Another way out of the Brexit mess

I have never been on an aeroplane and I do not have a passport, but think of myself as a European. I am also a patriotic Englishman and I love the country in which I was born. My father came here at the age of seven with a sun-darkened skin and speaking with a Greek accent. He was born in Smyrna in 1922. His life, and those of his parents, and my mother’s parents, and my partner’s grandparents were all scarred and disrupted by war and conflict, the consequences of which still reverberate in our lives today.

And now my country has embarked upon a course which could have terrible repercussions for new generations to come. Our government, if that is what it is, appears to have no consistent strategy and no realistic vision of the future. Theresa May, like Donald Trump, shamelessly argues that black is white, and an hour later that white is black, and gets away with it. How can this be! Partly it is because there is no opposition in the Commons worthy of the name: Harold Wilson, Roy Jenkins, Dennis Healey, Jim Callaghan and Ted Heath would have eviscerated the third raters who now sit on the government benches in a matter of hours. But it is also because there seems to be no plausible way out of the situation the referendum landed us in.

I was on the People’s March, but I don’t support the Party’s policy of a  referendum on the deal. Leaving aside Justine Greening’s absurd proposal for three options, if a second referendum again supported Leave it would at least settle the matter, but although a Remain vote would ameliorate the economic disaster that will otherwise afflict this country it would deepen the divisions that the referendum created and poison our political system for decades to come.

The solution is to have a General Election at which the only question is whether candidates support Brexit or not. There are precedents for how this might be done: the 1918 ‘Coupon’ election; the National Government elections of 1931 and 1935; the Liberal/SDP Alliance of 1983. What those candidates who support Brexit might choose to do is irrelevant, but those of us in all parties who oppose it would need to select a single candidate in each constituency to unite around. In Broxtowe it would clearly be Anna Soubry, in Totnes Sarah Wollaston, both Tories. In the seats we hold it would be our MPs. Some Labour MPs, like David Lammy, have clear anti-Brexit credentials – others don’t. Each constituency would need to create a committee to negotiate who the lead anti-Brexit candidate would be, and there would probably have to be a national co-ordinating committee. It would be difficult and it would be messy, but it would be possible. And if an anti-Brexit majority were to be elected the new government would have a democratic legitimacy that superseded the referendum result which would allow it to negotiate a lasting resolution to our relationship with Europe. That might take a year, and having completed the task it would resign and allow normal politics to resume. The whole debacle would perhaps have awakened the EU itself to the urgent necessity of improvements to its governance which its supporters so singularly failed to address before the referendum, and hopefully many of those who had voted Leave would not feel that the ‘system’ had betrayed them, and that, on balance, economic stability was preferable to the certain chaos that a no-deal Brexit will deliver.

* Member of the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats since 1967 - apart from a year off in 1991 in protest at the Party’s support for the first Gulf War,

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57 Comments

  • Graham Martin-Royle 19th Jul '18 - 10:43am

    To have a GE with only one question being put to the electorate, as is proposed here, is really no different to having a referendum.

  • Richard Easter 19th Jul '18 - 10:55am

    “The solution is to have a General Election at which the only question is whether candidates support Brexit or not.”

    What happens if the Lib Dem candidate happens to be pro-Brexit?

    I for one will vote based on a range of issues. I would no more vote for a Europhile candidate who espouses Thatcherite economic policies and works for the interests of bankers or the Saudis, than I would for Nigel Farage.

    The Liberal Democrats are seriously in danger of simply becoming a one issue party if they go down this line. I do not want to vote for Osbornite Tories or Blairite Labour MPs, their overall worldview is not mine.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Jul '18 - 11:04am

    We do not – and are not in a position to – dictate to the electorate on what basis – what issues etc. – they decide how to cast their votes.

  • Richard Easter 19th Jul '18 - 11:05am

    “The whole debacle would perhaps have awakened the EU itself to the urgent necessity of improvements to its governance which its supporters so singularly failed to address before the referendum”

    If the EU is going to exist for the purpose of political union, then abolishing the Strasbourg / Brussels traveling circus, and abolishing the Commission would be a start and allowing the parliament to propose laws should be the most basic requirements for any reform to begin. I am sick of contacting my MEP just to ask them to vote down the rot emanating from the Commission clearly the product of corporate lobbying – be it ACTA, Copyright directives, TTIP, Fourth Rail package or whatnot.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jul '18 - 11:50am

    @David Hill,

    I’ve said this many times before but the problem for many of us on the left is that we are truly internationalist, or at least like to think we are :-), but we don’t agree with the EU, the euro and the needless austerity that is imposed on countries like Greece as a consequence. So we have a difficult choice.

    Maybe we should support Brexit because it will create an existential crisis which blows up the euro. Now why would we want to do that? That would be terrible. It’s because, otherwise, it will drive Western European wages down to Eastern European levels in global competition for export share with the Chinese.

    It’s going to be fine for Eastern Europeans, good for the efficient net exporters of Northern Europe, but an absolute disaster for countries like Italy, France Spain and Greece. Even the UK, because its in the same trading bloc, albeit without the euro is feeling the fallout.

    If you have a system where one side is determined to run a surplus but the other side isn’t allowed to run a deficit because of austerity rules then all they can do is permanently contract their economies as they sink deeper into debt.

