Dear Theresa, If your deal is so great, why not let the people vote on it?

As I write, the European Union has just agreed the Brexit Deal. I’m a bit sad that it’s all happening on what would have been Charles Kennedy’s 59th birthday. He’d have had something to say about all of this.

Ahead of the meeting, Theresa May wrote to the nation telling us why we should all back her Brexit deal. Unfortunately, her letter is all spin and no substance. She paints a picture of a happy, reconciled nation moving forward after Brexit. She uses this phrase “works for everyone” a few times. She might as well have promised a unicorn on every street corner. Jeremy Corbyn’s Magic Money Tree was more real than the benefits open to us after Brexit. May’s own foreign secretary, on Andrew Marr this morning, couldn’t say that we’d be better off after Brexit. He only went as far as the deal “mitigates most of the negative impact.” If that is the best we can do, why bother. Why not just forget the whole thing?

The biggest problem with her deal is that we actually have no idea what we will end up with further down the road. Most of the big decisions – on future trade, on Northern Ireland, take place after we have left. Imagine getting married without having some common ground on whether you are going to have children, what sort of life you are going to live, where you are going to live?  That would be a recipe for disaster. So is this deal.

Anyone who remembers the last time that lot left office will remember that public services were on their knees and the gap between rich and poor was enormous. Their cuts to public services, particularly in the last three and a half years that they’ve been on their own, and their cruel slashing of social security give the lie to any desire to make a country that works for everyone. We really can’t trust them with our future. Most egregiously, she spins us a line on the NHS:

Instead, we will be able to spend British taxpayers’ money on our own priorities, like the extra £394 million per week that we are investing in our long-term plan for the NHS.

I’ll leave it to Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, a GP herself,  to debunk that one.

What annoys me most is the bit about how wonderful it is to end free movement. That will have a massive impact on areas like NHS and social care. We are going to end up having real staffing problems in the NHS. The  Royal College of GPs backed a People’s Vote the other day, citing concerns about patient safety:

We are also a membership body with more than 52,000 members, all of whom will have their own views on the UK exiting the European Union, but the level of feeling by UK Council – who have been elected by the membership to represent their interests – was that the risks of Brexit to the NHS and patient safety and care were significant enough to take a stance.

In her various tv and radio and parliamentary appearances, May has made a lot of how we just have to get on with it now, get it over with.

That’s the sort of language you use when you’re facing an unpleasant medical procedure, or about to declare bankruptcy, or about to fire someone. It’s not what you say when you think you are at the threshold of a great new future. On Marr, Jeremy Hunt talked about the BoBs, Bored of Brexits who just want it over with. My husband Bob just about choked on his coffee when he heard his name being taken in vain. His attitude is very much that if people are sick of hearing about it, they should demand a People’s Vote so that we can choose to forget the whole Brexit idea.

If  we are making a major life decision, and all we have to say for it is that we need to get it over with, then it’s clear we should think again. Theresa May knows her deal isn’t up to much. If she was confident that it really was the thing to unite the country, she’d have no qualms about putting it to a People’s Vote. The fact that she won’t makes you wonder what it is she’s scared of. But it’s not just about saving her face. Polls are now consistently showing a majority in favour of the EU. She has a moral duty to check that the people back the most major decision this country has made in my lifetime. That is in the national interest.

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

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25 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 25th Nov '18 - 12:05pm

    DUP leader Arlene Foster was also on the Andrew Marr Show today, 25/11/2018. Andrew Marr put to her that Northern Ireland is distinctly different from the rest of the UK. She replied that issues such as divorce and abortion are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is boringly repetitive to say that this body was elected in January 2017, but has not met. Arlene Foster was elected to the Assembly herself.
    We could remember what Sir Humphrey Appleby said about those who claim to be Democratic. He may have been thinking about countries such as the “Democratic Republic of Germany” (East Germany) and/or The Democratic Republic of Congo (not to be confused with the Republic of Congo which is adjacent on the other side of the river Congo).
    Claiming to be democratic without constantly demonstrating the proof of the claim looks like hypocrisy. How can the opinions of the people of Northern Ireland be ascertained unless its elected body actually meets?

  • Caron,

    Her priority is to keep the Tory party a float. They can’t differentiate between Party and Country, to them they are the same. A dangerous, delusional bunch best kept at arms length, alas some of our former leaders failed to see that; hopefully a lesson we have learnt.

