Chris Davies writes…Brexit: .not a roar but a quack

VInce Cable set the ball rolling a month ago with a simple remark: “I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen.” It brought into focus the reality that our deeply divided government is failing to progress the Brexit negotiations and doesn’t even know what it wants to achieve as an outcome.  (Nor, for that matter, does the Labour opposition).

Within a fortnight the talk was all of the need for a ‘transitional arrangement’.  Even Brexiteers who once told us that Britain’s separation from the EU could be achieved within six months now appear happy to endorse Philip Hammond’s suggestion that it will take till 2022.

It almost seems indelicate to point out that no-one has yet explained what might be the terms of this ‘transitional arrangement’.  The government has not yet mentioned it to the EU negotiators, and indeed they cannot because the EU has made clear that it won’t talk about any such matters until sufficient progress has been made in determining the future rights of EU and British citizens, the financial arrangements for the divorce, and the future of the Eire-Northern Ireland oirder.

Maybe even the more extreme Brexiteers have been cowed by the words of former Tory leader William Hague, a man not afraid in the past to play to Europhobic sentiments, who has warned that “there is the clear potential for Brexit to become the occasion of the greatest economic, diplomatic and constitutional muddle in the modern history of the UK, with unknowable consequences for the country, the Government and the Brexit project itself”.

So what might be the terms of a ‘transitional arrangement’?  Will we just carry on exactly as we are for the next few years, with the only change being that free movement of European citizens will allegedly come to an end in March 2019?

Of one thing we can be sure, the continuation of Brexit means that Britain will lose its seat at the EU table in March 2019. Our civil servants will be excluded from the working groups where Europe’s governments thrash out the details of EU legislation. Our MEPs will have made their final speeches.  Our ministers will no longer be able to forge coalitions between like-minded partners and use their votes to steer Europe in their chosen direction.

Yet we will carry on implementing the vast majority of EU laws, updating our own legislation as and when the European Parliament and European Council make changes.  This will be the case even if no agreement at all is reached; it will be the requirement for doing business with our largest trading partner by far.

So this will be a red, white and blue Brexit?  This will be having our cake and eating it?  This will be Britain regaining its national sovereignty?

Certainly I think there is a possibility that Brexit may never happen. But more likely is that the government will want an outcome that allows them to claim that they have complied with the alleged “will of the people” while ensuring that very little changes in reality.

With trading links secured, and British representatives no longer sitting in Brussels rooms where deals are negotiated, I cannot see that our EU partners will be under any pressure to facilitate a further separation. It would, in any case, be no more to Britain’s advantage in the future than it is now.

My fear is that a political Brexit will take place in March 2019. It will look like a duck, and it will walk like a duck, but the Brexiteers and their media friends will call it a big, bold lion. What else can they say other than admit that they will have been responsible for a fatal undermining of British influence? It won’t be a lion that roars, it will be one that quacks.

* Chris Davies was Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West from 1999-2014.

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  • Michael Cole 9th Aug '17 - 1:17pm

    Let us not forget why the referendum happened in the first place. It was not to give the people a democratic say. As we know, it was a ploy by the mainstream Conservative party to lance the boil brought about by UKIP plus its own Europhile backbenchers. It was a cynical self-serving action by Cameron, justified by ‘…it was promised in our election manifesto’. He never dreamt (like many others) that ‘Leave’ would win; so much so that he didn’t even impose a threshold – 60% or so would have been sensible in respect of such a huge constitutional change.

    As Chris implies, all the talk about “… the British people have spoken”, “the will of the people must be obeyed” is sanctimonious claptrap. Anyone who questions the Brexit process is accused of being undemocratic.

    As has been said by others previously, democracy includes the option to change one’s mind. It also respects the views of the minority (in this case 48%). So let’s hope that Vince’s “I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen” becomes reality.

  • Michael Cole 9th Aug '17 - 1:22pm

    Correction: Europhile should read Europhobe or Eurosceptic.

  • Yes, it was a ploy by the Conservative Party to lance that particular boil within its own party. But to focus on the ploy and the political miscalculation was and is to completely ignore the massive elephant in the room – the public no longer wish to be in the EU.