    They have to be classified as ‘basket case’ economies to keep down the euro on the forex markets just so the supposedly successful economies can make lots of euros selling Audis and Porches.

    I don’t see it all ending well.

  • John Marriott 19th Jul '18 - 12:31pm

    Although I was working in West Germany at the time, and, having lived abroad for the previous three years, was not on the Electoral Register, didn’t we have such a General Election in February 1974, called by Ted Heath, with the question watered down by the media at the time; “Who governs Britain?” ? And the answer that came back from the electorate boiled down to “Not you, mate!”.

  • Thanks for the comments.
    Graham – an election is not the same as a referendum. Those in favour of Brexit would have to actually explain to the electorate what their vision of Brexit was for a start.
    Richard – if the LibDem candidate was pro-Brexit then they wouldn’t get the ‘coupon’ as the Remain candidate. Whether the Party nationally, or locally, would support them is another matter – in 1918 there were a number of Liberal candidates who stood in opposition to the Lloyd George supported candidates. I totally agree with your list of reforms to the EU – it is because the Remain side was so complacent about the EU (Clegg – “Much the same as it is now”) that it lost the referendum.
    John – the difference is that this really would be a clear cut question, though I accept that there is no guarantee that it would all turn out well. The thrust of my argument, though, is that it would be more likely to heal the divisions in our society than a second referendum which I think would just deepen them to a dangerous extent.

  • Tony Hill, the only way your suggestion could come about would be if an anti-Brexit government was formed first, like in 1918 and 1931 (and 1935) with support from MPs across most political parties. I think it would be political suicide for any MP to join this government if their party’s position was still to support a form of Brexit and there was a general election even if they held their seat.

    As the decision to leave was taken by referendum the decision to stay to be legitimate can only be overturned in another referendum. To join a government with support from MPs from most political parties just to hold another referendum and end Brexit would I think allow Labour and Conservative MPs to remain members of their party and still be their party’s candidate at the next general election.

    Justine Greening’s Alternative Vote referendum with three choices – the deal, no deal and remaining should become party policy. It might even make the British public look more favourably on elections where you list your preferences rather than just put a cross on a ballot paper.

  • William Fowler 19th Jul '18 - 3:45pm

    Surely this is open to massive fraud insofar as parties could tailor their candidates to the area where they are standing. You see this with the Labour party where they support both staying and leaving depending on who they are talking to, though they have deep idealogical reasons for leaving. A Marxist Labour govn would do far more damage to the country than a hard Brexit.

  • Peter Martin,

    Like all bureaucrats, those in Brussels tend to favour plans that increase their power, Exhibit A in their case being the euro. It has indeed been a disaster for those who joined, creating perma-depression for some countries while the surplus ones like Germany survive only because they are, in effect, providing ever-increasing supplier credit that cannot be repaid – and therefore will not be repaid.

    Sooner or later, the game will be up, and the Euro will fail catastrophically irrespective of Brexit/no Brexit. Debts will have to be written off as eurozone countries revert to their own currencies and the problems flowing from that will be compounded because markets will go crazy the moment they get a whiff of any plan to abandon the euro – it’s pass-the-parcel with a ‘prize’ of a trillion or so of bad debt (and that’s before multiplier effects kick in).

    Even worse, it seems the various pre-euro currency fields (franc, DM, Lira etc.) no longer exist (not systematically and functionally) in banking software; recreating them, integrating with credit card and other systems and retesting to banking standards would be an epic task. When some suggested Greece should revert to the drachma a few years ago estimates were that it would be a three-year undertaking and would stretch available programming resources to the limit – for just one small country.

    So, at that point everything will be up for grabs and how we handle it politically is crucial. If Brexit precipitates the eurozone’s collapse (even if it follows much later) then, irrespective of any facts, EZ politicians will for sure blame the UK and their media will go along with that in an orgy of butt-covering.

    With little UK-owned industry left that would leave us in a horribly exposed position in a world descending into trade wars.

    Alternatively, we could stay with it and play a positive role, offering a well-founded hope of a better future to our own citizens (something that’s been notably lacking outside the snake-oil department) plus a better vision for a Europe; decentralised as the default, centralised only where there is universal agreement that it’s better to work together so Europe can match the size and power of the US, China and, soon, India.

  • Michael BG – Theresa May can come up with as many varieties of a deal as she likes, but it is the EU that has the final say on whether any of them might be acceptable, and nothing on the table at the moment has a remote chance of being agreed. I don’t think there will be a deal that could be included in a referendum. I don’t agree with you that the only way to change the decision is by another referendum: a national co-ordinating committee for a ‘coupon’ election might, possibly, kickstart the impending implosion of the Labour and Conservative parties, but I’m not sure there is yet sufficient awareness of how catastrophic a no deal Brexit will be for the people of this country.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Jul '18 - 6:57pm

    Gordon – ‘Even worse, it seems the various pre-euro currency fields (franc, DM, Lira etc.) no longer exist (not systematically and functionally) in banking software’

    I saw that reported elsewhere. It seemed to me to be another example of how something that is a non-permanently binding union with an explicit exit clause has ever more rather started to look like something that really is binding whatever voters say. It is the exact constitutional deficit that is such a big problem in the EU’s arrangements.