  • To which an obvious reply is,if the EU is so great why wasn’t there a vote on joining it in the first place or even one on the Lisbon treaty.
    Imagine not moving just because leaving causes the neighbours feel betrayed.

  • David Evans 25th Nov '18 - 1:32pm

    Glenn – “Imagine not moving just because leaving causes the neighbours (to sic.)feel betrayed?” and the tenuous relevance of this to Brexit is?

  • John Marriott 25th Nov '18 - 1:34pm

    OK. The ‘deal’ is dished in the House of Commons. May stays on, promising to go back to Brussels to ‘have another go’. OR she resigns, makes way for another Tory, OR the government, new or old, loses of vote of no confidence, Labour manages to cobble together an alliance of sorts to form a government, promising ‘let us be VERY CLEAR’ to go back to Brussels, to quote Donald Trump, to negotiate ‘a sweet deal’, OR all of the previous fail and parliament votes to hold a ‘Peoples’ Vote’ aka EU Referendum #3.

    So, what do you think our ‘friends’ in the EU will be doing all this time while we sort out where we are going? Let’s suppose any number of these possibilities actually happen. Whichever takes place will surely require an extension/withdrawal/suspension (I’m sure that ‘Michael 1’ knows the correct word) of Article 50. And what about the European Parliamentary elections?

    Let’s suppose that the EU plays ball ( goodness me, they must be getting pretty fed up with us by now), suspends the EU elections, telling the other 27 members that they can’t have our seats just yet, I know that you can’t organise a proper referendum in five minutes, nor can you change a government in the same amount of time. What if a ‘Peoples’ Vote’ results in a narrow vote for Remain? Will the Brexiteers go away? As Brenda of Bristol might say, “You’re joking”!

    Fiddling while Rome burns? Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? Hubris? Entitlement? As they say, we are where we are – and, to a great extent it’s own fault.

  • Barry Lofty 25th Nov '18 - 1:48pm

    If the only choice for the country is Mrs Mays halfway house or the vision put forward by Messrs Johnson, Rees Mogg and Farage, the people of the UK are in for a very difficult future we can only hope our MP,s can see the light and demand a new referendum on the subject, or is that just wishful thinking??

  • David Evans
    It was a tongue in cheek reference to the main article’s marriage analogy. To be honest
    I don’t see multi national business deals or the EU as in anyway like marriage. I think the attempt to personalise the dealing of diplomats, lawyers and ministers in terms of relationships is a misleading. But it has a broad rhetorical sweep.
    So if the EU are “neighbours” or leaving the EU is a “divorce” then to me you could say Britain is simply moving house. The point being that it’s about as valid an analogy as marriage is.

  • I look forward to Glen and his fellow Brexiteers attempting to move the UK. Keep rowing chaps, you’ll soon have us of the coast of America.

  • Yeovil Yokel 25th Nov '18 - 2:41pm

    frankie – you’ve inadvertently touched upon one of my major concerns about Brexit, which is little-mentioned on LDV or elsewhere: the more we distance ourselves from Europe, the even closer we become to the US, which is not where I want to see my country going. Our industries and institutions (eg the NHS) will be ripe for the plucking, and I’m not just talking about chlorinated chicken.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Nov '18 - 2:43pm

    @Yeovil Yokel

    “the even closer we become to the US, which is not where I want to see my country going”

    Seconded

  • Assuming that the current “deal” is defeated in Parliament, we appear to be faced with a choice of a second (or third counting 1975) referendum or a general election. If a pollster was to ask my opinion, I would strongly go with the former. Another general election before the EU/UK relationship is settled would replace one collection of warring (and in many cases, sadly self-serving) politicians with another lot, but a referendum (or “people’s vote”) would have a much greater potential to settle the matter. Perhaps it should just be the same question though – leave or remain – but it would be a better informed choice this time, without the lies told on both sides last time, most of which have been shown up since. Everyone would have to agree to let it go after that, though, whatever the outcome, so we can all get on with our lives!

  • John Marriott 25th Nov '18 - 4:58pm

    Anyone would think, reading some of the comments on this thread, that we had all the time in the world to get it right. We don’t. The clock (or is it a time bomb?) is ticking and the alarm is set to go off at the end of next March. On the other hand, like Bobby Ewing in ‘Dallas’, am I going to wake up soon and realise that the past two years never actually happened? There’s a big world out there that has moved on since we were top dogs and it’s about time that both sides of the argument realised that.

