Europe and democratic consent

Although the text is yet to be chosen there will be a policy debate at our virtual conference (have you registered yet) on our Europe policy going forward.

The question is whether to adopt an immediate ‘rejoin’ policy, in the spirit of our ‘revoke’ policy at the last election on the simple grounds that we regret leaving the EU and would like to rejoin it, or whether it is a better idea to seek a closer relationship with the EU as a short term goal and to leave rejoining for a time when the prospects of success are better.

I am reminded of a particular conversation I had on a doorstep in Sheffield Hallam in the 2019 election with a voter who was wavering between us and Labour. She wanted to remain, but felt instinctively that the referendum policy was more democratic than the revoke policy. We talked about this and it wasn’t insurmountable. She then asked how, if we got our way and revoked Article 50, how this would reunite this divided country. This was a toughie.

I suspect we lost this voter in the end, just as we narrowly lost the seat. What I take from that experience is a reminder of something we liberals have known all along: the importance of process, specifically democratic process in legitimising actions and giving those on the losing side, nonetheless, a reason to be content.

The revoke policy might have worked, it was rationally justifiable, but it didn’t press the right buttons and it didn’t work. Even many hardcore remainers abandoned us once Labour’s referendum policy was in place. (I doubt Corbyn would have delivered a victory for remain in any such referendum, but at the last chance saloon we cling to such things.)

So the question to ask ourselves is: what is the process to re-establish democratic consent to membership of the EU? The answer we tried last time was to stick it in our manifesto and try to win. But not enough remain voters thought that was an appropriate procedure. Not enough voters greatly want to revisit such a painful and divisive time. It didn’t seem like a good idea to Mrs Smith of Totley.

We are not getting anywhere on this without both a process and an objective each with widespread popular support. I don’t have a process to offer. I certainly don’t want another referendum until such a time that it would be won. But I don’t think we, the Liberal Democrats, need to prove our European credentials to anyone.

What we do need to show is a willingness to listen, to get the process right, to work with others, and to put these practical steps before the symbolism of a ‘rejoin’ policy.

And membership of the EU is one part of a larger fight for peace, co-operation and free trade. Let’s never forget this bigger picture.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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42 Comments

  • This may be the situation in England, but there are other alternatives in Scotland. It’s all a matter of what the priorities are.

  • jayne mansfield 6th Sep '20 - 5:29pm

    I am a European.

    The Covid pandemic has simply strengthened my belief that we need to discuss, collaborate and reach an agreement based on shared research, analysis and a shared programme amongst our neighbouring liberal democracies for dealing with the pandemic.

    I would have liked a second referendum on whether the first ( based on lies) was the settled view of the electorate. Now I want parties who share my view that Brexit is a monumental act of self harm to stop playing party political games, grow up and put national interest before personal political interest.

    Am I confident that this will happen? Not really.

  • @ joe Otton,
    Sorry joe, The idea that the Liberal Democrats will have a majority in Parliament .

    I do believe that had there been a second referendum, the more informed view , even then, would have been that it would have been to remain.

    What went wrong? Has there really been an honest ( and potential brutal), analysis your party’s strategy ? Have lessons been learned?

    I and others have no doubt that Johnson and his fellow incompetents will blame CoVId for the negative consequences of Brexit and that this narrative will be supported by some sections of the media.

    It seems like a good time for a united political reminder for the population, , of Johnson’s hubristic predictions of the outcome of Brexit as we hurtle towards a no deal.

  • The EU seems unwilling to recognise our new found sovereignty, which is likely to force a no deal. They insist on what is effectively the status quo. I don’t know whether this is brinkmanship, misjudgment or what, but does not bode well for a close and trusting relationship.

    I mention it here because it takes two to have a close and trusting relationship but it seems to be the last thing that the EU wants right now.

  • David Allen 6th Sep '20 - 7:06pm

    “I don’t think we, the Liberal Democrats, need to prove our European credentials to anyone.”

