Brexit contradictions and scary polls – how do we escape from the mess?

So Theresa May tells Brexiteers in the Mail on Sunday that they had better back her or there’ll be no Brexit yet on Andrew Marr, she trots out that old phrase “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

We’re all over the place here. The only option that gives us any control at all over what happens, ironically, is staying in the EU. Then we’ll have influence over the rules that affect us. Theresa May’s White Paper is unpalatable to the Brexiteers who see it as tying us too closely to the EU and to Remainers who don’t see the point in something that gives us less than we currently have with no say on any future changes. No deal is akin to jumping out of an aeroplane at 20,000 feet and convincing yourself that if you land in a soft pile of manure you won’t hurt yourself.

Vince had this to say, which is all very sensible

Within a few hours Theresa May moves from saying Brexit might not happen to casting the spectre of ‘no deal’ and all the disastrous consequences that would entail for the country. These mixed messages and confusions show she is not in charge of negotiations – the Conservatives spent two years to reach a chaotic position that is unworkable.

Trump’s ‘advice’ again illustrates how ill-informed he is and that his interest in Brexit is not to help the UK but to create mayhem.

But then I’m finding myself becoming a bit cynical. Could all the confusion be deliberate?

Remember how confusion was a deliberate tactic during the referendum? One minute you’d have Brexiteers saying “But it’s fine cos we’ll stay in the single market” and the next that we’d be free of the EU and not having to abide by any of its rules. Creating that confusion was deliberate because the Leave campaign didn’t care about the issues. They just wanted to create enough anger to persuade people to give the establishment a kicking.  And it worked.

May seems to be trying the same tactic now, generating anger so that people are focused on that rather than the nightmare process of leaving the EU.

How much better would it be to deal with the cause of the discontent as Chris Bowers said earlier and I‘ve been saying for a long time that we need to inspire with a vision of what a liberal society could look like and how it is much more likely to happen if we forget about this Brexit business?

This Government’s approach to Brexit has been criminally irresponsible. Surely when there’s talk of stockpiling food – and not that much each either, as Adam Bernard pointed out on Twitter:

Brexiteers ramp up the possibility of riots if they don’t get their way. I can’t imagine people being too chuffed once they’ve got through their allotted couple of tins of beans to find the shelves bare. And if you regularly take medication, you had better hope that it’s not on the list of 108 products which the European Medicines Agency reckons are not prepared for Brexit.

Dominic Grieve, who is a pretty rational human being, predicted that there would be a state of emergency if it looked like No Deal was going to happen

Although he did say that Parliament would intervene to stop that happening and he would be leading that effort:

Forgive me if I’m not reassured by this given that he caved over the meaningful vote during the EU Withdrawal Bill debate.

So what to do about all of this? The People’s Vote on the deal is the obvious way out, but there is some worrying polling today. One poll has 51% favouring no deal over a bad deal, so the Tory messaging is getting through.

And while half of those asked supported a People’s Vote, there’s a fundamental difference of opinion on what the question should be:

The problem with the first question is that it basically gives people the choice of “be poorer” or “disaster”. We have to have the chance to forget the whole thing. You would probably have to have one vote on no deal vs deal on offer and then a week later on the winner vs staying in.

All the more important, then, that those of us who want to remain have a hopeful vision to persuade people to not just come round to the idea of a final say on the deal, but to be inspired by it and to campaign for it.

The conundrum is that even if people do choose to stay in on that basis, there is still a Conservative Government in office who have no interest in delivering anything like the sort of visionary New Deal type arrangement that is required. We may well need a General Election as well to get rid of them.

There is a simpler way., of course. MPs could intervene and vote to either suspend or revoke the Article 50 process. That is a huge risk, though, because that process would also have to offer a pathway to something better that you just aren’t going to get from the Conservatives.  Maybe the majority of MPs who are not Conservatives might be able to find some common things to offer and implement.  We really are going to have to try and make implausible options work if we are going to navigate our way though the biggest crisis most of us have known.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • People are bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the riddle of Brexit. As Danny Dyer said

    “‘Who knows about Brexit, no-one’s got a f-ing clue what Brexit is. You watch Question Time it’s comedy.

    I ain’t got a clue, no-one knows what it is. It’s like a riddle ”

    Well the people are rushing round to find an answer to the riddle, the problem is we have snake oils salesmen saying follow me the answer is easy, just leave. The problem of cause is by just leaving we open a door to a world of pain. Now in that world of pain the brave Brexiteers are likely to disappear like snow off a dyke, which begs the question is it worth letting a hard Brexit happen to kill the Tories and the exceptionalists. Tempting as it is to say yes the pain will kill thousands and ruin countless other lives, so no, it is worth shouting turn back no matter how unpopular that makes you.

    The Brexiteers where warned Brexit would not be easy they didn’t listen.
    They where warned it would not bring back sovereignty but was likely to lead to as loss of it, they didn’t listen.

    They don’t listen because to them Brexit is the only thing that matters, anything else is irrelevant no matter what the pain.