  • This is such a critical moment. Tessa No-mates is really isolated now, and her deal can’t possibly get through parliament. Lots of Tory and Labour backbenchers are reportedly saying behind the scenes that this deal is worse than staying in the EU. A Peoples Vote is within reach, but we need to make the case like never before.
    So I make no apology for repeating myself here: Everyone reading this should write to your MP NOW and tell them you want a PV. https://www.writetothem.com/ Even if you’ve written to them before, write again. And then get all your pro-EU friends and family to do the same, and get your local party secretary to send that link round all your local party members.

  • PS In addition to emailing your MP, you can also donate to the Peoples Vote campaign. It’s important – they need every penny they can get.
    https://www.peoples-vote.uk/crowdfunder?utm_campaign=brussels_grieve_251118&utm_medium=email&utm_source=in

  • John Roffey 25th Nov '18 - 6:04pm

    I guess the Establishment and many politicians would be concerned about a second referendum [after TM’s deal has been rejected by the HofC] – as the choices would be the TM Deal, No Brexit or No Deal – the decision would be quite clear and could hardly be not implemented.

    One of the central problems is the clash between what the voters want [likely still to be to leave] and what most MPs want – to remain in the EU. With ‘Project Fear’ fraying at the edges – a referendum may well result in ‘No Deal’ – and the Establishment and the political class could do nothing about it.

  • William Fowler 26th Nov '18 - 9:13am

    Assuming Mrs May is successful in getting more MP’s on her side, the LibDems may end up in a position to kill or support this deal in parliament – the LibDems need to support the deal but demand a People Vote as the price for doing that. The vote would be remain versus May’s deal and there would be three months to organize it rather than six, doable I think.
    I don’t know if Sir Vince and the MP’s need to go back to the membership to get approval, if so they need to do so now and announce their intention to the media – they might finally break through the media with the concept of rescuing the country from itself. It would then leave Labour looking rather daft, always a good idea.

  • John Marriott 26th Nov '18 - 9:30am

    @John Roffey
    So go with the ‘deal’ you’ve got. If the EU and the CBI can live with it, it stops Free Movement of People, it gives the U.K. control of its waters, it keeps us in the Single Market and the Customs Union, it allows us to strike ‘new trade deals’, what is not to like? Oh, I forgot, it makes us a ‘law taker’ rather than a ‘law maker’ and it doesn’t solve the ‘Irish Border Question’. Welcome to our vassal state! Let’s not forget that we still have to iron out a permanent arrangement, which could take a few years yet. It gives us precious time to decide what we really want to do and would stop a ‘no deal’ at the end of March. Perhaps, after we see how negotiations post March progress, we could then have a Peoples’ Vote’ further down the line. Quite frankly, given that the country is still fairly evenly divided between Remain and Leave and, as I said earlier, the clock is ticking, do we realistically have an alternative?

  • Sandra Hammett 26th Nov '18 - 11:22am

    With Theresa ‘I need a legacy that isn’t just the Hostile Environment’ May and Jeremy ‘I might have grudgingly voted remain’ Corbyn both unwilling to put a People’s Vote to the top of their Christmas wish lists.
    I can see the PM working on the public to accept her deal, many just want Brexit over with and just adapt to the situation. ToryMPs will go along with the deal, to keep their seats and keep Corbyn out of the PM’s. The Michael Goves will be the ultimate winners, agree now and worm your way out later.
    Unless of course we get an election when Corbyn will see his fence sitting finally payoff.

  • @William Fowler

    Wouldn’t it be difficult to avoid including ‘No Deal’ should such a referendum be accepted?

    WTO rules is what a significant number of Brexiteers want – if there were to be a second referendum – how would the exclusion of this option be justified?

  • @John Marriott

    If the ‘TM Deal’ is accepted – the EU would not be obliged to heed the result of any subsequent referendum held in the UK.

    It is because this deal obliges us to dance to the EU’s tune that it is rejected by the majority in the HofC.

    ‘No Deal’ is the route to achieving a better deal – as we are seeing.

  • John Marriott 26th Nov '18 - 1:20pm

    @John Roffey @ Sandra Hammett
    What makes us Brits think that the EU, let alone the world, is prepared to wait while we make up our minds? “No deal is the route to achieving a better deal”. Are you serious? “Agree now and worm your way out later”. No, agree now and then the real negotiations begin. That’s as far as I would go at present.

    Nobody seems to be bothered that, whatever happens in the House of Commons next month, we have only got around three months to sort things out if Mr Roffey is not to get a late Christmas present. Talking of Christmas, perhaps we should seek the services of Santa Claus? For anyone who can visit every house in the world in under 24 hours, getting a better deal, a no deal or another Referendum by the 29th March should be no sweat.