    Disagree. The average voter gives poiltical parties in general, and the Lib Dems in particular, very little thought. If the Lib Dems convery the message “Brexit is all over now, we lost, we should accept that for now”, then the voters will think “So, they know they made a big fuss about nothing, now they’re burying their heads, let’s happily let them do that. we can ignore them.”

    “I certainly don’t want another referendum until such a time that it would be won.”

    Of course not! But what’s wrong with “We believe Britain’s place is in Europe. We think Brexit will be a disaster. We are confident that people will find that out, and in a few years time, huge numbers of people will be clamouring to rejoin. When that happens, we will be there for them. Right now, we will just have to watch how Brexit goes ahead, and put forward proposals to reduce the serious problems that it will cause for Britain.”

  • I don’t see any chance of a successful campaign to rejoin the E.U. anytime soon, especially if the terms included, as they likely would, joinging Schengan and the Euro.
    Persuading a majority to rejoin will be even more difficult if, as seems likely the Scottish people finally choose independence before any further vote on the E.U.
    The fact that the party has to, almost by default, hope that Brexit is a major disaster so that ‘huge numbers of people will be clamouring to return’ is not a good look and will not endear you to many people outside the party and you already have most of those votes.
    Rather than waiting and hoping to benefit from a disaster why not put your money where your mouth is and campaign for immediate rejoin regardless of the success or otherwise of Brexit. If you loose the argument again at least you keep some authenticity.

  • jayne Mansfield 6th Sep '20 - 8:01pm

    @ Pete,
    It was our choice to leave a ‘close and trusting relationship’ with the EU – our choice.

    If it is not working out as promised, well, blame those who made the promises, because if they don’t come to pass, the promises were clearly baseless.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Sep '20 - 9:37pm

    Joe is right to question whether we should campaign now to rejoin the EU. We cannot rejoin without either a referendum or a new government with a large majority win on the basis of rejoining and there is no appetite for either at the moment. To put rejoin the EU as a campaign slogan at the moment would be the wrong way to persuade people to change their minds.
    Politics is about both ideals and practicalities. There are so many other issues to make the focus of our current campaigning and where Brexit impacts these issues we can point that out. We are more likely to be listened to if we approach people with issues that are uppermost in their minds, while dropping steadily any relevant arguments about working more closely with the EU. Not campaigning now to rejoin does not mean closing off opportunities as they arise to point out to people why we would be better in the EU. This subtle difference of approach is part of what Joe means about practical and ethical process, part of the process of listening to people as Ed so rightly says, rather than being perceived as ignoring people.
    The approach we took under Joe Swinson was such a disaster, we would be foolish not to learn from that. However, one reason we lost the referendum was because we and other remainers had not shown people reasons to stay several years before 2016; meanwhile the Brexiteers were pumping out negative messages about the EU very frequently, even before they campaigned for the referendum. So let’s quietly and constantly drip feed people with positive points about being close to the EU at every opportunity.

  • Peter Watson 6th Sep '20 - 11:48pm

    I think it’s difficult to justify a policy to rejoin the EU under a Lib Dem government, just as it was difficult to justify a policy to revoke Brexit under a Lib Dem government, while at the same time demanding electoral reform of a system which allows an unrepresentative minority of the electorate to wield that sort of power! It also makes it easy for the party’s opponents to renew their attacks that it is undemocratic and obsessed by Europe.
    Whilst it is a bit of a wimp-out, a policy of seeking a close relationship with the EU while aspiring to rejoin when the time is right might be a pragmatic way to confirm the party’s pro-EU credentials without handing ammunition to the other side, and it might allow more space for the Lib Dems to communicate their other policies and their vision for the country inside or outside the EU.

  • Rejoin has to be through a referendum not through a unilateral decision. If it took place in say 2028 this would be 12 years since the 2016 vote , surely long enough for it to be accepted as legitimate by all sides.

    I think the real question is would be a red line in negotiations in 2024?