    ‘Alternatively, we could stay with it and play a positive role, offering a well-founded hope of a better future to our own citizens’

    But I just don’t see how we can do that in the EU. Not unreasonably reform has been all about the EZ. As you correctly suggest in the coming years reform will all be about sorting out EMU. I just fail to see what sort of lead the UK can offer from outside the EZ. Realistically speaking for UK politics some sort of restraint on free movement is going to be necessary – indeed a majority of REMAIN voters wanted some sort of dilution on free movement, but that’s just not going to happen.

    Indeed too often the EU’s attempts at reform have not gone well, most notably the Constitution/Lisbon debacle.

    Where the UK might be able to do more is in the ‘outer tier’ that Macron seems to have in mind. In truth 30 years ago Europe should have set up an EZ and an EEA-type deal. But I think we have to be realistic about EU IN/EZ OUT status.

    But if the EZ does blow up then that really will be the mother of all crises. I hope that doesn’t happen, but without real reform there is a lot that can go wrong. The TARGET2 imbalances look worrying for a start.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Jul '18 - 7:04pm

    tonyhill – ‘Those in favour of Brexit would have to actually explain to the electorate what their vision of Brexit was for a start.’

    I’m not averse to that, but I’d be just as interested in hearing some REMAINers tell me what their vision of REMAIN is and how we’d go about getting any of it. I’ve heard everything from the EU will bring about socialism to the EU is corporatism on steroids.

    It may be that the vision is more of the same. Fine, but at least say as much.

    Whilst I agree that I’d like a sharper version of LEAVE’s vision the REMAIN campaign’s vision was lacking to say the least.

  • Tony Hill, I didn’t expect you to agree that the only way to overturn a referendum result is by having another one. You didn’t comment on the need for the government to be formed before the general election as in 1918 and 1931. Also you didn’t comment on the idea that even if there was a ‘coupon election’ which the government wins, what future would Labour and Conservative members of it have if they stood against official Labour and Conservative candidates.

    I believe a deal can be done between the EU and the government. The problem is can it be agreed by Parliament. It is when it can’t be agreed by the Parliament that the door is opened on a government formed without the Leader of either the Conservatives or Labour Party. At that stage it would be for that government to decide if it wanted to try to get a different deal, or include the May-EU deal in the referendum. My assumption is that the new government would decide a deal was better than no deal and so wish to put it to the people.

  • Richard Easter 19th Jul '18 - 8:17pm

    Little Jackie Paper – “I’ve heard everything from the EU will bring about socialism to the EU is corporatism on steroids.”

    If anything it’s really a sort of Liberal Corporatism. It’s not Liberal in the way most in the Lib Dem party are Liberal. Much of the economic model seems to be a planned economy for the benefit of large corporations, and the social dimension, whilst more progressive than much of the UK is still only in as much that it doesn’t unduly affect the power of large corporations. Socialist it certainly isn’t. I am not sure how many socialists back free movement of capital or market liberalisation of public services for example, let alone specifics such as TTIP.

    I would propose radical changes to the way the EU works, I have mentioned a couple above. However many Brexiters will probably say that reform of that sort, or any real sort will never happen, and I think they have a very very strong argument here.

  • Peter Martin 19th Jul '18 - 8:46pm

    Gordon,

    “Even worse, it seems the various pre-euro currency fields (franc, DM, Lira etc.) no longer exist (not systematically and functionally) in banking software; recreating them, integrating with credit card and other systems and retesting to banking standards would be an epic task.”

    Would it?

    Suppose the UK were to adopt the euro? Say we we went in at the current rate. £1.00 = €1.12. How would we do it? Obviously we’d have to change all our notes and coins which would be the biggest job. But the banking system, and digital economy, would carry on pretty much as before except all the numbers in computers that previously represented pounds would be multiplied by 1.12 and now represent euros.

    Multiplying and dividing by a set number isn’t a problem with any software. So I’m not sure how pre-euro currency fields can be said to have disappeared. Someone just wants us to think there’s a one way process and that boats have to be burned! If we can move to euros by multiplying by 1.12 we can move back to pounds by dividing by 1.12.

    The real change is that the pound no longer floats against the euro and that requires the co-operation of the ECB to guarantee the peg. The BoE stays intact and ceases to become an independent central bank and becomes what is known as a National Central Bank.

    This transition has already been done throughout the eurozone. The French franc is still there if we multiply all numbers in French bank accounts by 6.55957. That’s no problem. But you don’t even have to do that. Just remove the peg between the ECB controlled euro and the Banque de France controlled euro and the French euro becomes a different currency.

    That means swapping all the banknotes at some stage, but if we can swap them one way we can swap them the other. Even this may not be strictly speaking necessary. The designers of the euro have anticipated that it all might have to be undone at some point and so each banknote contains a country code and coins are identifiable too.

    The biggest problem would be sorting out international contractual obligations which are defined in euros. The process is obviously not without its problems but its all do-able and a some stage it may well have to be done.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jul '18 - 8:56pm

    Let’s not join in with the political frenzy of this week. I don’t think we need a General Election, nor any sort of government of National Unity. I’m not inclined to follow the well-worn routes of excitement eagerly taken up here, either in exploring historical parallels, or in deviating to the apparently hopeless ills of the EU’s economic system.

