Brexit – it could be the Lib Dems’ finest hour if we act now

So much has been said. So much more will be said about last week’s referendum result. But what concerns me greatly is hearing Lib Dems speak in anger. If we allow anger to dominate our agenda and the way we react, we will let the people of Britain down.

We Lib Dems are the true Europeans. We think as internationalists. We now have an opportunity to become the steadying, wise voice on Britain in a post-EU age.

The grim reality is that voters did not back our arguments. But this is not a time for licking our wounds. It is an opportunity for us to grab the agenda.

Tim Farron has struck a bold tone with his commitment to battle the next election on a remain in EU ticket. That election could be as early as November, depending on what happens within Labour during the next 48 hours. (Elections are now triggered by a 75% parliamentary majority, or a simple majority in a vote of no confidence and a failure to form a new government within 14 days.)

But that election might not happen and we need to prepare to champion our principles of freedom and fairness within an Article 50 context.

In many ways, the Lib Dems have been freed up by the Brexit vote. During the referendum campaign, and the general elections before that, people have seen our support for the European Union as backing the way the union, council and European parliament do their business.

We are free of that constraint now. We can champion the ideals we believe in without being burdened by the reputation of the institutions that deliver them.

Like Paul Walter, I do not like the angry tone of some of the communications coming out of the Lib Dems after the shock of the vote. This is not a time for anger, it a time for wisdom. We are now seeing some of that from Tim Farron.

The Tories are facing one of their periodic collapses. David Cameron has delayed the Brexit Article 50 process by three months, simply to allow his party to get a new leader in place. The Conservatives are as usual fighting for themselves first and for Britain second.

Who knows what will happen with Labour. It was disorganised and weak during the referendum campaign. Jeremy Corbyn’s position as leader is now threatened. In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee described him as “dismal, lifeless, spineless”. He wasn’t that good. The news this weekend is that his leadership is at the point of collapse.

But we can’t bank on an early election.

The Lib Dems should make three moves to ensure that we champion the pro-European agenda should Article 50 be triggered before an election.

We should firstly set out the principles of how we become an international nation that is no longer part of a large trading and political bloc. These principles must include a commitment to open trade, open movement for workers, absolute support for refugees and a determination to protect working and social rights. We need to speak urgently and loudly on these principles. The voices of xenophobia and political and social isolation cannot be allowed to get a stronger foothold.

We should next propose a national commission to oversee Brexit negotiations. This would the equivalent of the Office of Budget Responsibility, providing a reality check on the day-to-day maelstrom of politics of Brexit. A Fact Check Central. We should shadow this with a Lib Dem body to ensure it not overtaken by the forces that have distorted the truth during the referendum campaign.

Thirdly, but not least, we must recognise that we Lib Dems have a different role in a post EU age. We are a nation that is sceptical about being international. We have voters who are mostly inward looking. But the young mostly voted remain. That’s where we should be heading. Our future agenda should be aimed at encouraging young people to engage with the international debate.

The younger generation have been badly let down by the Brexit vote. All of us have been told fibs, lies and damned lies during the referendum campaign. And we have lost track of the open social, economic and international agenda that the Lib Dems – and so many others – believe in.

Now is the time for the Lib Dems to lead. This probably won’t get us elected. But it will build respect for a party that believes in ideals. We should be above the everyday firefighting of politics that consumes the other parties.

Yes, we lost this vote. But we are best party to ensure that Britain finds the best way forward. We should not wait for the other parties to sort out their own internal failures. We need to get on with being the sensible voice in national and international politics.

We must put anger aside and get on with the job that has been handed to us. The only other alternative is to hand the baton to the Tories, Labour, or worse, the forces of the far right like UKIP.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Nicholson 26th Jun '16 - 12:43pm

    I couldn’t agree more. As a nation, we must remain outward looking and international; as a party, we must champion this position. The most depressing thing for me, personally, about the vote was to realise how few of my fellow Britons feel this way. We really must be part of the campaign to change their minds

  • Daniel Walker 26th Jun '16 - 12:43pm

    I think it’s 66%, not 75%. “at least two-thirds of the whole House” is the phrase.

