brexit may now have happened but few would be naïve enough to think that would be the end of the story.

Less than a month after Boris Johnson signed his trade and cooperation deal with the European Union the flaws and gaps are already apparent.

Our fishermen have woken up to the fact that they were used by Johnson, Farage, Gove et al.

Our young people are coming to terms with the loss of the Erasmus Programme and the opportunities that it brought.

Our exporters are finding that before they can take advantage of the tariff-free access of which the Prime Minister is so proud, they must first get past the Tory red tape manufactured in Whitehall on this side of the channel.

Clearly our relationship with Europe will remain with us as a politcal issue for years if not decades to come.

For us as a party that is a challenge and an opportunity.

This is a point where we have to take stock and go back to our liberal first principles – free trade, enterprise, internationalism.

Since Jo Grimond, my predecessor but one as MP for Orkney and Shetland, took up the reins as leader of the Liberal Party we have been consistent in our view that the United Kingdom’s best interests have best been served by being a member of what was then the European Communities or European Union as it is today.

We have not always got it right. Too often our response to an unrelenting barrage of abuse and misinformation by a right-wing press was to be drawn into defending the institutions of the EU and to look, as a consequence, like uncritical fans.

I confess I never found that to be an attractive or even a particularly liberal approach.

That was why in my early years in Parliament I was one of a handful of Lib Dem MPs who wanted to see political reform before we joined the Euro. I think that time has vindicated that judgement.

It was also why I resigned from Nick Clegg’s front bench team in order to vote for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty that we had promised in our manifesto in 2005.

I remember journalists describing me then as that most unusual animal – the Lib Dem Eurosceptic.

I won’t deny the “most unusual” bit but to the rest my response then, as now, was that as a liberal I would always be sceptical about the workings of government. The need to reform the way we govern ourselves in the UK was one of the main issues that motivated me to join the Liberal Party in 1980 as a fourteen year old schoolboy.

While we have made some progress in decentralising power away from Whitehall in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senned and Northern Ireland Assembly there remains much still to do.

The House of Lords remains stubbornly resistant to reform;

Our electoral system remains obscenely unrepresentative in the governments that it provides;

Local Government has been starved of funds and shorn of power piece by piece for decades.

At no point, however, have my frustrations with the institutions power government and politics dimmed my belief in the fundamental principles that underpin them – respect for democracy and the rule of law.

I mention that now because – as we saw most graphically in Washington DC a few weeks ago – these truths that were once regarded as being so obvious and universally held that it was trite to mention them – are under attack by a movement of nationalist populism as never before.

When the very idea of liberal democracy is under attack then the need for Liberal Democrats is greater than ever.

When historians come to write the story of the first two decades of the twenty-first century that is how I believe (and hope) that the debate about Britain’s relationship with Europe will be seen.

Yes, we have suffered a major set-back in that battle between those who believe that reform is possible and those who will tell you that it will never happen.

Our party has always argued for Scotland to have her own parliament within a federal United Kingdom. Not because of any nationalist sentiment but because we believe that produces better government.

Similarly we have always believed that the United Kingdom, while maintaining its own parliament and institutions should be part of the European Union. There again we should be guided by what produces better outcomes rather than the colours of a flag.

Nothing has changed in that regard. Our Federal Party conference confirmed as much as recently as last September when we passed a motion in these terms “Conference resolves to support a longer terms objective of UK membership of the EU at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.”

That remains the position. The Liberal Democrats are a party that wants to see the U.K. eventually rejoin the EU.

Of course, we should make it equally and emphatically clear that this is not something that we seek immediately. It is probably at best a medium-term objective. Quite apart from healing the divisions that have blighted our politics and communities since 2016 any party in government must be focused on rebuilding our economy post-COVID. Anything else would be unforgiveable.

Even a medium-term objective, however, must demand more than warm words.

This is a time when we as a party need to make it clear that we not only want to see the United Kingdom return to full membership of the European Union but that we have a clear and credible route map for getting there.

Liberal Democrats have always been a party where policy is set by our members, and rightly so. Just as we set ourselves that goal of EU membership at last year’s conference I would like us all to play our part in designing the route map to get us there. Full EU membership may be a medium-term objective but the problems caused by being on the outside are real and acute and immediate.

