Dick Newby: We will not rest until we have stopped Brexit

In the final throws of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, MPs were left focusing on just one issue – the significance of just two words in relation to a parliamentary Motion that the Government would bring forward in the event of ‘no deal’ with the EU on the term of Brexit.  

The two words were “neutral terms”—a phrase, incidentally, which most of us have never heard before. The view of the Lords was that “neutral terms” would prevent the Commons having the opportunity to express a view on the merits of the Government reaching no deal in the Brexit negotiations, and on what should be done next. The Government argued that their formulation was necessary to preserve the constitutional role of Parliament and that anything else would mandate the Government in completely unacceptable ways.

Between the Bill leaving the House of Lords on Monday evening and it returning to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon, the Government clearly thought deeply about this matter and realised that their understanding of parliamentary procedure on Monday was flawed. They produced a Written Ministerial Statement which, in lay man’s terms, says that it will be up to the Speaker to ​decide whether or not any government Motion would be amendable, and that, in any event, there is nothing to stop the Commons debating any Motion that they want to on this issue. We have since seen a battle of spin as to whether this represents a significant climbdown by the Government or whether winning the vote represents a victory. 

I sincerely wish that Dominic Grieve had supported his own amendment on Wednesday. But if I am disappointed, neither the Government nor Parliament can take any satisfaction from what happened. 

This week’s events demonstrate the contempt in which the Government hold Parliament. First, they try to muzzle it by putting “neutral terms” into the Bill. Then, fearing defeat, they publish a Written Ministerial Statement just minutes before the debate in the Commons which rips up their earlier justification for using the “neutral terms” ploy. At every turn they demonstrated their only consistent characteristic: the determination to survive to another day. If there were a World Cup in kicking the can down the road, the Government would win it hands-down. But the can cannot be kicked down the road for ever.

The Government are going into next week’s European Council still with no policy, vision or credibility. Brexit ranks way down the list of the EU’s priorities, while inevitably remaining the consuming, paralysing preoccupation here. As the Withdrawal Bill goes on to the statute book, the Government cannot answer any of the key questions which Brexit poses. For that they bear a heavy responsibility, and for that, in time, they will be harshly judged.

Liberal Democrats believe that Brexit will make us poorer, less tolerant, less secure and less influential. We believe it would be an act of national self-harm. We have fought with every breath to amend the Withdrawal Bill but in reality we are still in the early skirmishes of the overall Brexit battle. The Government will be hugely relieved to have survived this far. They may deserve a rest but they are going to need it, because we will not rest until we have stopped Brexit.

* Dick Newby is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

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  • William Fowler 23rd Jun '18 - 11:39am

    I want to stay in but until the LibDems offer a solution to the freedom of movement problem then it is unlikely there will be a majority for staying in.

    Yes, Mrs May’s one talent is for holding on to power.

  • What freedom of movement problem? The one that allows Brits to work anywhere in the EU that will be lost after Brexit! Or are we now pandering to racists?
    There are already limits to Freedom of movement that our government has never implemented to do with how long EU nationals can remain in another country without getting work.
    No. The real problem that people don’t want to mention is that Freedom of Movement is blamed for black immigration and that it suited successive governments to let that be believed, because it let them off the hook of explaining that, actually, they were responsible for non EU immigration. They knew of course that it was a vital part of the UK economy, but they could avoid being blamed for it.
    Instead of pandering to the racists we need to be making the case for immigration and explaining that it is not only desirable but necessary to run the NHS, farming, social care and much more and making it clear that Freedom of Movement is a two way street and that something like 2 million Brits benefit from it as opposed to rather less EU nationals in the UK.

  • Freedom of movement will stop the exit to brexit. It’s typical of Liberal Democrats who have become the UKIP of the left not to understand any of the drivers of brexit. Why should they – many are in the top stratas of society and have no knowledge of what happens to those at the bottom end of society?

    Care homes? Farm work? Easy – international work permits like they have anywhere else outside the EU.

    If free movement is so integral to our economy that will mean a baseline population figure of at least 72million by 2048. If our economy is predicated on this increase in population then maybe we should be told with a clear plan for our public services, jobs, environment and housing.