  • Alderman David Becket says

    We are ignored, in some areas we are toxic

    Well I agree on the ignored bit, it will be a up hill task to overcome that, but the good news is the “we are toxic” as more an more of the leave lies are exposed the toxicity of the Lib Dems will soon be washed away a voter fury turns on the “leaver” figure heads.

  • paul barker 26th Jun '16 - 1:26pm

    How many Leave voters realised that they were voting to abolish The UK ? My guess would be not many. Of course there is a big crossover between supporting Brexit & English Nationalism, I would expect at least 80% of Leave voters to vote Leave in a 3rd Referendum even if that was explicitly linked to losing Scotland. Leave need to keep more than 95% of their vote to win again.
    There is a strong moral & legal case case to have another Vote with the question of Scotland at the forefront of The Campaign.

  • Christian Davis 26th Jun '16 - 1:42pm

    A lot of the post Referendum debate depends on what happens in the Labour Party. If it can’t reunite then potentially the right wing of the Labour Party will need a new home. That home should be the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems should be the party of in and the party of the Union. We should also make ourselves the party of the economy and embrace any like minded Tories into our mix. With that agenda I think the Lib Dems could ride the crest of a wave into power. 48% of the country are furious right now. Just like the SNP who lost their referendum but then achieved power. We must be a broad church and we must reach out to the losers in this referendum. Remember if this country goes into recession the 48% may actually become the majority.

  • Kevin colwill 26th Jun '16 - 1:45pm

    As I’ve said before, in my traditional Liberal heartland I saw no Lib Dem canvassing and almost no Lib Dem’s sporting “I’m In” badges or putting up remain hordings. The supposed Lib Dem secret weapon of strong local organisation didn’t go in to bat for remain in a big way.

    My guess is this was simply because at the local level the activists quickly realised the game was up and they didn’t want to tie themselves too closely to an unpopular cause. Better let other people in other areas do the heavy lifting on this one.

    I know that’s gone and past but if LD’s are to lead as the party of Europe the membership has to do so enthusiastically or the voters will see through it.

  • An election in October
    would destroy the Lib Dems.

  • A few thoughts…

    Corbyn did fine. The Labour plotters are contemptible, risible even. They think they are more in touch with the ‘natural Labour voters’ who elected to leave? Side-splitting.

    I don’t want another referendum, it would be a disaster. Seems a bit childish to me. Accept the result, move on, make the best of the situation.

    I’m not going to leave the party over the policy to campaign for staying in the EU but I would like to see that we also have a strong move towards planning for the best Brexit possible. That’s something I could get involved with: exciting, progressive, ambitious. If we don’t prepare for this then we really will have the Brexit Project Fear was banging on about.

  • Kevin Colwill – indeed. And yet apparently it’s all Corbyn’s fault. I expect it’s his fault my coffee was too milky this morning, too. The swine.

  • Conor McGovern 26th Jun '16 - 2:35pm

    Tim talked about the Leave camp selling lies to the public on immigration and economic prosperity. How is staying in the EU going to address these concerns, or is a starry-eyed approach going to make things worse? From a strategic view I admire Tim’s boldness, but what policies have we got for working people on jobs, public services, austerity, migration etc to deal with the division in the country? All I’m hearing at the moment is party positioning and EU-fanaticism, nothing radical on a policy level.

  • Conor McGovern 26th Jun '16 - 2:36pm

    Silvio – Why do you say that?

  • Andy Boddington 26th Jun '16 - 3:12pm

    Daniel Walker. Thanks for the correction. You are absolutely right that it is two-thirds not 75% for a vote to trigger a general election.

  • John Minard 26th Jun '16 - 3:18pm

    In the East Midlands “We Are The 41” in Boston “We Are The 24” – we need to banish the the hashtag #WeAreThe48 and recall the second part of our name – democrats!!