    Michael BG however writes with his usual thoughtful good sense, keeping to the point of what should or could be done in this national political log-jam. Our party’s established position of seeking another referendum on the deal agreed – if any – is still the right approach. It is the democratic solution, tonyhill, as Michael says, and there should be no national uproar about the people being given the final say and the chance to give a considered view, taking in all the new facts known.

    However, the best full analysis I have seen this week was by Rachel Sylvester in Tuesday’s Times, under the headline ‘Labour’s logical choice is a people’s vote’. Despite Teresa May’s insistence that there will be no new referendum, the journalist reports a ‘growing sense at Westminster that the only way of resolving the impasse is for the political class to refer the whole issue back to the British people.’ She points out that Labour, if working with our MPs, the SNP and Tory rebels, has a strong chance of winning a vote in Parliament for a referendum if the deadlock continues. And with so much support for the idea among Labour members, she reckons that: ‘the political logic as well as the parliamentary arithmetic points to Labour supporting another referendum in the end.’ This journalist is a shrewd observer who has written good sense, IMO, not least about our own party’s activities, in various past articles; I hope she is right this time.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jul '18 - 6:40am

    @ Katharine,

    I’ve come around to the idea that we’ll have to have another referendum too. I’m confident we’ll win it. We’ll only be voting again because we didn’t vote the way the establishment wanted us to vote last time. Everyone will know that and react accordingly.

    Most people in the UK are happy to allow any country in the UK the chance to leave the UK if they wish. If Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, or even Cornwall want to do their own thing then it has to be their call. I hope they don’t leave but that’s not for anyone else to insist upon. We don’t want to have to send in a 21st century of the ‘Black and Tans’ to quell a rebellion in Scotland. That’s what happened in Ireland when the UK establishment took a different view.

    If we do vote Remain that will really be that. We’ll never get another chance. Just like the EU inclined establishments in Europe won’t allow any referendums to be held there. They are aren’t democrats. They aren’t likely to say anything similar about being happy to allow countries to leave the EU.

  • ‘growing sense at Westminster that the only way of resolving the impasse is for the political class to refer the whole issue back to the British people’

    But that’s insane. It was referring the issue to the people which cause this impasse. What reason is there to think that referring it back to the people will resolve the impasse?

    When the second referendum, only offered in the hope that it would come back Remain, comes back Leave as well, how will the impasse have been resolved? Surely it will have been made worse, not resolved. All that will happen is that the British people will be even more angry that they weren’t believed the first time.

  • Dav: I disagree. I suspect the Referendum will be decisive one way or the other, something like 55%+ – 45%-. That will be the end of it. Even I, a through and through Euro man, will accept the result if is Leave, and then work to implement it.

  • Even I, a through and through Euro man, will accept the result if is Leave, and then work to implement it.

    You say that, but you didn’t accept the result of the last referendum because it didn’t go the way you wanted, so why should anyone believe you if you say you’ll respect the result of this one is it doesn’t go the way you wanted?

    Even if you do, what about all the MPs who promised to respect the result of the last referendum, but as soon as they didn’t get the result they wanted started working to undermine or reverse it (hence the impasse)? Why believe that they will respect the result of a second referendum if they didn’t respect the result of the first one (after publicly pledging to respect it)?

  • Peter Martin 20th Jul '18 - 12:49pm

    According to UK polling, if it came to the crunch of remaining and leaving with no-deal:

    “the final figures would be 55% remain, 45% leave with no deal”

    That’s close to the figures as reported just prior to the ’16 referendum campaign started. Then the anticipation was there would be a deal so 45% is higher figure than I would have expected.

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/10014

  • David Allen 20th Jul '18 - 1:12pm

    Another referendum is the least worst option to be advocated right now. But it has almost as many drawbacks as the alternatives. One, there is no time to organise it properly. Two, the risk of a near 50/50 result which nobody accepts as final is high. Three, the ballot question conundrum is virtually unsolvable: two options will not be enough, three options a la Greening will be too complicated.

    Here’s a potentially alternative. Parliament should agree to kill off the 2019 Brexit process as an unworkable race to disaster. But it should do so by asking the EU to extend the Article 50 deadline to (say) June 2020. It should legislate that Brexit will take place, but only if (a) a deal has been agreed between Britain and the EU by March 2020, and (b) that deal has been approved, in a simple two-option referendum versus a Remain option, by June 2020.

    This will force Brexiteers of all shades to make the choice between a very limited Canada-type trade deal (which will lose in a referendum when business has risen up to condemn it) or a Norway-type deal (which might perhaps win in a referendum but won’t satisfy many of the Brexiteers’ fantasies). That’s fair.

    Brexit means nothing at all unless the terms of Brexit are defined. The Leavers exploited ambiguity to win the previous vote. Force them to choose the terms, force them (by insisting on a deal with the EU) to define non-fantasy terms. Then give them a final chance to win a referendum based on a clearly defined choice, held in a timescale that avoids a last-minute panic.

  • Little Jackie Paper – There are both ECONOMIC and POLITICAL issues at stake. When the focus is on just one to the exclusion of the other it results in a dialogue of the deaf. The challenge is to integrate both dimensions?

    The ECONOMIC issue is that our economies have become so intertwined over the years that pulling them apart will be like separating conjoined twins that share several vital organs: one must inevitably finish up a few organs short and that will be the UK – it’s turned out the UK negotiating position is extremely weak, not strong as promised.