    We are getting to a situation where there’s a huge vacuum at the top of politics that could be filled with someone that makes Gerard Batten look like a cuddly left wing teddy bear. And still the Lib Dems go blindly on not realising that without policies that address the bottom end of society they will not get a brexit bonus.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jun '18 - 4:45pm

    James: of course we need policies that address ALL our citizens. Freedom of Movement has nothing to do with the problems people at the bottom of our society are suffering. Jobs are not being denied to UK citizens, but they are low paid and someone has to do them. Tackle the problem of low pay, don’t try and blame EU citizens working on our country. EU workers coming here to do the vital jobs do so because no-one else is doing them and we should be grateful that they do.
    Perhaps you should find out what our policies are because we have lots of them designed to create a more equal society where no-one will be enslaved by poverty ignorance or conformity.
    It’s just that the urgency of fighting BREXIT under which those at the bottom end of our society will suffer the worst overshadows everything else.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jun '18 - 4:51pm

    Richard O’Neill: I would leave the decision to Parliament. After all, under our constitution they are the only people who can legally make the decision. Referenda are always fraught with problems, because voters don’t often answer the question asked, but another one or an aspect of the question.
    If the British electorate were to accept the terms of a deal organised by Mrs May we would have to accept it. I hope and pray that they would realise just how appalling the deal is and reject it. I do accept that the pro EU camp are going to have to be a whole lot more effective than they were in 2016 if we are to stay in the EU.
    Just as an aside. I am reliably informed that the number of UK citizens applying for German passports is at its highest level ever, second only to the Turks. So as the saying goes, many of our citizens are voting with their feet.

  • The reason that there are low paid jobs is because there are people willing to do them. If there was full employment and not a pool of people in the EU to come here to work there would not be any low paid jobs only lower paid jobs.

    So lets us have a policy to have set in law regional Minimum Wages (Living Wages) set at 70% of that regions median earnings. Let us have a policy of convincing the EU to deal with the economic pressures causing people to leave the country of their birth. Let us have a policy of full employment and let us convince the EU that it should have the same policy.

    If people are forced to move for economic reasons that is not a freedom!

  • Well done Dick and well done to all our other parliamentarians. There have been times in the last 8 years (specifically between 2010 and 2015) that I have not been particularly proud to be a LibDem. But our position on Brexit – before, during and since the referendum – is one that makes me feel very proud. Whether we win or not, I want to be able to say my party really did everything we could to stop it. I believe Brexit really will be a calamity and in future years people will wonder how it was allowed to happen. We will be able to say at the very least that we fought the good fight, and unlike others we did so as a united party led from the top.

  • William Fowler 24th Jun '18 - 7:05am

    Freedom of movement is fantastic for individuals, the probem arises when individuals are able to tap into an extraordinarily generous benefit/tax credit system in the UK to the detriment of the locals (not enough net tax revenue from low skilled immigrants and immigrant families taking social housing).

    Yes, the UK could toughen up requirements etc BUT it is now not a matter of fiddling around, you have to convince a large tranche of the population that something meaningful can be enacted and it has to be done before another referendum because otherwise they will say it is all promises that can be changed on a whim. Cameron got kneecapped in one TV program when someone shouted loudly at him (most uncivilized, for a moment the then PM looked like he was going to burst into tears) that the EU could just turn around and change things, for which he had no answer.

  • @ TonyH

    If we assume that Brexit will be bad economically for the UK (and I think we both do), we have been a failure on Brexit and we will have failed the British public. You are correct we have been united in carrying out a policy which failed in 2016 and even if there is a referendum next year we would most like lose again. We have failed to address what a majority of British people dislike about being in the EU and failed to convince any of the other 27 to reform the EU to make our winning a future referendum more likely. And this is a failure of our party leadership.