    The outcome of the referendum renders the reasons for holding it in the first place completely irrelevant. The country has been revealed as not wanting to be in the EU and that’s all that matters now. The political classes have been exposed as hopelessly out of touch in failing to predict the outcome. To keep harping on about the internal divisions within the Conservative Party merely
    compounds the problem.

    Rightly or wrongly, the British people have indeed spoken. It was made crystal clear that their vote would decide the issue and be implemented. It is indeed undemocratic to question the validity of the decision or try to reverse it. This is why the Lib Dems vote share was so low at the election. The British know a democratic vote when they see one and hate to see one ignored.

    Please, Lib Dems, focus instead on the right sort of Brexit. We can be outside the legal mechanisms but still maintain close relations.

  • My fear is that a political Brexit will take place in March 2019

    That’s what a lot of Leavers want, isn’t it? To be inside the economic bits of the EU (the single market, etc) but outside the political bits (the Social Chapter, EU citizenship, the Charter of Rights, the common foreign policy, etc etc, plus any other further political integration which may happen in the future).

  • Kay Kirkham 9th Aug '17 - 5:19pm

    I don’t buy this ‘mandate from the people’ stuff, Arthur Bailey. When a political party loses an election they become the opposition and ( present Labour Party excepted ) get on with opposing. But when one faction wins a referendum, they condemn anyone who continues to campaign for the opposite point of view. Some of the current Brexiteers have been campaigning, quite legitimately, against the result of the 1975 referendum for the last 40+ years. The mistake we made was not challenging them during that period. I for one, will not make that mistake again.

  • Annabel,

    There is no right sort of Brexit. Even the Brexit true believers can’t agree what Brexit should be. You are effectively asking us to buy a pig in a poke, problem is it sounds more like a rabid dog than a pig. Forgive me if I have no desire to legitimise Brexit, I want to be able to say yes it is a mess and what a mess it is and it has nothing to do with me.

    In days to come I at least have the solace of point at brave Brexiteers and asking how did Brexit go as they desperately try to justify why it isn’t their sort of Brexit and it’s everyone’s fault but theirs. I therefore have no interest in abetting them in their folly

  • Michael Cole 9th Aug '17 - 5:32pm

    To Annabel and Arthur Bailey:

    Please understand that I was merely reciting briefly how and why the referendum came about. We are not refuting or denying the result. That has consistently been the position of this Party. As I am sure you are aware, we are in favour of a referendum on the destination. But you make my point, namely that to question the Brexit process is to be accused of being undemocratic.

    In the end the British people were asked a simplistic yes/no question on a very complex subject. As the difficulties and complexities of Brexit become apparent many more people are questioning the wisdom of it.

    There were several factors which contributed to the low LD vote; it was not solely due to our position on Brexit, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Aug '17 - 7:35pm

    There is a tendency to over-emphasise Angela Merkel. She is currently doing well in the polls and may be the next Chancellor in coalition with the Free Democrats (Die Liberalen) who are on 8% in the polls.

  • I accept that you were “merely reciting briefly how and why the referendum came about”. I was merely pointing out that this is water under the bridge.
    I agree entirely that it is a mess and that Cameron’s government were responsible for inadequate preparation.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Aug '17 - 8:15pm

    The Brexiteers are out in full force again here, but it really is not worth explaining for the nth time why their parrot-cries of ‘the will of the people’ and ‘undemocratic intent’ are nonsense, or to point out yet again that people may change their minds about wanting to leave and many are already doubtful. Great to hear from you, Chris, telling us how things really are. We need to fight as never before in the next few months to convince the country that the proposed transitional arrangements should end logically in dropping Brexit, with full democratic consent for that.

  • Charles Sykes said in the Guardian said of Trump

    “It’s disturbing to see the pressure some conservative leaders [are] putting on conservatives to fall into line. It feels like the more the administration melts down, the more intense the pressure to conform.”

    the same could be said for Brexit to paraphrase what he said

    “It’s disturbing to see the pressure some Brexiteeers are putting on people to fall into line. It feels like the more that Brexit melts down, the more intense the pressure to conform.”

    well conform I won’t.