    Moreover, starting so slowly that, like boiled frogs, hardly anyone noticed, the main (more or less only) business plan of UK governments for nearly 30 years has been to sell the UK as an easy base for multinationals to serve European markets. It’s worked well but what can replace it? Whitehall doesn’t know.

    Also, it would mean separating just as the world is descending into trade wars and that would leave us horribly exposed. The idea that the trade grass on the US side is greener when Trump clearly sees trade as a zero-sum game and the EU as a “foe” is badly mistaken. We will not get ‘Free Trade’ – asset-stripping terms will be dictated but by then we will have burnt our boats.

    The POLITICAL problem is, at root, the constitutional deficit about which I agree with you. If it were not for the economic aspect, we could leave relatively easily. So the challenge is to think of a better approach than the dreadful Constitution/Lisbon and engage in ‘politics beyond Dover’ (which would be a novel experience for the UK) bearing in mind that countries have interests, not friends.

    I think the secret is to reject the ‘variable geometry’ (core/periphery) approach that’s invariably suggested to allow for the fact that some countries want to move faster than others.

    No! It means the core group leaves latecomers no choice. Progress should be at the pace of the slowest, should require unanimity (or very nearly so) and be reversible if/when a reasonable minority change their mind. That could work via a series of very specific constitutional amendments as in the US.

    Build slow but build sure. Abandon the thoroughly illiberal rachet of the “ever-greater” mantra.

  • Peter Martin – You’ve missed the point. The banking system could NOT carry on much as before with just the application of some exchange rate.

    BE (Before Euros) I could go to, say, Germany and spend DM on my credit card, to France and spend francs etc. Transitioning to Euros was relatively easy. For one thing there was only one new currency involved and for another it could all be done and tested offline well before the launch date.

    But in the years AE (After Euros) lots of changes have been made to credit card software, merchant interfaces, banks’ own systems etc.

    And those newer systems, so I understand, only have places to record Euros (plus of course continuing currencies like £ and $), not DM, francs etc. Those can be put back but it’s an epic task made worse by the fact that there are so many different banks, credit card companies and so on in so many countries all of which would have to be exhaustively tested against each other to avoid a TSB-like meltdown.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jul '18 - 5:14pm

    @ Gordon,

    If you Google the question you’ll find articles by those who say it’s too hard to do and those who say that , yes, there are difficulties but it’s all possible.

    Are those who say it’s too hard wanting us to think that for political reasons? Or are those who say its all possible understating the difficulties, also for political reasons?

    I suspect the former. If it has to happen it will happen. And ways will be found to do it quickly too.

  • But it should do so by asking the EU to extend the Article 50 deadline to (say) June 2020

    This is politically impossible as it would be seen (correctly) as a bad-faith attempt to kill off Leaving.

    but only if (a) a deal has been agreed between Britain and the EU by March 2020, and (b) that deal has been approved, in a simple two-option referendum versus a Remain option, by June 2020

    If this were the case then there is no incentive on the EU to negotiate in good faith. The EU can simply find spurious faults with any proposed deal and then in March 2020 the leaving will be automatically cancelled under provision (a).

    What you are proposing amounts to simply cancelling Brexit and so it will not fly politically.

  • David Allen, the idea that an Alternative vote referendum with three choices “will be too complicated” is not one that Liberal Democrats can hold. We believe that voters can deal with a preferential system. Trade Unions have been using such electrical system for decades.

    If all 27 EU countries will agree to an extension to Article 50, why would this result in a better deal than the one that is likely to be agreed later this year? (If a deal is agreed before December I think it would still be possible to have a referendum on 21st March 2019.)

    If there was an extension why would the Bexiteers have to choice between a Canada and a Norway option? They could have done so a year ago. One of the main problems is the Irish border. I don’t think a Canada option sorts it out. However, I expect a majority of Brexiteer politicians would be happy with a Canada deal (or even a Japanese one), but it seems it is the EU who is refusing to talk about such options.

  • Little Jackie Paper 20th Jul '18 - 8:55pm

    Gordon – Again, I imagine that we agree on most of this. On the economics of it, I agree and I have felt for some time thought that the Norway deal is a sensible way to go pretty much for the reasons you give.

    You say, ‘ business plan of UK governments for nearly 30 years has been to sell the UK as an easy base for multinationals to serve European markets. It’s worked well but what can replace it?’ Has it worked well? Post 2008 it’s hard to make the case certainly. It’s worked out great for anyone that works for mega corp or who uses East Euro labour or who bought a house in the 1970s. For everyone else the economic benefits have proved rather more diffuse (to put it mildly). I don’t know what the answer to the problem is, but I don’t think that either the UK government or the EU Commission has the answer.

    There were a lot of worrying aspects about REMAIN in 2016. What really troubled me was how close some people got to seeing the fact that workshops have gone East, but now because of open agenda globalisation we have poundshops as a good thing. If there are people that don’t want that business plan and the open agenda or don’t feel it is in their interests then they are quite entitled to say as much at the ballot box. I feel that some REMAINers even don’t really understand the problem in this picture.