  • That Opinium poll.. I would question if people actually realise what they are being asked. On chatting to other people re: Brexit, a couple of them thought that “No Deal” = “Remaining in the EU with no change”.

    a No-Deal would have such catastrophic consequences that I can’t believe 51% of the opoulation would support it.

  • nvelope2003 15th Jul '18 - 4:31pm

    One of the strange things I keep hearing is that the turnout at the referendum was the highest ever recorded for an election in Britain. It was 72 % which is 12% les than the 1950 UK election and most elections before 1914 when the average turnout was over 85% as it continued to be in large parts of Britain outside London until 1997. The Scottish referendum turnout in 2014 was 85%. One of the leading Brexiteers claimed on BBC Radio 4 on Friday that 85% supported Brexit – Owen Patterson I think. No one challenged him on this claim, probably because they did not know the truth.

  • Jonathan Reeve 15th Jul '18 - 4:49pm

    “When your enemy is making a false movement, never interrupt him” (or her). No, not another Barnier quote, not even that of a real Frenchman, but that of a Corsican whose opinion we once learned to respect.
    The key is whether we shall keep or lose the NHS as a result of the May version of Brexit. Between now and the conference season we need to quietly do our sums and see whether losing all that trade in services, with the tax it generates, will cost us what we hold most dear. If Government promises more than it can afford or affordably borrow, a majority opinion will crystallise fast, either thanks to the currency exchanges or to tax hikes that few will be able to afford. When there is an election we might wish to stand on a platform of re-uniting with the EU, whatever has happened between now and then. But we don’t need to adopt that policy just yet – let’s leave the Government dangling relatively undisturbed in their cauldron, bubbling away on the fires of harsh reality for a while longer. That way they’ll be easier to digest. Negotiations with the EU always go down to the wire or beyond and they need our money just as much as we and especially HM Treasury need the spurt of economic growth that will result from dumping brexit.

  • The NHS is finished regardless. It is incompatible with global trade and is a protectionist socialist nightmare. It will either be forcibly privatised outside of the EU by the WTO, TPP or TISA anyway, or if the economy crashea after Brexit or within it when the EU requires market liberalisation in health to comply with our global obligations to foreign investors.

  • What’s the point of asking people to choose between a “bad deal” and “no deal” without spelling out what a “bad deal” means? In the absence of that, of course a “bad deal” sounds worse because it’s bad.

  • The NHS isn’t finished, who on earth writes stuff like this on a lib dem forum. Is it the Orange Bookers or classic liberals infiltrating again? The Commonwealth Fund rates it the best, safest and most affordable of 11 nations surveyed. The NHS is one of the most efficient health care systems in the world, on less resources than other EU countries and as a frequent user of its services it does a fantastic job. Please don’t use this board to undermine it.

  • ethicsgradient 15th Jul '18 - 7:00pm


    This is what I have been saying is the feeling outside of the westminster or remain echo chambers. People voted to leave and to leave fully. The idea I think many felt was to leave and sort out a bilateral trading agreement between the UK and the EU because it would be mutually beneficial. This is what May outlined in all her speeches since and so the leave-voting silent majority have sat back and “well get on with it”

    This stupid attempt by the civil service/establishment to leave (but not really) has been instantly seen through and unleashed the anger I spoke of.

    If there was another vote it would be won by leave+defult to WTO because of the anger of beng forced to vote again. Not a vote on leave with a terrible deal or leave. It is huge we are talking about giving away sovereignty over our manufacturing and production sector. That is why you have poll results you do.

  • ethicsgradient 15th Jul '18 - 7:06pm

    My response to those who wish to remain is that you will have to let Brexit happen otherwise there will be mass civil disorder as people will believe that their vote/voice has not been listened do. Ergo what is the point in voting and democracy if it is ignored?

    Then if you believe that the UK’d best place in as region of a European superstate (which is a fair view although one I disagree with), then campaign as a policy to rejoin the EU.

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Jul '18 - 9:50pm

    Caron Lindsay – ‘That is a huge risk, though, because that process would also have to offer a pathway to something better that you just aren’t going to get from the Conservatives.’

    Out of interest (and to be clear I am not getting at you here). What do you think that pathway should be?

  • ethicsgradient 16th Jul '18 - 1:23am

    I see Justine Greening has come out in support of a call for a 2nd referendum. Personally I am not adverse to this. I disagree that there should be 3 choices. It seems to me that Theresa May’s terrible fudge is dead in the water (if both leave and remain supporters are rejecting it). It strikes me as the choice should be between leaving fully+negotiation of separate a bilateral treaty (which i what I voted for and wasn’t this what the mansion house speech indicated?) or remain fully (which acceptance to moving to full integration into a EU superstate). Let’s do it. I cannot see how it will be easy explaining to 17.4M voters that their first vote did not count.