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Aug '17 - 9:40pm

    This seems to me to rather miss the point. OK we have this ‘political leave.’ So? Isn’t the real question here why a serious number of people feel that this supposed influence that the UK has in the EU and the supposed benefits this brings aren’t doing anything for them? Why is it that people feel that the alliances at EU level UK governments can supposedly forge aren’t worth it?

    Look, the fact of the matter remains that when the UK population was given the chance to tick the REMAIN box the number who took the opportunity was underwhelming. The question is not about the EU per se, or even European integration. It is about why the EU we have simply has not been seen by a lot of people as in their interests, and what to do about that.

    Spitting out rhetoric might well make you feel all warm inside Mr Davies – unfortunately it just comes across as displacement activity for an unwillingness to ask the real, hard questions here.

  • Little Jackie Paper.
    A good point.

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Aug '17 - 10:11pm

    Glenn – I simply don’t understand the thinking in these type of article. The view seems to be that leaving the EU will, ‘go wrong,’ and at that stage everyone will look up and say, ‘goodness me wasn’t the EU A-OK and the European Commission will bring us salvation – hard remain it is’ It seems to me reachy. If that referendum and election proved nothing else it is that there really isn’t all that much love for the EU in itself.

    The referendum result was, to my mind, a whacking great vote of no confidence in they system that has brought us to where we are. ALL of the system and the EU is absolutely a part of that system. Change is a mantra that gets lobbed around like confetti, but in this case it surely was the driving force behind the vote – even if there was no consensus about what that change should be.

    Playing counterfactual on the internet is probably a lot of fun but it’s a poor substitute for grappling with difficult questions. If people don’t like what the EU offer is, why is that AND what can be done about it. There is, I suspect, an outside chance that a lot of people aren’t all that keen on another round of EU ‘liberalisation.’ Why is that and what can/should be done about it. That’s the real question.

    The answer for me, at least for now, is the Norway approach for the exact reasons that Dav says earlier, but that’s for another day.

  • So Jackies solution is impose all EU decsions without any input into them, the Norway solution. Well that is really taking back control, not. Then truly we can blame the EU for impose rules on us. In his type of Brexit we would be giving up control, can’t see many Brexiteers agreeing to that. So nice try Jackie and Glen but I fear this isn’t the Brexit you will have to justify. Remember crying this isn’t my type of Brexit won’t wash you have to justify the Brexit we get not the one you dreamed about.

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Aug '17 - 10:54pm

    Frankie –

    ‘The EEA agreement grants Norway access to the EU’s internal market. From the 23,000 EU laws currently in force,[2] the EEA has incorporated around 5,000 (in force)[3] meaning that Norway is subject to roughly 21% of EU laws. According to Norway’s Foreign Affairs (NOU 2012:2 p. 790, 795), from the legislative acts implemented from 1994 to 2010, 70% of EU directives and 17% of EU regulations in force in the EU in 2008 were in force in Norway in 2010.[4] Overall, this means that about 28% of EU legislation in force of these two types in 2008 were in force in Norway in 2010. While the Norwegian parliament has to approve all new legislation which has “significant new obligations”, this has been widely supported and usually uncontested; between 1992 and 2011, 92% of EU laws were approved unanimously, and most of the rest by a broad majority.[5]’

    I’d settle for that.

    Also try here –

  • Michael Cole 10th Aug '17 - 9:46am

    Annabel 9th Aug ’17 – 7:39pm: I am glad that we are able to agree that the whole Brexit process is a mess.

    But you say “I was merely pointing out that this is water under the bridge.” Yes it is, but that shouldn’t prevent further discussion. If the result had gone the other way do you think that Farage, Johnson & Co would have stopped their anti-EU campaigning. Not a chance !

  • I find myself half agreeing with Chris; with no definite end point both sides will be happy to do the minimum necessary with losses on all sides. One thing is certain and that is the UK will lose any influence it had. Europeans will be happy to leave us in a de facto dependent situation of accepting most eu regulations, still accepting some free movement and allowing it do more or less as it want while our government puts a positive spin on it all.