    So at the next election, if we won a majority with say 37%, we would feel mandated to rejoin the EU. This is just what I feared if Remain had won by a small margin and UKIP overcame the tipping point of FPTP.

    We would be better stating that we want the closest links possible with the EU and could envisage a time when we believe most people would see benefit in applying for re-entry.

    In the meantime we should put all our efforts into improving Britain’s democracy through STV as a bedrock of a better political system that cares about communities and is better able to represent them. And deciding if we are proposing to remain part of the ‘single market’ and making a case for it.

    The metropolitan, London centric elite really will banish this party to insignificance if not kept in check.

  • This comment is marginally Off Topic, simply because there are no threads available which are willing to address the likely positives of Brexit?

    Something not fully grasped in this debate is that politicians and traders are very different animals, and whilst politicians are swinging cricket bats at each other, traders will (even today), already be working out the ‘deals’ available outside the EU. I’m not legally trained, but my feeling is that once article 50 is invoked, then all EU regulations, trade restrictions, and anti dumping tariffs are,.. (or should be), rescinded immediately. My thinking is that invocation of Article 50 is a legal ‘no going back’ commitment to exit the EU. So it seems to follow logically, that (for example) EU imposed anti dumping tariffs, (unless re-badged by the UK legislation?), need not apply at the point of Article 50 invocation?
    Trade example ~ At present, (under EU rules), all solar panels and modules imported into the EU from China have to be sold at or above a Minimum Import Price well above world prices (and even above the prices of some EU manufacturers), or else importers need to pay an anti-dumping tariff of 64.9 %. This is one of the highest import tariffs in the history of EU trade defence measures and means that solar panels are far more expensive to UK customers than they need be ?
    So to clarify, I have just emailed HMRC this question :
    Up until now there have been Anti-Dumping tariffs placed on solar panels imported from China to the UK, which were a directive of the EU. Can you explain the position on AD2111 tariffs now.? Are we still obliged to abide by EU rules on this type of import trade, and if so for how much longer.?
    I’ll let you know the HMRC response. The wider point is that Britain will be fine outside of the EU, because ‘trade’ will simple do what it always does,…work out the trade advantage and go for it.? EU obsessed politicians will eventually have to absorb the fact that closing a door to unnecessary EU restrictions,.. means opening the door to the world.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Jun '16 - 5:03pm

    Andy makes a very good case for some more positive or reasonable views to be considered.

    We must look at this carefully.See the attitude of the EU leaders.Are we to loose our rudder when all about us are jumping overboard !

  • “We must look at this carefully”……………………….. If everybody jumps overboard you don’t need a rudder……. you need a lifebelt !!!!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Jun '16 - 8:01pm

    David, I mean we , as a party , are in the boat , with a rudder ,when others , not in our party are going off in all directions , and have jumped in to the very deep abyss ! We need to steer well and not lose direction , but steady the boat !

  • It depresses me that lots of our members see the free movement of people across the world into the UK as a good thing. We were in government not that long ago and we supported the new points system to reduce the number of non-EEA people from coming to the UK. And some people in the party were so proud of it that they included it in a booklet sent to all members telling us what we had achieved in government.

    While maybe not all of the 52% were voting against the free movement of people, I expect the majority were. They have told us that they see problems with the free movement of people into the UK – it is more difficult to see their GP, class sizes have increased and they feel they can’t get the first choice of school for their children, they know there are not enough houses and the problem just keeps getting worse, it is more difficult to get a particular job (more competition) and it has been reported that wages are lower because of the larger pool of people who can be employed. We failed these people when we were in government, we need to not ignore them and fail them again. If we do not join the EEA we need to accept that the free movement of people into the UK is over. We need to consider what criteria we use to limit the numbers of EEA people coming into the UK and what number caps we will support.

    There are likely to be particular sectors of the economy where we want to continue with unlimited inward migration such as doctors, nurses, teachers, care workers and agricultural workers. We need to make the case for these and not lose the debate by supporting total free movement.