They need and deserve more than warm words about close cooperation.

So my opening bid in that debate is this.

I would like to see our party argue for the United Kingdom to rejoin the European Free Trade Association and to do so as soon as possible. We were, after all, founding members in 1960.

Would it bring the advantages of EU Membership?

Obviously not. It would not, for example, bring us back into the Customs Union, but it would, at least, bring us back into the single market. In that way we could stem the drift away from the standards and practices of the single market.

I would never argue for this as an ultimate destination but as a first step and, as a statement of intent to our European friends and neighbours, it would be a powerful and meaningful one.

As a party we would be sending a powerful message to those who were fervent in their commitment that this is a long march and that we remain with them.

We would also be sending the necessary message to those are more pragmatic in their view that we have a proper sense of priorities and that, unlike those who have visited Brexit on them, we are not going to put any grand political vision ahead of the welfare and security of their families, neighbours and communities.

But that is just my view. The strength of this party lies in the democracy that we hardwire into our own governance. No single person – from the Leader or the president right the way through to the newest recruit in the Young Liberals – has any more say when it comes to a vote.

We should never be afraid of debate. It should be lively, vigorous and passionate.

When it is over we get on with fighting for what we have decided.

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53 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Jan '21 - 6:11pm

    the best i have heard from a Lib Dem mp since Layla for leader went firmly in the other direction!

  • Sounds like a challenge for the leadership to me:-)

  • Peter may be right, and it may be necessary – given the huge clanger of a mistake Ed Davey made on the Andrew Marr show. Mr Carmichael should have thrown his hat into the ring last time, but he better get on with it now before the Scottish elections.

    Does anyone know if there is any provision for this in the party’s Delphic Cave of a constitution ? What say you, Mark Pack ?

  • John Marriott 24th Jan '21 - 7:24pm

    Is that what awaits us this year on LDV? Article after article on clever ways to rejoin the EU? How many weeks have we been an ‘independent coastal state? There are SO many issues we could get our teeth into. According to one of the latest opinion polls in Mr Carmichael’s Scotland the Lib Dems are currently bottom with 5%.

    Clearly the number one priority has got to be getting on top of the pandemic. Establishing a working relationship with our largest trading partner is not that far behind. As for rejoining EFTA, it might be difficult for the other members to accept a country with an economy our size. It’s not a given. Come to think of it, neither is the EU for that matter, as I have said before.

    As for hardwiring democracy into anything, why don’t we start with the governance of these islands. Now, who is in favour of a Federal U.K. and who has the guts to fight for it NOW?

  • Good! We are now developing a sense of direction. Now we need to work out how to sell it because SirEd certainly will not.

  • Jane Ann Liston 24th Jan '21 - 7:59pm

    Well said, Alistair.

  • I do not consider this proposal to have any political viability.

    It would be hated by anti-EU Britons as much as EU membership, because it would require the UK to accept freedom of movement, and accept “regulation by fax” as the Norwegians call it, while bringing no voting power in the EU.

    I am afraid that for a country the size of the UK, it really is all or nothing. Those who believe, as I do, that the UK belongs in the EU need to be patient and wait for 5-10 years for our compatriots to realise that they also want the UK inside the EU.

    We should make the case as a party as soon as we summon up the self-confidence to do so.

  • Little Jackie Paper 24th Jan '21 - 8:11pm

    Come on! The EU means, at a minimum, a treaty commitment to the single currency. If you are not addressing the currency then you are not setting out a map.

    Whilst I have some considerable sympathy for the EEA precisely because it takes the single currency out of the equation it’s not a waiting room.

    I know that the currency is not a comfortable point from a UK perspective but you can’t talk about the EU and not address its flagship project.

  • Mohammed Amin “I am afraid that for a country the size of the UK, it really is all or nothing”.

    I’m sorry Mohammed, but whilst that may be the view from London, it is not the view from Scotland. In terms of size, Scotland is bigger than eleven existing members of the EU including Ireland and Denmark……. and nobody suggests they are not viable members of the EU.

  • Dave Shepherdson 24th Jan '21 - 8:18pm

    Sounds just like SNP’s policy except without Scottish independence.