  • William Fowler 16th Jul '18 - 7:32am

    The NHS is finished? It will continue to be ringfenced which means other services will be curtailed instead depending on the political conviction of the govn in power post Brexit. Looks like that all that will be left of the UK will be England and Wales, or maybe just England on its own with lots of work digging trenches along the land borders to keep the EU hordes out whilst the political elite are driven around in armoured cars to keep the populace at bay.

    Only joking, I think, if hard deal and wto rules then can keep going by putting zero tariffs on essential products and engineering bits (has to be zero tariff for ALL countries not just EU which may give the latter pause for thought) – it would then be up to EU if they were going to tariff stuff coming in from the UK and wreck their own supply chains for cars etc. I would not worry about medicine, the threat of buying generic stuff direct from India would save billions, pharma companies would hire someone to take out Euro bureaucrats rather than let that happen (you are talking the kinda money that would have socialists running around like headless chickens in rage).

    The EU is aware if they say no to May’s deal there will be no deal, their only alternative is to offer UK a better deal than Cameron managed and force a second vote, sigh of relief all round I would think.

  • Peter Martin 16th Jul '18 - 9:08am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    You’re saying it’s just about impossible for the UK to leave the EU. The EU as it is at present, and as we all are aware, isn’t the finished article. What the Remain side likes to call ‘Europe’ changed enormously during the time the UK was a member of firstly the Common Market, then the EEC, later the EC and now the EU.

    So what are we going to end up with? I’d say a United States of Europe. But whatever it is, suppose we don’t like it. What then?

    Are you saying that we are always going to be attached to the same train, and of course on the same rails, so we’ll just have to accept whatever destination we do eventually arrive at?

  • Bill le Breton 16th Jul '18 - 10:24am

    This is possible: “Leave, but seek, at least for an interim period, to recreate a large part of the preferential trading arrangements we currently have with the EU, most obviously by joining the European Economic Area”, as argued here:

    Our belief that ‘no deal’ is a political impossibility and that suspending Art 50 and exiting Brexit (sweetened by a politician’s promise of a lot of goodies) is possible is preventing us taking the initiative on the EEA solution.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Jul ’18 – 10:24am………..

    The article you reference introduces itself with “Britain has decided to leave the European Union, which over 43 years of membership has proven to be sclerotic, anti-democratic and immune to reform. It is a political relic of a post-war order that no longer exists.”

    Hardly an ‘independent unbiased view’ then?

    As the ASI is a right wing .neoliberal think tank that espouses extreme Thatcherism ( privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade, reductions in government spending and increasing the role of the private sector in the economy and social care) I’m saddened, if not surprised, that it is yet again trotted out as a panacea for all problems. It seems we have learned nothing from 2010-15.

  • Peter Martin 16th Jul '18 - 12:34pm

    @ Bill,

    Thanks for that link which is interesting. There are several problems. Firstly the jargon is hard for even for those who are reasonably well informed to stay abreast of. We have the customs union, the single market, EFTA, EEA, the Norway Option, the Switzerland option etc.

    How many people know that places like Monaco, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man aren’t in the EU. I’ve just looked up that the Isle of Man isn’t even in the EEA either. But I have quite a good customer who is based there and there’s never any problem shipping orders to him. But Gibraltar is in the EU. So it’s not directly just a matter of the tax havens wanting to stay out.

    But the main problem is that the Remainers won’t like it because it’s not the EU. Leavers won’t like it because they’ll think it is the EU – just by another name. Especially as freedom of movement is only very slightly affected.

  • Daniel Walker 16th Jul '18 - 12:55pm

    @Peter Martin “I’ve just looked up that the Isle of Man isn’t even in the EEA either

    It is in the EU Customs Union, though, at least for goods, due to a special protocol related to the UK’s accession. (see towards the bottom of section 2 at )

  • nvelope2003 15th Jul ’18 – 4:31pm
    One of the strange things I keep hearing is that the turnout at the referendum was the highest ever recorded for an election in Britain.
    The 17,410,742 votes to leave the EU makes it the largest vote for any proposition or political party in UK history.

    One of the leading Brexiteers claimed on BBC Radio 4 on Friday that 85% supported Brexit – Owen Patterson I think. No one challenged him on this claim, probably because they did not know the truth.
    Maybe they thought it overly pedantic for a mere 0.1%? In the 2017 General Election 85.1% voted for candidates who stood on an election manifesto to leave the EU including the Internal Market and Customs Union: Conservative (42.4%), Labour (40.0%), UKIP (1.8%), and DUP (0.9%).

  • nvelope2003 29th Jul '18 - 5:00pm

    Jeff: Can you be absolutely sure that every single one of those who voted Conservative, Labour, DUP or even UKIP wanted to leave the EU. Opinion surveys indicate that not even all UKIP voters want to leave the EU let alone voters for the other parties. Some Liberal Democrat voters say they would like to leave the EU. I am talking about those who voted in the Referendum held on 23rd June 2016.

  • nvelope2003 29th Jul '18 - 5:03pm

    If the turnout had been 17,410,742 it would have been one of the lowest ever recorded. Like most of those in this debate you are deliberately confusing the statistics to bolster your case.

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