  • Michael Cole 10th Aug '17 - 11:06am

    Katharine Pindar 9th Aug ’17 – 8:15pm: Agreed.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Aug '17 - 1:10pm

    Thanks, Michael, I think I am in accord with you and Frankie in this discussion. As for the Norway model, I seem to recall that Norway accepts free movement, presumably of labour though I don’t remember the details, which is anathema to the Brexiteers.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Aug ’17 – 10:35am:
    Europeans will be happy to leave us in a de facto dependent situation of accepting most eu regulations, still accepting some free movement and allowing it do more or less as it want while our government puts a positive spin on it all.

    Do you think that is the situation Canada will be in when CETA is implemented?

    The best deal for both the UK and the EU is likely to be similar to CETA, but deeper and more comprehensive, as outlined here by David Campbell Bannerman MEP…

    ‘Why the EEA is not right for Britain’ [July 2017]:

    I propose the UK should adopt what I call a ‘Super Canada’ deal – bigger, wider and deeper that the Canadian CETA trade deal (Canada+). It would deliver 100% tariff- and quota-free access to each others’ markets and will beef up the services chapter substantially to safeguard the City of London and other valuable services. My conversations with the EU Trade Commissioner and Chairman of the Trade Committee suggest great EU support for this option, as well as in the UK.

    There would also be a parallel Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) like Canada’s covering non-trade issues such as security, defence, foreign affairs, policing, counter-terrorism cooperation, continued membership of EU programmes and agencies, and how we work together in future, such as Canada’s Joint Ministerial Committee. I expect that there will be very close future collaboration and high level meetings from Prime Ministers and EU Presidents, through to Ministers and technical experts.

    Alongside would be other very important and supportive agreements, such as a Customs Agreement to ensure a smooth flow of goods and services post-Brexit so that French cheeses or Spanish tomatoes don’t rot in Dover and UK producers avoid similar hold ups. My timescale would be to do the deal by the end of March 2019, with the effective end of EU membership at the end of 2019 after a short ‘implementation phase’.

    The combination of such a deep and comprehensive trade deal, political and other agreements will ensure Britain really does take back control. The EEA alternative is bogus, dangerous and an unhelpful anti-Brexit distraction.

  • I would have thought that Remainers would have liked an option where the UK has no say over EU law but has to implement it, because for a lot of them their EU-philia seems to be rooted in not actually liking the governments that the UK tends to elect and therefore wanting to be governed by Brussels instead.

  • John Probert 10th Aug '17 - 5:21pm

    Have members of the Conservative Party and all others who want to emulate Norway’s relationship with the EU, forgotten the warning of Norway’s Conservative Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, who said in the week before the referendum that Britons wishing to leave the European Union “won’t like” life on the outskirts of the 28-member state bloc? She said that Norway had made a very bad decision by narrowly rejecting joining the bloc in a referendum in 1994 although it is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.

    The Norwegian Prime Minister added that her country acts like a “lobbying organisation” in Brussels.


  • little Jackie Paper,
    Thank you for the long reply. I think part of the problem is that just as there bullish voices on the Brexit side there are 28th-staters who will simply never accept that we’re heading out of the EU and who indulge in a strange double think that losing the vote was somehow more an endorsement than winning it. If the election proved one thing it was that there was no such critter as The 48% who were so angry at Brexit that they would rally behind the Lib Dems. The 6% is somewhat less impressive.

  • Michael Cole 10th Aug '17 - 7:50pm

    Katharine Pindar 10th Aug ’17 – 1:10pm: Yes, I too think frankie makes some good points.

  • I think this article hits the mail on the head. Brexit, though an illegitimate oxymoron and entirely bogus, has acquired too much energy to be simply thrown out and forgotten like the nonsense it is. So it might have to happen to satisfy the script of the silly pantomime that we are now lumbered with.