    On the politics I agree with you on the ‘variable geometry’ and (I think) that we agree that Maastricht was probably the real wrong turn in many ways. But we are way, way past the point where the variable geometry genie can be put back in the bottle. A real separation of EZ INs and OUTs is the only way to go here. For the EZ that would mean an single fiscal policy, likely at least some sort of single welfare policy and transfers, likely open ended. This would be backed by an EZ Parliament, holding a single EZ Finance Minister to account. Anyone joining would join on the explicit understanding that it is never reversible, wherever it goes. No one in the EU has a mandate for anything even close to all this.

    Funny thing is that in the early 1990s there was an ECU that was working fine. I never did really understand what was wrong with the ECU. It is an interesting counterfactual on the politics and the economics – what if John Major’s idea of a hard ECU parallel currency had got somewhere. It may well be that with bitcoin and the like we will get parallel currencies anyway.

  • David Allen 21st Jul '18 - 3:36pm

    Dav,

    You have a point. On my original proposal, the EU could game the system. That concern can be dealt with. Let’s amend my proposal to:

    “but only if (a) a final UK government decision has been made by March 2020, either to make a specific agreed deal with the EU, or to make no deal, and (b) that decision has been approved, in a simple two-option referendum versus a Remain option, by June 2020”

    This then addresses your concern that the EU could play hardball simply to enforce Remain. On this modified proposal, a no-deal Brexit is an option if both sides are intransigent – though it will only proceed if British voters agree that no-deal is a good option.

    You clearly fear that if this perfectly fair proposal were to proceed, the voters would reject Brexit. That may well be so. That is not a good reason for opposing the proposal!

  • David Allen 21st Jul '18 - 3:55pm

    Michael BG,

    “David Allen, the idea that an Alternative vote referendum with three choices “will be too complicated” is not one that Liberal Democrats can hold.”

    Sure, our small group would find it acceptable. But I fear that the public at large would not. It would be a difficult concept to “sell”. Our opponents would/will start by insisting that a two-choice referendum is the only reasonable thing to have, then they will proceed to insist that none of the two-choice options works either, hence the whole thing falls. Given the limited time, it’s just pragmatically unlikely we can win acceptance for an immediate People’s Vote.

    (But PS – That might change if acceptance grows that Barnier and Rees-Mogg are both correct – that there is too much difference between the two sides for any deal to be agreed, so it becomes a binary chioice between No-Deal vs Remain.)

    “If all 27 EU countries will agree to an extension to Article 50, why would this result in a better deal? … If there was an extension why would the Brexiteers have to choice between a Canada and a Norway option?”

    What’s new about my proposal is that a second referendum is not just something which we might just possibly decide to have, as and when we see what if any deal has been struck, squeezed into a few months (over the objections of the Electoral Commission who think six months is the minimum acceptable period). Instead (yes ok, wishful thinking element here!) it is something Parliament insists must happen, in a specific time frame, before which the UK govt must finally get off the fence and put up a specific Brexit deal (or no-deal) proposal. That forces the Brexiteers to stop exploiting ambiguity – they must put up or shut up.

  • David Allen 21st Jul '18 - 4:09pm

    Michael BG (cont.):

    “Why would the Brexiteers have to choice between a Canada and a Norway option? … One of the main problems is the Irish border. I don’t think a Canada option sorts it out.”

    You have a point there. I guess the minimal agreed deal which the EU would accept would be a kind of Canada-minus: a limited trade deal to match Canada’s, alongside some sort of viable Irish backstop. The pejoratively named “border in the Irish Sea” looks like the only viable option if we’re not to have a wider CU / SM deal. In truth, such a backstop would only mean a bit more administrative documentation tacked on to the process of buying goods space on ferries or planes. The DUP are of course willing to turn a bill of lading into a casus belli. Sensible politicians, who are thin on the ground, would tell the DUP where to stick their casus belli.

    The government Brexiteers would have to choose and decide what sort of Brexit to go for ahead of the referendum, that’s my (not entirely well expressed) point. You’re right, the options aren’t quite as simple as Canada v Norway. To be more accurate I hope, the options are “something fairly similar to Norway”; “Canada-minus including Irish backstop”; “No-Deal”; and indeed “Pack it all in, admit defeat and abandon Brexit.”

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '18 - 4:24pm

    @ David Allen,

    “Pack it all in, admit defeat and abandon Brexit”

    This is indeed how Leavers will present the choice. If there’s one thing us Brits aren’t very good at doing it’s admitting defeat even when that’s the most logical thing to do.

    You’ll lose every time if you express an option to remain in these terms.

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Jul '18 - 5:41pm

    Joseph Bourke – Indeed. It’s remarkable to think that until recently a belief in the inherent superiority of coalition governments was an article of faith for many.

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Jul '18 - 5:58pm

    David Allen – I don’t understand those recent posts.

    In an earlier comment you referred to, ‘a Norway-type deal (which might perhaps win in a referendum.’ I agree with you. A Norway type deal would probably win in a referendum. So why not just do that rather than your rather over-thought solution above? I’m never quite sure why REMAINers are so averse to the idea of a referendum on the EEA – what exactly is so troubling about the thought that people might be persuaded by it?

    As it is my own view is that anything with a REMAIN option will likely be rejected by voters (rightly) as a procedural wheeze by elites looking for the right answer. Even if the REMAIN option won it would be straight to neverendum. At the first hint of a Euro debacle there would be demands for ‘confirmation that this is the REMAIN that the voters wanted.’ I certainly stand by my earlier comment that I’d like to hear some vision from REMAIN at least as much as from LEAVE.