  • James Garson 24th Jan '21 - 8:52pm

    I don’t feel like this is a map; we need more concrete steps and we need to ride on pro-EU wave that is in the UK now. We need to rejoin the EU as soon as possible. If the Lib Dem’s set this as their goal, then they have my vote again.

  • Little Jackie Paper 24th Jan '21 - 9:21pm

    David Raw

    Difference is that Denmark and the Republic of Ireland have currencies and associated infrastructure that mean they are viable EU members. Scotland does not.

    No reason they can’t set one up of course. Ex Yugo countries did it in the middle of a war. But that’s not what was proposed last time.

  • david webberley 24th Jan '21 - 10:34pm

    Two thoughts:

    Campaign that to save “the Union” we must rejoin the EU – ensuring we have a truly federal UK, with 4 constituent parliaments representing the 4 countries. Westminster has to be above all 4 parliaments, England gets a true identity and “National Anthem”. The monarchy retains its existing role, but ” A Royal Anthem” (god save or other) is only used at UK level events or in the presence of a member of the Senior royals.

    The recent polling about growing acceptance of independence for Scotland and an NI border poll show how fragile the idea of a United Kingdom is becoming.

    Secondly, IF we have no option but to accept the € as part of a return to the EU. We need to use a little nostalgia to our advantage – The Pound that the UK had before we joined is no longer…240d to £1, 12d to 1s etc that vanished in 1971 with coins and notes changing from 1969 onwards , the 10s note became a 50p, and the 1 and 2 schilling pieces replaced by the 5 an 10p coins (who remembers getting diddled in some shops when they gave change containing Eire issued coins of the same size?) The loss of the farthing etc etc

    A Euro just needs to be talked about in the same way as decimalisation – its just the “new pound”

    However, we and the other pro EU parties/organisations need to announce the policy to rejoin as a collective, not as a single party issue that can be poo-pooed by the tories espicially.

  • I have no problem with lesser steps along the way but we should realise that anything we suggest will be met with accusations that we are really Rejoining The EU in small steps. “But it wont stop there” is what our opponents will say & we have to agree with enthusiasm. We have to be upfront about what we want or we will look shifty.

  • Daniel Henry 24th Jan '21 - 10:41pm

    Seems sensible to me.
    This would allow us to keep a close economic relationship with the EU, while giving the Country breathing room to work through the domestic issues that led to Brexit in the first place

    Then when the time comes to negotiate re-entry as a full member, we’ll be in a better position to do so.

  • Kathy Erasmus 25th Jan '21 - 7:46am

    Excellent. I think after the disastrous election, followed by the Libdem review about what went wrong, concluding in part that members and activists views were ignored. Listening to Ed Davey it seems the leadership has learned nothing.

  • Jenny Barnes 25th Jan '21 - 7:51am

    Looks like the bargaining stage of grief to me. They won,get over it. Maybe in 40 years time joining whatever the EU has become will be valid, but meanwhile there’s plenty real issues to campaign on. I hear the government are recommending businesses having difficulty with the Brexit red tape should relocate to the EU ! Joining the Euro would be a very bad idea . See what happened to Greece for example.

  • Alex Macfie 25th Jan '21 - 8:17am

    Jenny Barnes: Yes, “they” won, so they should own the consequences. It’s not our responsibility to get in line with the “winning” argument, that’s not how democracy works. (Re-)joining the EU (as a debating point) is valid now, particularly as the 2016 referendum mandate has now been discharged.

  • Nick Hopkinson 25th Jan '21 - 8:17am

    Alistair’s commitment to rejoin is welcome. My recent January article in The New European puts more flesh on the bones: https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/brexit-news/britains-road-to-rejoin-the-eu-6356586

  • Christopher Curtis 25th Jan '21 - 8:29am

    A political party does not get to choose the issues that matter, nor the ones it has to respond to. Those come from what life throws at us all. What political parties have to do is ask people to support them because of their values, plans and responses, what they would do if they represent them. Of course, as soon as you lay out any response, you will lose the support of people who disagree with or dislike you, as well as gaining support, but you can’t avoid that. A great big blank in response to a real and burning issue to lots of people is a guaranteed way to lose everyone’s support.