    Also with the ending of the free movement of people into the UK we can run the economy to achieve full employment as we had in the 1950’s, 60’s and most of the 70’s. It is time we made this our major economic aim if we are not in the EEA.

  • Sue Sutherland 27th Jun '16 - 6:43pm

    I agree with Michael BG. Lib Dems don’t just exist for internationalism, or even diversity, we exist to stick up for the powerless and a lot of the powerless voted leave, witness the larger turnout on council and housing estates than in general elections and the Ashcroft poll which shows the majority voted leave. Since the recession started the people who have born the brunt of it have been the weak and powerless and they took their opportunity to make a difference and voted. We cannot fail them by rejecting this vote. We cannot carry on with policies that benefit the rich. Yes, we want an open society but we must make sure first that the have nots do have a stake in it.

  • I am considering joining the Lib Dems but feel that all parties are currently dismissing the possibility of blocking Article 50 through a vote in Parliament. Only David Lammy (Labour) has seriously considered it so far. I am putting a campaign together to #BlockArticle50 shortly. My question to readers here is: could the Lib Dems as a party seek to prevent Brexit now by stopping the triggering of Article 50? Or will the party only try to rejoin the EU after Article 50 is triggered, when it might be too late to stop Brexit?

  • Steve Holloway 28th Jun '16 - 11:30am

    I’m not not a LibDem supporter but very interested to see how all the main party supporters are responding to the Brexit vote away from the media headlines. I can see WHY the LibDems might be tempted to take the stance that Tim Farron has outlined (re-engagement with natural support base lost following the coalition) but CAN you really follow this path? For as long as I have been interested in politics the LibDEm / Liberal mantra has been how poorly the the FPTP system treats your cause. Suddenly we have one of the few truly democratic votes in our history; could you really propose to ignore its outcome? Both sides used dubious statistics and threats to make their arguments but to be honest I think most people put their mark down with the full knowledge of what they were doing (at least as much as they do in an election). I don’t think this can be your defence for this path.

  • 1: Politicians should never allow anger to overcome their reality check of how that anger will be received and what it will achieve for good or ill. But
    2: No movement for any major change ever succeeded without anger.

    In other words, we should not be ashamed of our anger. We should channel it into effective action.

  • If this is your policy, you need to remove the word democrat from your name. I voted remain, but I sure as hell will be voting to leave if we are forced into another referendum. To simply ignore the referendum result pushes us one step further into a complete dictatorship.

    Were you a Remain campaigner? Are you sore about the referendum result? Check out these 10 top self-comforting strategies.

    1.) Call every white person who voted Leave a “racist”, ignoring the fact that Europeans are also white. Make sure you ignore and marginalise ethnic minority leave voters.

    2.) Claim that the (huge) turnout wasn’t high enough. 72%? It should have been at least 75%! 80%? It should have been 85%! Make sure to keep moving the goalposts.

    3.) Sign an e-petition demanding another referendum, just like the socialists did when Labour lost last year. We need to keep having referendums until we get the “right” result.

    4.) Get over-excited about the economy, even if the impact has been pretty boring and mundane. Pretend that your 2:2 in English Literature makes you an expert on currency markets.

    5.) Attack the very idea of Democracy, because it’s only a good thing when it goes the way you want it to. Working class voters don’t know what’s good for them, but middle class liberals definitely do.

    6.) Share memes bashing Brexit, ignoring the unwelcome and uncomfortable realisation that you are in the minority of public opinion.

    7.) Boldly claim that Scotland will leave the UK, forgetting that A) they can’t afford to B) the EU can’t afford to take them C) 1.6m remain votes don’t cancel out 2m NO votes.

    8.) Make fun of Boris Johnson while sweating slightly and really hoping he doesn’t become Prime Minister.

    9.) Learn absolutely nothing from the campaign, blaming the result on everyone but yourself. Scaremongering and bullying are clearly the best tactics to use, there’s no way they could possibly backfire.

    10.) Curl up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep while listening to “Ode to Joy”.

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