    Second referendums are iffy things. Both sides frankly have things to dwell on. LEAVE should remember that they got a narrow vote to leave the EU political construct – no more no less. REMAIN would do well to remember that the EU lost because it is an institution that has at best performed lamentably badly for 15+ years. To my mind the second referendums in Denmark and Ireland were (just about) legit as they did relate to qualitatively different proposals. Anything else is a do over.

    I am mindful that in its current incarnation the LDP is essentially a pro-EU pressure group – that is reasonable enough even if I disagree. But that vote happened, that result happened. Some might do well to ask how they would view it if some liberal cause won a referendum and that cause were then frustrated.

    I thought that you were right first time – there is no need for a complex, overthought idea. The EEA is there and it would likely win a majority. That is the top and bottom of it.

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Jul '18 - 6:10pm

    David Raw – True enough!

    I suppose when most politicians are lawyers….

  • David Raw,

    collection of rents from use of the seabed has long been a prerogative of the Crown.
    The seabed from mean low water to 12 nautical miles is largely owned by the Crown and managed on its behalf by the Crown Estate Commissioners. Licenses are required for the exploitation of marine resources including fish farms, offshore winds, pipelines, aggregates and sands. Free licenses include water mains, cables, substations and war memorials.

    Approximately 55% of the UK’s foreshore is owned by the Crown Estate; other owners of UK foreshore include the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. In Orkney and Shetland, the Crown does not claim ownership of foreshore.

    Beyond the 12 nautical mile limit the seabed is ownerless but various government bodies have sovereign rights over marine resources to the edge of the continental shelf and the 200 nautical mile limit (the exclusive economic zone). The Department for Energy and Climate Change have responsibility for oil and gas, and the Crown Estate for offshore wind.
    The ownership of the UK’s marine fishing rights has not been confirmed by statute but under the common law is regarded as owned by the Crown on behalf of the public.

    The Crown Estate is one of the largest property managers in the United Kingdom, overseeing property worth £12 billion, with urban properties valued at £9.1 billion as of 2016 representing the majority of the estate by value. These include a large number of properties in central London, but the estate also controls 792,000 ha (1,960,000 acres) of agricultural land and forest, more than half of the UK’s foreshore, and retains various other traditional holdings and rights, including Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Great Park. Naturally occurring gold and silver in the UK, collectively known as “Mines Royal”, are managed by the Crown Estate and leased to mining operators.

  • Peter Martin,

    “If there’s one thing us Brits aren’t very good at doing it’s admitting defeat even when that’s the most logical thing to do. You’ll lose every time if you express an option to remain in these terms.”

    Very true. I hereby solemnly ask my elders and betters (Vince, Chukka Umunna, Anna Soubry, etc) to dissemble, and to avoid arguing that we need to admit defeat and abandon a Brexit which is manifestly unworkable. It’s the truth, but it’s a rotten sales pitch. You’ll understand Peter, I hope, that we’re just discussing this on a blog, and that in that context, it’s best to tell the truth.

  • Little JP “David Allen – I don’t understand those recent posts. In an earlier comment you referred to, ‘a Norway-type deal (which might perhaps win in a referendum.’ I agree with you. A Norway type deal would probably win in a referendum. So why not just do that?”

    Well – First of all, a Norway-type deal is very far from being a current front-runner. So we can’t “just do that”. May is still wedded to cakeism, i.e. all the security of a Norway-type deal together with all the global-merchant-adventuring which Fox wants to do after hard or no-deal Brexit. Cakeism is not going to happen. The ERG are steering for no deal. Our challenge is to prevent all that. It won’t be achieved simply by telling people “Hey, Norway isn’t too bad, you know”.

    A second referendum in 2020 is at least a plan, one which might achieve something. It might achieve Remain, which for me would be the ideal outcome. It might achieve Norway, which for me would be a not-too-bad outcome.

  • Joe Bourke,

    The Belfast Telegraph talks in apocalyptic terms of an EU which “will fight to keep NI under EU law”. What Guy Verhofstadt actually called for, in the small print of the BT article, was “no divergence in norms, rules, standards between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic”. Rather less emotive, and entirely understandable, since these are the necessary conditions to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

    Theresa May signed an agreement last December accepting that (in the absence of a magical alternative materialising) this backstop solution would be acceptable. She is now seeking to renege on that. I don’t think we should encourage the DUP’s apocalyptic view, which seeks to maintain and profit from conflict in Ireland. Aligning customs tariffs with your nearest neighbour doesn’t have to be seen as a massive defeat and disgrace for Protestantism.

  • David Allen, thank you for your detailed responses. I wonder how many adults in the UK have used a preferential voting system in their life – the millions who have ever taken part in Trade Union executive elections, the millions who have taken part in Student Union elections, the thousands of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat members who have voted in internal elections. We might have to sell the idea of an AV election, but I wonder if a majority of people already have experience of preferential voting.

    I just don’t see that having a referendum would make a difference to anyone’s preferred outcome.

    You seem to have assumed that having border controls in the Irish Sea would be acceptable to Brexiteers. I think it wouldn’t be acceptable to many Conservative MPs and members of UKIP as well as Northern Irish Unionists.