    You really can’t, as Ed and others seem to want, put the issue of our relationship with the EU on the back burner and say you’ll come back to it. You really can’t say that you only have responses to some issues. You have to say what you would do, step by step, if you are elected, and not having a chance of being in government is not an excuse: what exactly are the LibDems there for in the local elections and in the next Parliament. If people can’t see that, the party won’t win votes, and nor should it.

    I think the approach in this article is right, even if I am not sure about the details. There is a huge amount to do to “move on” from our current disastrous situation in relation to our nearest neighbours and the great bulk of our actual economic markets. There is a vast amount to do to make sure that he views of “ordinary people” are followed and not a vicious ideological programme from a tiny minority. We have to argue for realistic, practical ways to make things better now, in relation to the EU as much as any of the other issues we all face.

  • If we had joined the Euro Brexit probably wouldnt have happened. Every year people predict the Euro will fail, yet it doesnt. The Pound is still subject to political manipulation, this will probably increase and Britain’s decline will accelerate

  • David Garlick 25th Jan '21 - 10:35am

    Great article. Not sure about EFTA as I am not sufficiently informed but as a starting point hat defines us as heading back to the EU, I like it.

    @Alastair. The decision to join or not join the Euro was never less than an emotional love of’ ‘the pound’ used by the right to stoke up anti Euro feeling which, in my view, was a building block for the eventual Brexit platform.

  • Mr Carmiichael doesn’t address the elephant in the room.
    The English electorate will note vote to join EFTA or the EU if it means freedom of movement.
    For all the noise freedom of movement is why the England and Welsh voted to leave the EU and unless there is substantial reform of freedom of movement, why they will never (especially the English) vote to rejoin.

  • Maybe when the British realise that freedom of movement affects them as well as those, darn foreigners,! they will begin to change their mind? One can only hope that sanity will override selfish nationalism?

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '21 - 11:08am

    @ Alistair,

    “Every year people predict the Euro will fail, yet it doesn’t. ”

    Many are saying the euro has already failed.

    1) The fiscal conservatives in the “frugal 4” countries are deeply unhappy over the extent of ECB intervention in the EU bond markets. They see it as the ECB spending their money. The ECB is now routinely doing what everyone agreed would not be done when the currency was conceived.

    2) The left are deeply unhappy, or at least they should be, that the working classes are made to pay the price, with high unemployment and low wage growth, of a stagnation of EU economies caused by policies of economic austerity designed to rectify the euro crisis. In other words they have to pay for a crisis not of their making.

    3) Europhiles are deeply unhappy that the euro has not turned out to be a force for increased EU harmony. It’s been just the opposite. Instead it has set taxpayers in the more prosperous regions against those, in the less prosperous regions, they mistakenly assume to be profligate wastrels.

    A common currency can only work if there is a single government to administer it. In any single currency region the richer areas will be in surplus and the poorer ones will be in deficit. There needs to be central government with enough strength and resolve to ensure that surpluses are re-distributed, via the taxation and spending system, to offset those deficits. It’s no use the money being offered as loans. They will never be repaid because they can’t be.

    The euro will never truly succeed until all those who have signed up for a common currency understand what they have signed up for.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Jan '21 - 11:14am

    Alistair

    The aim for the euro was convergence across the EU. The euro had already failed, just no one has any idea what to do about it.

    I am far from averse per se to the idea of close links with the continent. But the euro for me at a future referendum would be a showstopper.

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '21 - 11:36am

    @ David Garlick,

    “The decision to join or not join the Euro was never less than an emotional love of’ ‘the pound’ used by the right to stoke up anti Euro feeling which, in my view, was a building block for the eventual Brexit platform.”

    I wouldn’t put it quite like that but at the same time I don’t totally disagree. Except I would make the point that the case against the euro wasn’t solely owned by the right. Anyone with any sense could have foreseen that those euros would largely end up in Germany and the Netherlands leaving the rest of the EZ short and in need to borrow them back. With lots of strings attached! Germany sells us twice as much as it buys from us. It simply doesn’t make sense to share a currency with Germany or even try to peg our currency to whatever other currency Germany is using.

    Black Wednesday should have taught us all a hard lesson in that respect.