    And should it be a two stage process ie if we are told we have to join the Euro and Schengen can we have a second vote?

    I personally think all major constitutional referendums should be a two stage process one vote to start the ball rolling and another to rubber stamp the final deal.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '20 - 12:38am

    Saying we believe in Europe, while not seeking to rejoin right now, is totally different from the benighted arrogant Revoke policy. It’s a very common political stance. The Tories are forever saying they believe in tax cuts, only not now. People say they believe in multilateral disarmament, but not now. Lib Dems might say they want a PR referendum, but not right now. (And St Augustine said Lord let me be chaste, but not yet!)

    When Johnson has just said he will break international law and force a no-deal Brexit, this is no time to stop trumpeting our belief that Brexit will be a disaster. The proof may be only three months away!

  • To me the problem is that the policy of the party was incomprehensible to many people. It was certainly incomprehensible to me. I could not, and cannot, see the real support for the European project in the party. The lack of interest in the European project continues.
    One of the two issues which we are told are stumbling blocks to an agreement with the EU on trade is fishing. The EU say they need an agreement because we need to conserve fish stocks. This seems sensible to me. The fish do not recognise boundaries in the North Sea or anywhere else. However the government are allowed to get away with silly arguments about sovereignty. It seems no one is prepared to point out that we all share the same planet.

  • If we were to rejoin it would be from a position of weakness (wrecked economy according to most LibDems) and would have to agree to join the Euro (Sterling ruined even further than Gordon Brown managed if the economy is wrecked), so whilst you might get many to agree that it was a mistake, you would never get a majority to rejoin the EU, it is by its very definition a pointless pursuit (if the UK is not wrecked then our success will be used as a banner to stay out of the EU).

    The EU will not change its view that if you want to have free access to the single market, you have to accept FOM, therefore if you want closer ties to the EU the LibDems have to promote the idea that there should be a five-ten year residence test before any elements of welfare/in-work benefits can be accessed. They have to do this if they want to get the support of voters for closer ties with the EU but is a concept that is so ill-Liberal that it can not be countenanced.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with promoting Liberal concepts that have little voter support but it does not make for a viable political party.

  • Andrew Tampion 7th Sep '20 - 7:46am

    As far as Brexit is concerned I think Sir Keir Starmer has the right approach of wait and see. If Brexitis perceived as a success or being neutral in effect then campaigning to rejoin in the short to medium term will just make us look silly. If on the other hand Brexit is perceived as a failure then campaigning to rejoin is possible: provided that the tone is “this is what we feared would happen” and not “we told you so but you didn’t listen.”
    Rejoining will be made more difficult because of Shengen and the Euro. Another difficult might be fishing if the UK becomes a Independent Coastal State. Our fisherman got a very bad deal in the 1970’s and if we did rejoin then it would be wise to ensure that the CFP is reformed and that a greater share of the catch under the CFP goes to British boats, especially small inshore boats. Particularly if we want to improve our chances of recovering seats in Sourth West England.
    Turning to the reasons for the Brexit vote I believe that the failure to obtain democratic consent through referenda at each treaty change was a major cause. In particular Gordon Browns failure to hold a referendum over the Lisbon Treaty was widely perceived as a betrayal of a promise. However that may be my belief is that if a referendum on Lisbon had been held and passed then it would have been much more difficult for Brexiteers to argue their case.
    Finally I think that the use of the word “European” as a synonym for the EU is a mistake. Everyone of us either born in or choosing to livve in Europe is a European and this includes even the most ardent Brexiteers.

  • One thing we can be confident of, and continuing our run of making the wrong decisons at trhe wrong time, is that the Conference will not think of votes just some political purity, that will as usual leave us where we are. We must move on. The world has changed and I am one who has fought for European Unity since I can remember!

  • Christopher Curtis 7th Sep '20 - 9:25am

    This whole discussion sounds to me exactly like the accusation that is often made of us: “If you don’t like our policies and principles, we’ll come up with some more that you might like.”

