David Miliband backs referendum on the deal and argues for social and political benefits of EU – how we can build on the growing anti Brexit consensus

It’s one of the great what -ifs of our time. Would we still be in the same mess if David Miliband had won the Labour leadership in 2010? We’ll never know and there are arguments on both sides. His Blairist approach might have propelled a bigger drift of Labour supporters to populist UKIP but he might also have had a big enough impact on the arguments to shift us away from Brexit or even having a referendum on the EU in the first place. Of course, his leadership might well have stopped Cameron from getting a majority at all in 2015 and we would certainly not have been in this mess.

Today, Miliband makes a new intervention in the Brexit debate with an article in the Observer in which he becomes the latest big name to back calls for a referendum on the deal.

The case against the EU depends on avoiding a discussion of the alternative. It is the equivalent of voting to repeal Obamacare without knowing the replacement. It is a stitch-up. That is one reason it is essential that parliament or the public are given the chance to have a straight vote between EU membership and the negotiated alternative. That is a democratic demand, not just a prudent one.

People say we must respect the referendum. We should. But democracy did not end on 23 June 2016. The referendum will be no excuse if the country is driven off a cliff. MPs are there to exercise judgment. Delegating to Theresa May and David Davis, never mind Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, the settlement of a workable alternative to EU membership is a delusion, not just an abdication.

Brexit is an unparalleled act of economic self-harm. But it was a big mistake to reduce the referendum to this question. The EU represents a vision of society and politics, not just economics. We need to fight on this ground too.

The Europe of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel stands for pluralism, minority rights, the rule of law, international co-operation – and not just a single market. In fact, the real truth about the single market has been lost in translation.

He goes on to make the very valid point that the EU’s institutions protect our rights as individuals and as workers against exploitation from large commercial organisations and governments. As he puts it, the EU has actually done more to shield us from the effects of globalisation than to harm us:

International co-operation was and is a force for social justice and against turbo-capitalism.

At last we are getting the idea that Brexit can be stopped into wider, mainstream chatter. However, if it’s going to happen it has to resonate amongst a significant number of people who voted for Brexit – and those who voted for Remain but who think we now have to get on with it.

In an article on the party website this week, Vince said that the Lib Dems will provide a home for all those unhappy with Brexit:

As leader, I am determined that the Liberal Democrats will provide a home for all those who are unhappy with Brexit and the paths the other parties are taking.

But equally, we are prepared to work with people of all parties and none to get the best possible future for this country.

We must work together to avoid the extreme Brexit that the leadership of the Conservatives and Labour Party seem intent on bringing about.

None of this will work, though, without the obvious consent of the people. While key business, political and civil society leaders can create the mood music, they can’t necessarily seal the deal. That’s down to everyone who believes that the interests of this country are best served within the EU. We all need to talk to our friends and family in a way that makes them feel respected and listened to. Not all of them will respond in kind – but enough will if we get our approach right. The beauty of talking to people we know is that we know how best to communicate with them.

We need to turn a few dozen newspaper articles into a million conversations. When it comes down to it, we want people to have decent housing, wages and public services so we have a huge amount in common with many of those who voted to leave.

We can win this argument and we have to remember that it’s not just for our own good. The country will be much better if we can stop Brexit and ensure that the legacy of this painful period is a much more socially just society.

Who will you talk to today?

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sue Sutherland 13th Aug '17 - 2:43pm

    It’s good that many of the old political heavyweights from both parties are coming out against Brexit. Unfortunately many of those who voted Brexit are unlikely to read the newspapers they write in and many of the problems they cite are more likely to confirm the Brexiteers in their views. Problems in the city? Good. Problems with scientific development? I don’t care. Problems with university students losing the opportunity to study in the EU? Tough. More recently, of course, problems with jobs? It’ll be worth it.
    Obviously the real hardliners are unlikely to shift their views so we Remainers must use causes that resonate with those who might change their minds.
    One of those causes seems to be that we should ‘look after our own’. To get these people to change their minds not only do we have to show them that Brexit will make the situation worse but we must show how we as a party would make the situation better than it is at the moment. We must be strong, vocal and credible in our policies to improve all the services that are staggering at present and take people out of the sort of poverty that means they can’t survive without food banks. If we don’t offer this it’s not just the poor and needy who will die, our party will suffer the same fate.

  • David Evans 13th Aug '17 - 4:24pm

    The great what if is What if the Lib Dems had decided in 2014 not to allow their leader to sacrifice their entire future supporting the Conservatives, which he had already done for four long disastrous, years, losing hundreds of councillors year after year, most of their MSPs and in that year most of their councillors in London and all but one of their MEPs.

    Perhaps they would have regained enough support to keep a few more MPs in 2015 and so prevent the Brexit referendum from destroying so much of this country’s future prospects. They certainly couldn’t have done any worse.

    Instead all but three of our MPs simply kept their heads down and pretended it would all go away if they just wished hard enough. Well David Cameron and the Conservatives wished harder and they got their wish. The Lib Dems did go away in dozens – in Scotland, in the South West, the North, Wales and the MIdlands. And when it was all over there weren’t enough of them left to stop Brexit.

  • What took David Miliband so long before saying it

  • ?

  • There is a positive message to cancelling brexit and that is more government tax receipts to spend on essential services (though I would prefer to use it to phase out council tax as it is a bribe big enough to catch voters’ attention), hopefully Sir Vince will hammer out that message.

  • Simon Banks 15th Aug '17 - 9:12am

    My view of David Miliband is that he’s very intelligent, talks a good deal (so for articles in The Observer he’s fine) and did nothing in office to suggest he’d be a good prime minister. Since most voters who can be swayed between Tory and Labour vote in a general election on the credibility of the prospective prime minister and governing party (can I imagine X in Number 10? Is (s)he authoritative? Does (s)he know what (s)he’s doing? Is the party united? Is X in control of it?), he would have done better in 2015 than his thoughtful but odd-seeming and apparently nerdy brother. A little better would have robbed the Tories of their majority and in all likelihood left Labour the biggest party. Then what? I wonder.

    But in a long time in high office, he changed nothing of consequence. I can’t think of anything significant in the world that’s better because he was a cabinet minister. Given a chance to reform local government finance, he fluffed it, thanks probably to Gordon Brown panicking and his own weakness. It looks very much like he turned a blind eye to British connivance in torture. So a plausible Leader of the Opposition and a vacillating PM, I suspect.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Aug '17 - 6:32pm

    We are where we are. The question is how to capitalise on the situation both nationally and politically. Is it more important to boost the Lib Dems or avoid a hard Brexit? It may be both cannot be done together. I sometimes feel we should stick to an outcome referendum though if the deal is seen to be good enough we won’t get much support for it as other issues will become more important. As long as it remains a manifesto commitment, we can campaign on other things.

  • Antony Watts 16th Aug '17 - 10:50am

    Are we saying we invite David to join the LibDems???

    Why not. If his views back our then more grist to the mill.

  • Antony Watts. Inviting David Milliband to join us might lead to a rush for the exit. Remember ‘extraordinary rendition’? A nice euphemism for kidnapping people (sometimes in broad daylight) and carting them off to jurisdictions where they could be tortured. No thank you!

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