  • Mick Taylor 24th Jun '18 - 5:47pm

    William Fowler: What propaganda have you been reading? EU workers are not automatically entitled to benefits and if they are then that’s one of the areas the UK can do something about. It’s simply not fiddling to apply the EU rules because it means EU workers have to return home if they can’t get work and they can be restricted in benefit entitlement too.
    The problem is that you and far too many others have been systematically lied to about Freedom of Movement for decades. The UK should enforce the rules and tell people clearly and simply what they are and I believe that will convince some, enough possibly to win a referendum once the terms or the deal are known. We’re never going to win over hard line brexiteers, but given the closeness of the split in our society over EU membership we don’t have to. We need to persuade those who voted to leave for other reasons than EU membership (like giving the Tories a bloody nose) that membership is too important for such gestures and we also need to persuade those who didn’t vote to do so next time. Also, it is a simple fact that the electorate won’t be the same in 2018/19 as it was in 2016 because more young people (generally pro EU) will have got the vote and some elderly pro Brexit voters will have died.
    So Vince was right. Keep fighting, keep hoping and we will win!

  • Peter Martin 25th Jun '18 - 10:12am

    “How can we ensure that all British expats. in the EU have a vote in the final referendum?”

    Persuade them to move back, living and paying taxes in the UK, perhaps?

    The UK government is pretty generous – I’d say over generous – in allowing so-called ex pats a vote for 15 years after they’ve left. Surely there has to come a point when they should be voting in their country of residence rather than their country of origin.

  • Peter Martin 25th Jun '18 - 10:24am

    @ Michael BG,

    “Let us have a policy of convincing the EU to deal with the economic pressures causing people to leave the country of their birth”

    Yes Lib Dems should have policy, as a matter of principle, even though it’s highly unlikely it will do any good. It means convincing German taxpayers that EU taxes should be net collected in the wealthier parts of the EU/eurozone and net spent in the poorer parts.

    Just like the same as happens in the USA, so it’s not a particularly socialist proposal.

  • John Barrett 25th Jun '18 - 5:22pm

    Dick Newby “This week’s events demonstrate the contempt in which the Government hold Parliament.”

    Unfortunately, unelected Members of the House of Lords will not restore trust in Parliament, especially when they attempt to reverse the vote made in any referendum.

    If the Scottish Independence Referendum had gone the other way and the people of Scotland had voted for Independence, can you imagine the outrage if the Lords tried to reverse the result and stop Independence, of even to promote another vote on the issue.

    The fact that the result of the Scottish Referendum is what the party wanted and we are happy that that is the end of it, and we oppose any more referenda on Independence.

    While the EU Referendum was not what the party wanted and so we are using the unelected Lords to have another go at changing minds of the voters and the party now campaigns for another vote on the issue.

    If there is another referendum, and the Lords are not happy with the next result, (whatever it is) are they really proposing that they should have the power to press the Commons to ignore the result and stop the will of the majority in any vote?

    For all the failings in the referendum in Scotland and the one on membership of the EU, or in the House of Commons, at least those making the decision had a democratic mandate.

    Many people often ask, ” why are we not connecting with the wider public? I think that much of what we are now doing and the fact that many of those speaking on behalf of the party in the media are unelected, may well be one of our problems.

  • David Evans 25th Jun '18 - 7:24pm

    I regretfully rather agree with John Barrett, except for his last paragraph. “Many people often ask, ” why are we not connecting with the wider public? I think that much of what we are now doing and the fact that many of those speaking on behalf of the party in the media are unelected, may well be one of our problems.”

    It isn’t the fact that “many of those speaking on behalf of the party in the media are unelected.” It’s the fact that “Those who led the party from 2010 to 2015 first made it untrustworthy and by their refusal to even consider change allowed the electorate to make it irrelevant.

  • Teresa Wilson 25th Jun '18 - 7:48pm

    Peter Martin

    The British government has already accepted that British citizens should have a vote for life. It’s no longer an argument that has to be won but a question of ‘when, not if’. David Cameron made a promise before the 2015 election that the bill would be enacted in the next parliament, and the only reason it was not done earlier was lack of time. He failed, unfortunately to get it onto the statute books before the referendum. Theresa May repeated the promise that it would be enacted in time for the 2020 general election, then called a snap election so overseas voters lost out again.

    Whether you agree with the decision or not, surely there was a case for allowing UK citizens who had made their lives in other EU countries a vote in a referendum affecting their future? Especially as some non-UK citizens living in the UK for only 6 months were allowed to vote?

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