    Did we not mean any of the things we said about the EU? Did we not mean it when we said that the very best thing for the country and for all of us was to remain members? Did we not mean it when we said that Brexit is and will be an ongoing disaster, not just practically and economically, but because of what is already happening to our rights, the seizing of power by people who do not have the common good in mind and who foster hatred and division as a means of gaining more power?

    If we ever meant any of those things, we can’t accept or come to terms with how things are now, even if half the population disagrees with us. It would be utterly dishonest at a time when honesty is in very short supply. It’s really that simple. We need to say, simply and clearly, that where Johnson and his corrupt regime has already taken us, and is leading us now, is utterly wrong and must be rejected, that we do see the future of the UK as a full and committed member of the EU and that we honestly and genuinely disagree with those who wanted us to leave and that we want to work to re-join.

    In the meantime, while we work to persuade and build an alliance of like-minded people, we will accept where we are to the extent that, as part of an effective opposition to the many evils of the current Conservatives, we will work for the good of the country: seeking practical ways to make life better for people, to insist on fair, sensible and realistic government especially in issues like border control, protecting the rights of everyone who lives here now and those who might still choose to migrate here, preventing the corruption of money laundering and the buying of influence and doing everything we can to foster good jobs and good employers despite the calamity that a minority of people have chosen to inflict on us.

    Of course we must engage with and listen to everyone, perhaps especially those who disagree with our analysis or don’t share our values, but if we are not prepared to believe in what we believe in, and want to compromise everything we stand for in the (usually forlorn) hope of winning power at any cost, we should pack up and go home now.

  • As far as fisheries are concerned there is an obvious need to have an international agreement on fish catch in the waters around the U.K. and the Atlantic coast in general. It seems that there there is agreement that we have a bad deal, but no agreement on what a good deal deal would look like. The Prime Minister get away with saying things about national sovereignty. He obviously has no idea what he wants. However he always seems to get an easy ride.
    By the way the reason we need agreement is that fish do not follow national boundaries when they swim around.
    As far as membership of the EU is concerned we need to focus on talking about the real EU and answering the daft arguments about things like immigration, and point out the real strengths of having a European Union, and recognise that the reason it is not a superstate is that that would need the agreement of all the members countries.

  • Britain’s return to Europe can be divided into three stages:
    1. Stop the movement away from Europe.
    2. Rebuild cooperation without rejoining.
    3. Rejoin.
    The first stage may or may not lead to the second, and the second may or may not lead to the third.
    The Lib-Dems and other pro-Europe groups need to pursue what is possible and can win public support.

  • The Leave vote was partly based on specific arguments and was partly a general protest vote. However, it was also to a large extent based on a feeling widespread mainly in England that England/Britain is simply not part of Europe. Many people think that this is because England/Britain is an island. However, various other countries consider themselves European in spite of being separated from the rest of Europe by water or high mountains. If insular geography made people Euro-sceptic, the Scots would be more Euro-sceptic than the English and the Irish would be more Euro-sceptic than the Scots. Instead we find exactly the opposite. I think the English idea that England/Britain is not part of Europe is actually a result of the popular national identity narrative and version of history, which emphasizes wars and battles against continental enemies: Crecy, Agincourt, Spanish Armada, Trafalgar, Waterloo, the Somme, Dunkirk and D Day. Of course these wars and battles really happened, but they are only part of history. England/Britain always had continental allies as well as continental enemies. English or British royals were always marrying continental royals. Almost every word in the English language is shared with at least some continental languages. All English and British art and architecture shows close connections with the continent.
    Could we find ways to shift the popular identity narrative and version of history in a more internationalist, pro-European direction? Perhaps through education and the mass media? I am afraid it would be very difficult. The militarist version of history is dramatic, exciting and gives a prominent role to the ordinary men who did most of the fighting. Increased promotion of the memory of peaceful relations with the continent would be likely to reach mainly the sort of educated middle class people, who are already pro-Europe. I am afraid it would be more difficult now than several decades ago. The anti-Europe movement is not much more developed. A centre-left attempt to promote a more peacefully oriented version of history would be taken up by the right as a new front in the culture war.