  • What Guy Verhofstadt actually called for, in the small print of the BT article, was “no divergence in norms, rules, standards between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic”. Rather less emotive, and entirely understandable, since these are the necessary conditions to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland

    Would you find it acceptable for Cornwall to be subject to the ‘nomrs, rules and standards’ of a foreign body, and have customs check along the border between it and Devon?

    If not, how can it be acceptable to demand the same thing between Northern Ireland and the mainland?

    You simply don’t ave bits of the same country under different sovereignty, or have customs borders inside a country.

    Some majority in Parliament must force some Government to request an A50 extension by at least 2 years, backed up by the willingness to unilaterally revoke the notification before March if not granted

    Can’t happen. Voters would see it, correctly, as the first stage of a plot to ditch the referendum result and Remain.

  • Michael BG,

    My general point is that a referendum will be virtually impossible to organise before March 2019. Unresolved debates about two-option and three-option variants are only one of the obstacles. The greatest obstacle is, of course, the government’s choice not to put a viable deal on the table that we could vote on. As things stand, the ERG plan – to maintain a stalemate which must finally result in no-deal – is the plan that is working. (May’s pretence that she might sell Europe the Chequers “deal” is just a device to prolong the stalemate and hope something “nice” comes along to derail everything – something like an international pandemic might do nicely!)

    We have to hope that business and trade union lobbying against economic meltdown can force an emergency political realignment to reverse the drift to no-deal. Emergency coalitions need to take emergency actions, which means taking simple, politicaly acceptable decisions.

    Rushing through a messy, ill-defined and ill-tempered referendum before March 2019, and asking the nation to vote on whether they would like to protest about what the new emergency coalition is doing, does not fit the bill. Calling on the EU to concede more time, while promising to use it constructively, sounds like a better option.

  • David Allen 22nd Jul '18 - 6:29pm

    Dav,

    Cornwall doesn’t have a land border with France and a sea border with Devon. Cornwall doesn’t have a fragile peace after centuries of war with Devon. The Good Friday Agreement gave Ulster Unionism precedence over Irish nationalism, but only on the basis of substantial concessions to the nationalist side, a soft border being one of the most important. Retaining the soft border, and hence keeping the peace, is vastly more important than the bureaucracy involved in taxing the movement of goods.

    An A50 extension “can’t happen”, you say, because some voters might not agree with it. Nonsense. First, it would be for Parliament, not voters, to request the A50 extension. Secondly, voters of all shades might rather like the idea that we should first decide how the blooming heck this appallingly complex Brexit thing can possibly be made to work, and only then when they know that, decide whether or not they want it to go ahead after all.

  • Theresa May is forcing herself into a no deal Brexit with disastrous consequences. Can Article 50 not be lengthened to give us time for a new referendum? If it happens we will spend the next 50 years slowly reversing this decision.

  • Peter Hirst, I agree. The EU have sensibly argued, however, that they should only contemplate an A50 extension if there is a major political change in the UK, e.g. either a General Election or a second referendum. That is reasonable – there is no point in them simply giving a government of ditherers more time to carry on dithering.

    It follows that we should advocate a People’s Vote as part of a coherent plan to extend Article 50, demand that within a specified deadline, the government must either agree a specific deal with the EU or else propose a no-deal Brexit, and then put it to the vote – Accept the proposed deal (or no-deal), versus Remain. Or to put it another way – Either a properly planned and agreed Brexit (in place of the Chequers fantasy), or else Remain.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Jul '18 - 1:30pm

    Would a change of Prime Minister count as a major political Change, David?

  • David Allen 23rd Jul '18 - 3:09pm

    Peter – Well, you’d have to ask the EU! Here is a guide to what they think:

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/22/article-50-extension-unlikely-without-shift-in-uk-politics-say-eu-officials

    They’d be looking for “a change in British politics that can offer genuine hope of a better outcome”. I don’t see any Tory, other than Grieve / Soubry / Clarke, offering that hope.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Jul '18 - 3:17pm

    What about an all-Party committee with executive powers over Brexit?

  • After a weekend w/o Internet

    LJP (comment 20th @ 8:55pm) – I agree with you about the shortcomings of the UK’s business plan over the last 30 years. I meant only that the inward investment bit has worked (to a point). Indeed, it’s one of few bits that have worked with most of the rest is a basket case as you describe.

    I say it’s worked ‘to a point’ because many of the firms involved are either simply bases for multinationals to supply the UK’s domestic market or ‘screwdriver’ plants putting together largely imported components containing the higher tech and value-added elements. BMW’s Cowley plant is a case in point.

    So, I just don’t see that the economy has the wherewithal (with honourable exceptions) to compete globally on anything like the scale required. Nor does this very ideological government have a clue how to get to a more functional economy – it’s 40 years of Thatcherism/neoliberalism that’s got us into this mess.

    As for the EZ, that creates a particular set of problems but, as I said earlier, I don’t think it can continue because I simply don’t believe a ‘transfer union’ is going to be politically acceptable in surplus countries. So, at some time it will be back in play. As discussed above, the software aspect of unravelling it is going to be horrendous and a big hit to EZ economies but (and I agree with Peter Martin about this) a workaround will have to be found even though the associated economic losses will be epic. Hence, those involved will delay (are already delaying) the day of reckoning as long as possible.

    My view is that when Plan A collapses in its own contradictions (as ever-greater union and the EZ will) then anyone with Plan B is going to be in the driving seat.

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