    Nevertheless, the decision, whether or not we agree with it, by the UK to not join the euro project will be seen by future historians as the start of the Brexit process. For understandable reasons, Remainers didn’t have enough confidence in the euro, and by extension the EU itself, to be able to make a favourable case for participating.

  • Interesting to note that the Norwegian Left and Centre parties believe UK has better deal than they have. They are jealous of free access to single market and are now calling for re-negotiation of EEA.

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '21 - 12:05pm

    @ Martin,

    The pound has never failed. This is not to say that inflation has never been higher than we would have liked and it is now worth what we would like it to be. If the pound was still worth, teachers and some nurses might expect their salaries would mean they would be in the $100k + pa salary range. Except they wouldn’t. Their pay in £ terms would be far less. The price of bread in 1920 might have been only 6d per loaf, or whatever, but it took far longer to earn 6d then than £2 now.

    The pound is still administered by the UK government, and the Bank of England which it owns. So when it recently needed money to pay the costs of the Covid pandemic it didn’t have to raise taxes to find it. If you don’t understand where the money did come from, you haven’t been paying attention to the many people who have been trying to explain just how the system works for a currency issuing country and why it is important to retain fiscal and monetary independence.

  • Hannah Giovanna Daws 25th Jan '21 - 12:05pm

    Think this is bang-on. We should debate this at Spring Conference – it’d get me to show up…

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '21 - 12:08pm

    Just noticed I should have said “if the pound was still worth US$4”.

  • Paul Reynolds 25th Jan '21 - 12:28pm

    I support Alistair’s exposition 100%. I especially like the EU reform angle, which, despite Nick Clegg’s excellent booklet on the matter, we rather forgot. All else, very well put. (PS I am an unashamed Grimondian-style liberal).

  • Jenny Barnes 25th Jan '21 - 2:18pm

    A. Macfie ” It’s not our responsibility to get in line with the “winning” argument, that’s not how democracy works. ”
    Patronising, and not my argument anyway.
    Indeed, they should own the consequences. My point is that continuing to bang on about rejoining the EU will be a huge turn off when there are so many other things to campaign on. Or the LDs turn into a pro Europe version of UKIP. Peter Martin’s points about how fiat currencies work are hugely important, but will probably whistle straight over the heads of most of the public.

  • Christopher Curtis 25th Jan '21 - 3:05pm

    “ My point is that continuing to bang on about rejoining the EU will be a huge turn off when there are so many other things to campaign on.”

    You don’t get to define what people want to talk about and trying to campaign about only the issues you will just make the party look dishonest. No sensible journalist is going to stop asking LibDems about Europe.

    Who will discussion of rejoining the EU turn off? I suspect it depends how you discuss it (which is the point of the article). As a country, we will have to quickly address the many painful issues that our new and ill-formed relationship with the EU creates. That means either heading off even further into jingoistic isolation and cutting ourselves off even more, or it means heading closer in some way. The vast majority of voters would opt for closer, but there’s a lot of devil in the details of what that might mean. That has to be central in what the LibDems are “banging on about”. There’s only so far that potholes and minor increases in the carers’ allowance can get you.

  • Mark Johnston 25th Jan '21 - 6:01pm

    Thanks Alistair, a great piece! The Europe motion that has been accepted for Spring Conference is reproduced at the following link. Amendments are possible in the usual ways. https://ldeg.org/en/article/2021/1388600/future-uk-eu-relations-party-conference-policy-proposal

  • john oundle 25th Jan '21 - 8:23pm

    David Raw

    ‘ Scotland is bigger than eleven existing members of the EU including Ireland and Denmark……. and nobody suggests they are not viable members of the EU.’

    It’s a little bit more complex than headcount.

    Scotland does not have it’s own currency or central bank, has a massive deficit & I doubt that the EU wants another Greece.

  • @ John Oundle And… how big is the current UK deficit now, Mr Oundle ?

    U.K. Deficit Hits $323 Billion With Economy Facing Recession …www.bloomberg.com › news › articles › 2020-12-22
    21 Dec 2020 — U.K. government borrowing climbed to a record 240.9 billion pounds … December 21, 2020, 11:07 PM PST Updated on December 22, 2020, …

  • David Raw

    ‘how big is the current UK deficit now’

    It’s not the UK that wants to join the EU,it’s Scotland !