  • Laurence Cox 7th Sep '20 - 11:04am

    Andrew Tampion makes a good point that any rejoining of the EU will mean that we have to give up the £ and adopt the Euro and join the Schengen system. You only have to think for a moment about how our right-wing press will play this to see that such a position would destroy our Party. The symbolism of notes with the Queen’s head on and our ability to commemorate great figures from our past would be lost forever.

    On a more serious economic point, no country that can borrow in its own soverign currency can go bust; the lesson of Greece who gave up their own sovereign currency for the Euro shows that they put themselves at the mercy of international bankers – almost all of their bail-out money ended up in French and German banks – while the Greeks were subject to punishing austerity by the EU, far worse than anything here in the UK. Even Syriza, the Radical Left Coalition that took over the Government of Greece, were unable to stand up against the EU and their financial demands.

  • In the sense that printing too much money can reduce the value of a currency close to zero, countries can indeed go bust – and given that we rely on imports, any further weakening of Sterling will be a disaster for the poor.

    Actually being part of the Euro with strict limits on borrowing would encourage people to vote for the Left because they know their spending spree would be limited and they could not wreck the currency in the same way that Gordon Brown managed.

    Problem that the LibDems have is if they support rejoining the EU or FOM, even if some time in the distant future, they will be panned by press who will say the party can’t be trusted in office because given half a chance it would rejoin the EU ASAP.

    20-30 years distant is possibly the correct time to debate the matter, until then have to enjoy the ride (and I say this as a Remainer).

  • Peter Martin 7th Sep '20 - 12:07pm

    @ Frank West,

    “In the sense that printing too much money can reduce the value of a currency close to zero”

    Only if they spend it. Conceivably the Govt could print £2 trillion worth of bank notes, put it in the secure vaults of the BoE and say “that’s the money needed to ‘pay-off’ the National Debt sorted.”

    If it just stayed there it wouldn’t have the slightest effect on the economy. But if they start spending it, as Mr Rishi Sunak has been doing recently, then inflation will possibly rise and the value of the pound will possibly fall.

    So are you criticising Gordon Brown for allowing inflation to be too high? That’s a valid criticism of any government. Governments can control the inflation rate but they can’t, as the Tories discovered on Black Wednesday, control the exchange rate. The exchange rate will be dependent on the inflation rate in the longer term, but not necessarily always in the short term.

  • Peter Martin 7th Sep '20 - 12:35pm

    @ Laurence Cox,

    “On a more serious economic point…..”

    You’re right about the importance of an independent country being in charge of its own currency. But, politically, the question of the Queen being on the currency is what has really mattered. My mother was 50:50 on EU membership. I’m not sure how she voted but she was quite adamant that she didn’t want pictures of Napoleon or Bismark on our bank notes.

    That was a ‘red line’ for her. Unless the EU adopts the pound too the question of re-entry will be out of the question. Mind you, she’s 94 so many Remainers will be hoping she won’t have any say on any future re-entry. Younger people might not feel quite the same way, but there is an increasing appreciation of the importance of a national currency. Many Germans regret losing their DM. A likely requirement of committing to use the euro would make any question of re-entry out of the question for most voters.