  • Chris,

    you ask “So what might be the terms of a ‘transitional arrangement’?”
    It appears there are three factions in the cabinet pushing different agenda’s:

    Hammond, backed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, is focusing on the economic risks of Brexit, and on making the transition as gradual as possible. This includes keeping free movement for up to three years, and ensuring businesses retain full access to the single market and customs union during a transition period before moving to an implementation phase.
    Trade Secretary Liam Fox is said to be leading a faction on the other end of the spectrum, calling for as short a transition as possible and the freedom to negotiate trade deals straight away,.
    Theresa May, her deputy Damien Green as well as leading Brexit supporters such as Environment Secretary Michael Gove and David Davis as positioning themselves between the two, backing a sustained transition period during which few restrictions would be put on EU migration, and rejecting single market membership but calling for transitional customs arrangements.

  • Chris Davies 11th Aug '17 - 6:15pm

    Wake up in the morning. Breathe air. Turn on the light. Drink water. Discharge your effluent. Look in the medicines’ cabinet. Wash your hair. Brush your teeth. Spray the deodorant. Open the fridge. Read the cereal pack. Eat an egg. Put on a coat. Take a car, or a bus, or a train (or a plane) to work.

    Pollution control. Environmental improvements. Nature protection. CO2 reduction. Medicine safeguards. Animal testing bans. Ozone layer protection. Greater energy efficiency. Food standards. Allergen warnings. Chemical controls. Travel facilitation.

    Some measures could be introduced by any country. Some require intergovernmental cooperation. Most recognise that EU partnership has promoted and accelerated the adoption of such measures, often setting common standards and making common requirements. Most people welcome them all in practice, without even recognising their origin.

    In Brussels the UK has often been a principal promoter of them, and yet successive governments have avoided talk of British leadership, let alone of genuine partnership, and allowed the impression to grow that we have been pushed around by others.

    Hence the Leave vote.

  • Annabel. –
    I know what you mean when you say more than half of voters wanted to leave, so this should be respected. You mean that if they are daft enough to believe the Daily Mail, then serve the silly blighters right, they’ve got what’s coming to them. What you forget though is that Brexit will also affect the three quarters of the population who didn’t vote leave, who are totally innocent.

    More than that though, it’s a bit hard to blame the leavers. Most of them were little more than dupes. Most hadn’t a clue what the EU is, other than something pilloried by the newspapers. If you went to your doctor and demanded an amputation because you didn’t know what the word meant, and he gave it to you, that would be gross misconduct and he’d likely go to prison for a long stretch. That’s why in a just world, the Brexiteer leaders should all be languishing in Parkhurst.

  • Andrew Tampion 12th Aug '17 - 12:04pm

    John King

    Could you kindly explain to me what useful purpose insulting 17 million voters by calling them dupes serves? I personally know several leave voters, all intelligent, thoughful and well educated men and women. In my experience when someone is reduced to abusing their opponents it’s usually because they know in their heart that they have lost the argument

  • Many of my friends and many of those I admire voted Leave, including John Cleese, Michael Portillo and many others. They are not all fools, no. What I’m saying, along with A C Grayling and other commentators, is that the country was conned by unscrupulous Brexiteer leaders.

  • Arnold Kiel 13th Aug '17 - 8:20am


    it would be “water under the bridge”, if a clear question had been clearly answered, but that is not the case. This is what has happened:

    Nigel Farage has found and cultivated a platform for his personal vanity for over a decade. Some people, including 2nd-tier Tory-leaders followed, ultimately resulting in the successful harnessing of peoples’ anger by posing to them an incomprehensible (even to professional politicians) question which was also totally unrelated to the root causes of this anger.

    I highly recommend David Miliband’s article in today’s Observer.

  • Perhaps LDV could do a post, asking Brexiteers to sum up in one sentence why they voted Leave/what they expect to get out of it.
    Concrete answers, not vague notions like ‘Taking Back Control’ (of what, precisely?)

    The resulting list of contradictions would show to them just what a nonsense the Will of the People™ is.

    Eg the Tory right Leavers want deregulation and a Singapore-like economy that benefits business (but not workers); the Labour left Leavers want a socialist state that does the reverse.

  • Cassie B
    In one statement. I think supranationalism and pooled sovereignty are an oxymoron. I find the notion of shared European destiny unappealing. It all sounds a bit big, imperial, high culture based and classical sounding, to metaphorically speaking, simple peasant ears . Plus the EU is Neo-liberal through and through.

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