    Remove the UK financial subsidy,plus lack of currency & central bank it’s just miles off the basic qualifying criteria.

  • Peter Martin 26th Jan '21 - 11:05am

    @ David Raw,

    You’ve not being paying attention to economists like Stephanie Kelton who have recently done a good job in pointing out that government deficits aren’t the problem many assume them to be. All net money in the private sector is created by government spending it into the economy. Some of it goes back to the government in taxes but it can’t take back more than it has first created. It has to be less.

    If the extra money causes a problem and the economy starts to overheat with inflation becoming a problem then some austerity will be necessary to cool it down. That’s all there is to it.

  • Peter Hirst 27th Jan '21 - 4:51pm

    It’s easier however to campaign for what you believe in, however democratically it is decided. A move such as joining the EFTA would indicate intent and neutralise some of the hostility we have aroused in Europe. Our main task is however to show that our lives would be much better closely connected to Europe as would the world’s.

  • neil James sandison 28th Jan '21 - 7:10pm

    Mark Johnston would you see THE Alistair Carmichael proposal for EFTA as a friendly amendment to the policy ? As an initially step back on the right path and difficult for a free market party like the conservatives to realistically to object to unless they are ardent supporter of the fanatical supporters of ERG.

  • Tony Clayton 30th Jan '21 - 8:35am

    The route back via EFTA has been obvious all along. The U.K. should never have left the Single Market as it was completely unnecessary. You may recall lots of Brexiteers crying ‘why can’t we be like Norway’! The idea that ending freedom of movement had public support is wrong. All the surveys show that it has around 70 percent support. It was the British government’s application of FoM that messed up.

  • What a difference a week makes! The EU’s toddler-like jumping up and down about the vaccine says rather more than most of us might have expected about them. At a stroke they have damaged their reputation to the extent that even hardened rejoiners will think twice. Do we really want to be part of an organisation which targeted Northern Ireland’s border and wants to ban exports to ‘third countries’ ie UK, despite agreements? Perhaps it opens eyes to the difficulties faced by the UK brexit negotiators. The EU has been shown to be incompetent and it says something about them that they feel the need to raid the factory of a vaccine manufacturer to check they aren’t lying. When we are able we ought to be looking to support our Commonwealth cousins with vaccines and leave the EU to sort itself out. Meanwhile the UK Tory govt smells of roses.

  • John Littler 31st Jan '21 - 2:29pm

    The EU’s position considering article 16 which has caused such a rumpus, has been withdrawn within a day. Johnson threatened the same only a fortnight and never withdrew it.

    It seems that low nationalists such as Johnson & Trump can get away with saying anything, while the EU is held to higher standards.

    If Johnson had threatened some sort of nationalist block on vaccines, he would have been applauded by the popular media. But there can be no realistic path where the UK continues to receive German owned Pfizer from Belgium, but refuses to allow the Oxford version to meet continental needs.

  • John Littler 31st Jan '21 - 2:31pm
  • Peter Candlish 21st Feb '21 - 6:23pm

    Great article by Alistair- I also admit to having been on the fence re Brexit, understanding the potency of the cry ‘Take back control” as a means of re-connecting voters with their distant rulers. It is NOT necessarily in opposition to the principle of subsidiarity ie of taking decision at the lowest level possible. Indeed, I would very much like to “Take back control” from the current govt in Whitehall that is proving weak, corrupt and indecisive! Sadly the Conservatives do not promise this and are seeking to weaken scrutiny by locally responsive MPs and to centralise powers with the Man from Whitehall. But let us not forget how the issue energised debate by many who were alienated (sadly in some ways, UKIP thinking voters should have a voice if we really believe in proportional representation!)
    Pushing to rejoin a European Free Trade Association sounds liberal, outward looking and pro-market……and has the advantage of probably being popular. Its sounds like what the great British public wanted from Europe all along : trade. (So yes I know EFTA does not equal Customs Union but that is probably too toxic for now and this sounds right – something detailed policy orientated Lib Dem intellectual often miss. Politics usually comes from the gut and is rationalised after.

    Also – the harsh truth is that it has no chance of happening for many years so we can signal our intent and be constructive whilst accepting it should be a second order issue. When the time is ripe, we can point to trying to be open and collaborative on trade

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