  • Julian Tisi 7th Sep '20 - 12:50pm

    @Joe Otten
    I couldn’t agree more. Revoke was a thoroughly disastrous policy and cost us many votes and seats as even remainers were put off by what they saw was an undemocratic position. There is no contradiction in continuing to say that we believe Britain’s best interests are served by membership of the EU – as I believe we should – but that now is not the right time. Why? Partly because public opinion doesn’t support going through all that again, at least for now. Partly because facts on the ground have changed – we have left now and any rejoin and its terms will have to be negotiated with the EU. Partly also because most voters still don’t really get what our membership of the EU has given Britain. We need to stand up for those things (e.g. freedom to trade, to travel, freedom from unnecessary red tape, even sovereignty over the laws that affect us) – all those things that the EU has given us but which we may lose from next year once we leave the transitional arrangements. If we can move opinion on these things, we might help move public opinion back towards membership of the EU as the best vehicle to deliver those things. Until then we will look like we’re flogging a dead horse and are unable to respect public opinion if we go for rejoin as a policy right now.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '20 - 1:12pm

    This reminds me of the crazy lurch in police policy with regard to accusations of child abuse. Having wrongly disbelieved many victims, they sought to correct their mistakes by adopting the lunatic stance that ALL “victims” must always be believed in future.

    Just as the police were ashamed of their record on child abuse, Lib Dems are in sakcloth and ashes over the “Revoke” policy. And just like the police, they now seem fated to make the crazy lurch toward a policy of “Keen on the EU? Not us, guv…”

    This, when no-deal looms on the horizon, chaos threatens at the ports, and Lib Dems are terrified of daring to say “We told you so”.

    Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Sep '20 - 4:04pm

    Let’s assume we in some years time have an economy that is derailing and it becomes widely acknowledged that this is due to Brexit. The debate would be whether to forge a tighter relationship with a much improved trade deal or apply to rejoin. The former seems more in tune with events so far, more immediate and generally more appealing.

  • Julian Tisi 7th Sep '20 - 4:11pm

    @David Allen
    Lib Dems will always be keen on the EU. But while “we told you so” might make us feel smug about ourselves for having been right when everyone else was wrong it’s hardly the recipe for winning votes, particularly from those amongst the 52% who we need to win around if we’re to have any chance of turning round public opinion.

  • pete 6th Sep ’20 – 7:00pm…………….The EU seems unwilling to recognise our new found sovereignty, which is likely to force a no deal. They insist on what is effectively the status quo. I don’t know whether this is brinkmanship, misjudgment or what, but does not bode well for a close and trusting relationship….I mention it here because it takes two to have a close and trusting relationship but it seems to be the last thing that the EU wants right now………………………..

    After all that has happened since the referendum I’m still none the wiser what this ‘sovereignty’ means in practice..
    The threat to ‘walk away’ has been a regular tactic mooted by the UK; the EU, on the other hand, has consistently spoken of continued negotiation.

    As for your ‘close and trusting relationship’ …The ink is barely dry on Johnson’s signature on the Brexit withdrawal agreement and now Westmister is reneging (sorry, ‘clarifying a few loose ends’) on the agreement…

    Regarding this article…There are four years before the next GE; at least wait until January before forming any plan, let alone putting it forward as policy…

  • Paul Barker 7th Sep '20 - 5:09pm

    This seems to me to be confusing two different issues.
    The first is whether we are open about the fact that we want to Rejoin. I would say we should be honest & upfront about our wish to Rejoin, because Honesty is a Liberal Value & because No-one will believe Us if we try to suggest that we dont want to.

    The question about whether to go for some Halfway House option as well doesnt even arise unless thats what Labour goes for, I am not even sure if theres any point in Conference Voting on that – surely thats a matter of Parliamentary Tactics ?

    On the Referendum point, we should oppose any Referenda on anything, they are only valid where Democracy gas already failed – as in the case of Northern Ireland.

  • From 1999 to 2016 (at least, perhaps still now), it happened to be your policy that the UK should join to single currency, even though the reality was that the public and other parties were not behind it and the time was not right. The party just didn’t make it a central plank of campaigns.

    From the preamble to your constitution
    “We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs …”

    Failing to recognise the referendum result was the betrayal of principles in the preamble.

    On the basis of the previous referendum, the UK continued as a member of the EU and its forerunners from 1976 to 2020 – 44 years. The most recent one should be considered to “count” for at least 10 years before the issue is reopened – otherwise you’re not showing that you believe sovereignty does rest with the people.