  • @John Marriott
    Extension/Suspension/Abandonment of Article 50.
    1/2

    There are some useful articles at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/article-50-route-to-a-second-referendum/ and https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/uktpo/2017/03/17/can-a-notification-under-article-50-teu-be-unilaterally-withdrawn/

    These are all different things.

    If there is UNANIMOUS agreement among the EU27
    ————————————————————————–

    The starting point is that we leave 2 years after invoking article 50 on March 29th – deal or no deal. But under Article 50, the EU27 can agree to extend this if they all agree unanimously. That is if they agree to extend it on March 28th we will not have left the EU. The extension will be for a specified period or until a withdrawal agreement comes into force so if May’s deal was endorsed we could leave fairly quickly. There is a question of whether they would vote unanimously to extend it but it is I would suggest highly, highly likely. Firstly they would not want to be seen to go against democratic processes, secondly they want us in the EU, and thirdly they are happy at the moment with us in the EU and wouldn’t want to kick out a member against its wishes.

    Suppose we voted to Remain before March 29th – could we stay in – rather than leaving and re-joining because the Article 50 was underway – even if the EU27 were unanimously in favour of us remaining?

    Here you will see from the articles the situation is a little less clear. It is something the European Court for Justice is determining and it is thought is that it is a very pragmatic court and will decide it can. But there is a way out which is the EU27 agreeing to extend the Article 50 process either for a very long time (as it can under Article 50) to sort this out or indefinitely.

    So having a referendum either before or after March 29th and staying in is NOT a problem – most likely – if the EU27 UNANIMOUSLY agree it.

  • 2/2

    What if the EU27 do NOT unanimously agree it?
    ——————————————————————–

    Can the UK unilaterally withdrawal from the article 50 process to allow a referendum (or indeed more negotiation) to happen? The lawyers are in some disagreement over this. My feeling is that we can but this is being determined in the European Court case which as I say is thought to be pragmatic.

    Of course if this does prove to be the case and no agreement on a deal is reached in Parliament by March 29th then the Government could stop the process itself to avoid us crashing out without a deal – and there would presumably be a majority in Parliament to tell it to do so.

    The upshot is that if the Government so choose and May does NOT (for her own reasons!) there is quite a lot of time to have a referendum (or indeed negotiate a better deal)

  • John Marriott 26th Nov '18 - 4:02pm

    @Michael1
    I knew you would have the answer. The party should give you a job as Fact Finder General!

    Seriously, though, there isn’t much time to get in all you suggest by 29 March. I can’t help thinking that the 27 must be secretly and, in some cases, not so secretly, what we are playing at on these islands – and, for once, I think I’ve chosen the right verb! I see it’s kicking off between Russia and Ukraine again, which could potentially make our own local difficulties look like rather small beer.

  • :)! Lol! The wonders of the internet!

    It does I think give more time and more options than I think tend to be widely talked about. It means that any time up to 10.59 on March 29th the UK could withdraw from the agreement – most probably unilaterally but most certainly with the unanimous agreement of the EU27.

    The difficulty is that both the European Commission and the UK government have said this is the final best agreement on offer. But the European Commission is not the EU27 nation states and the Government is not the UK parliament.

    So if Parliament doesn’t vote to back any option which looks likely, it could then instruct the British Government to withdraw from/extend the Article 50 process. Either unilaterally or probably go back and get an extension unanimously from the EU27 nation states. They don’t want us crashing out without a deal and would want to help out a member state – especially as this would come from a democratic Parliament and also because they might need to be helped out in the future. This would most likely be backed by the DUP and (most likely) the Lib Dems, the SNP and possibly Labour or a sizeable chunk of Labour MPs and Tory MPs who don’t want us crashing out.

    Of course it doesn’t resolve the issue only kicks it further down the road but it does mean not resolving the issue before March does NOT mean crashing out with no deal if we get an extension. It also means that you could construct a Parliamentary majority for a People’s Vote in say February if Parliament has not resolved the issue.

    I think BTW that the European elections are something of a red herring. If we are still in the EU in June we have a right legally to take part. I am not an expert on the electoral systems of all 27 EU states but they are all conducted by PR so in the most part it will just mean different numbers of people being elected from large-ish regions and indeed just reverting back to what would have happened.

    I think though it could be a good election for us (and indeed UKIP) as it becomes a referendum on a people’s vote.

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