    It’s fine to say “We would like to rejoin one day but public won’t ready for the issue to be re-opened within the term of the next parliament.” Doesn’t everyone know that those two things are the truth anyway? Why are you discussing alternatives besides telling the truth?

    A policy like that might also remove some of the huge no-go areas from the map.

  • David Allen 7th Sep '20 - 5:25pm

    “It’s fine to say “We would like to rejoin one day but the public won’t be ready for the issue to be re-opened within the term of the next parliament.” Doesn’t everyone know that those two things are the truth anyway?”

    Amen. And thanks for pointing out the (sad) need to state the blinding obvious!

  • Peter Martin 8th Sep '20 - 10:48am

    @ Nick Barlow,

    “Euro notes don’t feature them or any other people and have pictures of architecture instead”

    This is an interesting point. Is there any other country in the world that has to side step the problem of there being no national heroes they can celebrate on their banknotes? It’s indicative of the EU’s fundamental problem that it is made up of many different nationalities all with their different histories, languages and customs. Trying to unite everyone via the introduction of a common currency when the only thing that might unite us is an appreciation of certain piles of bricks and mortar seems risky in the extreme.

    We’ll see just how risky in the next year or so when huge Covid recovery bills start being presented to taxpayers in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and other relatively wealthy EU countries.

  • David Allen 8th Sep '20 - 8:17pm

    “While “we told you so” might make us feel smug about ourselves for having been right when everyone else was wrong it’s hardly the recipe for winning votes”

    It depends. It will be a bad recipe if that Yougov poll “was Brexit a mistake?” question is still getting less than 60% to 40% agreement. It will be the right recipe if the majority for “it was a mistake” rises above 67% because almost everyone can see that Brexit has gone just as disastrously wrong as we said that it would.

    If that were to happen, Joe Otten’s process questions above would vanish like a puff of smoke, in much the same way that the long-standing objections to German reunification vanished in 1990. A wall had fallen, the political imperative was clear, Helmut Kohl seized it, and the massive difficulties of process simply had to be worked through later. Brexit might – Might – be reversed in the same way.

    I’m not particularly optimistic that that will happen. Before CoVID, it might have stood a fair chance. But now, chaos due to Brexit can be hidden by chaos due to CoVID. If that happens, the only sensible Lib Dem approach will be to admit that we must keep our longstanding European ambitions on ice, and (like Labour), merely argue for rational co-operation with the EU.

    In that event, I think the Lib Dems will finally follow Change UK into oblivion. They will then have nothing left to offer that Labour (or, to some voters, the Greens) can’t offer better. The European issue is the only issue that the public now recognise as making the Lib Dems a relevant political party.

  • jayne mansfield 9th Sep '20 - 6:08pm

    The pro Brexit parties were united and prepared to do what it takes to get a Brexit majority.

    The anti Brexiteer parties were not. Unlike the pro brexiteers, they were not prepared to hold their noses because staying in the union was less important than party political considerations.

  • Just because the ‘Revoke’ policy was one rushed through in a bit of a panic and not ‘sold’ particularly well does not mean that the Lib Dems should run away from the Europe issue for a few years or adopt the woolly ‘closest relationship’ waffle.

    In terms of ‘uniting the country’, please remember that roughly half of those who voted in the referendum (approximately equal numbers on each side) did not have any strong view on the matter (like Boris Johnson when he drafted his two articles??) either way and/or did not have a clue what the issues were. Many of these did not know why they voted the way they did – they just felt that they had to because, after all, if it wasn’t important why did the country have a referendum. So, what is really needed is to unite the ‘unbovvered’ with those who have tried to keep Britain in.

    The only reason why there was and is such a powerful wave of ‘get on and get it over with’ among the population at large is that so many people still do not have a clue either what the real issues on the EU and evidence on them are – and no politicians really got their act together either before or after the referendum to present the case clearly and coherently. Yes, it is a challenge. Isn’t that what real politicians are meant to face up to?

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