Even George Osborne Gets It: “Hard Brexit did not win a majority”

George Osborne is not a popular figure in the Liberal Democrats. He has never shown compassion of the poor and since the 2015 General Election followed an economic policy we disagree with – failing to invest and take advantage of low interest rates.

Many of us who gave all we had for Remain feel he let us down. His foolish threat of an “emergency budget” drove voters into Leave’s hands. Like Cameron, he contributed over years and years to the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe mood music that entrenched euro-scepticism in many people’s minds.

However, he has now made a speech clearly criticising the May government’s muddled approach to Brexit.  He crystalises a key point well:

There was a majority for Brexit. There was no majority for ‘Hard Brexit’

He also said:

I find some of the take-it-or-leave-it bravado we hear from those who assume Europe has no option but to give us everything we want more than a little naïve…

resist the false logic that leads from exiting the EU to exiting all forms of European cooperation – and that values the dangerous purity of splendid isolation over the practical necessity of cooperation in the real world…

…It is highly unlikely that the rest of Europe will be in any position to conduct serious negotiations until the autumn of next year.

The Guardian report includes supportive comments from Dominic Grieve, the former AG respected across parties.

It would appear that Labour are far from being the only divided party at the moment.

* Antony Hook was #2 on the South East European list in 2014, is the English Party's representative on the Federal Executive and produces this sites EU Referendum Roundup.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • The choice was Remain or Leave and Remain certainly fought on the principle that the choice was a stark uncompromising one. Osborne even went so far as reinforcing the hard choices involved by insisting he would hold one of his emergency budgets. The notion of hard and soft Brexit is actually only being floated retrospectively. It’s not without merit , but I’d say the Leave was mostly based on the idea that Britain would leave the EU very quickly with very few compromises. Also I would suggest the George Osborne is trying to salvage his reputation after a terrible campaign and getting sacked.

  • “and since the 2015 General Election followed an economic policy we disagree with ”
    For many of us that should read since 2010. Add in the fact Osborne pursued policies that have been at odds with his policy pronouncements, he ought to shut up and go away, his intervention is all about him and not at all helpful.

  • Glenn, many of the leavers said we would be like Norway or Switzerland. Not like Algeria.

  • Osbourne benefited from extremely negative and misleading campaigning and now is offering warnings having lost under similar conditions? The Remain campaign did not properly warn people that there would be compromises (instead asking inane questions such as “Do you want the UK to be like…?”) and Leave allowed their supporters to believe that there wouldn’t be – of course it’s now messy.

  • Alistair.
    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be compromises. I just question the accuracy of Osborne’s statement given that Cameron, PM at the time, stated that article 50 would be triggered immediately if there was a vote to Leave. The general uncompromising atmosphere of both campaigns did not suggest soft Brexit and the ballot paper couldn’t have been any clearer. .

  • Hear hear Caracatus – I was just scrolling down to write my identical comment, having been diverted by the discussion of the hardness or otherwise of Brexit, then suddenly saw your words shining out at me!

  • I voted remain, but live in Lincolnshire an area that is fairly solid in favour of Brexit. I’m afraid Osborne is wrong. Many people who voted to leave may prefer a soft Brexit, but given a choice between staying in the EU or hard Brexit they would choose to leave every time. In fact from what I can see – rightly or wrongly – most Brexiteers don’t seem to care how we go as long as we leave.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Sep '16 - 12:17am

    We need soft brexit with a concession on free-movement. This is what is pushing people towards hard brexit – they think a concession without serious consequences isn’t possible.

    Just because the EU has said something is a red line doesn’t mean it is. Free movement works both ways – we are not asking for something for nothing.

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Sep '16 - 1:12am

    Eddie Sammon – I think you are spot on right. But…

    1 – The EU institutions can think and say what they want. There are various EU members who will block any change to free movement. Whether you think that full-blown free movement is an intrinsic component of the EU ideal or it’s social dumping by a nice name doesn’t matter. Any change will be blocked short of something pretty stunning. Bluntly some in those countries would do well to ask whether they would accept UK levels of inward EU migration. I note in passing that the Hungarian referendum question is:

    ‘Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?’

    That to me sounds rather like a shot at any further EU free movement developments per se.

    2 – Free movement does work both ways, but let’s at least be honest here. For many it’s capitalism being fantastic just as long as you’ve got capital. If it was realistic for 2+m UK young to head to the A8/A2 for wages/housing/in-work benefits then we’d have just have had a 95% remain vote. Free movement for too many is a paper exercise. What we do about that is another matter, but let’s at least not duck that free movement flows don’t look even close to reciprocal.

    3 – This all does rather show up a problem with the EU. Many remainers like to complain (with good reason) that there’s no certainty about leaving the EU. But really what certainty is there about remaining? 15 years ago who would have seen the refugee debacle, the problems with the Euro or the TTIP mess? How many of those who voted remain would have wanted to sell full blown free movement with Albania, Ukraine and Turkey to the voters as a possible EU future?

    My best guess is that the UK will end up with something like the Swiss arrangement. What one thinks of that is another matter – personally I could think of worse.

    I think you are right – May’s dream solution is probably soft Brexit with a free movement concession, ideally along the lines of what Spain briefly had. But I just don’t see that as possible given the politics. And, of course, there is more to migration than the EU.

    But more generally I do think that some on the pro-EU side and in the LDP need to take a step back on free movement. Quite frankly what exactly is liberal about non-reciprocal flows of people and an immigration policy outsourced from elected people?

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Sep '16 - 2:34am

    Thanks Little Jackie. Cameron got some a concession on free movement – there are ways to twist arms if we are imaginative. We could even pay more into the EU budget for it. If there’s no change on free movement UKIP’s betrayal line will probably be popular.

  • Paul Murray 25th Sep '16 - 9:43am

    You remember the “every household will be £4300 worse off after Brexit” claim that Osborne made? It was based on an assessment that GDP in 2030 would grow by 37% if we remained in the EU and 29% otherwise. This was then divided by the number of households in the UK *right now* (ignoring growth by 2030 due to remaining in the EU) to produce a figure that represents putative loss in “GDP per household” which is mind-bogglingly meaningless.

    But the point is that this specious £4300 figure was arrived at by assuming “a negotiated bilateral agreement such as that between the EU and Switzerland, Canada or Turkey” (see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hm-treasury-analysis-the-long-term-economic-impact-of-eu-membership-and-the-alternatives).

    The figure for a “soft brexit” (by which I mean EEA membership) was £2600. But that was not the figure Osborne chose to lead on. You might argue that the WTO option produced an estimate of £5200 household loss, but that’s neither here nor there. I think that it is generally agreed that only EEA membership with freedom of movement qualifies as “soft brexit”.

    Osborne put out a bogus figure based on a “hard brexit” model and the voters rejected it. So based on his own campaigning, it is difficult to see how he concludes that “hard brexit did not win a majority”.

  • Peter Watson 25th Sep '16 - 11:25am

    “since the 2015 General Election followed an economic policy we disagree with – failing to invest and take advantage of low interest rates”
    So George Osborne’s economic policy before the election (which seemed to involve a failure to invest and take advantage of low interest rates) was one with which Lib Dems agreed?

  • Sue Sutherland 25th Sep '16 - 12:53pm

    Caractacus, Tim 13, I agree.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Sep '16 - 10:11am

    If, in a stagnant economy which you have created by contractionary fiscal and monetary policy, you put your eggs in the social mobility basket (a zero sum strategy) and not the equality/redistribution basket, you will get what you got.

    Clegg and Cameron were a deux on creating the conditions for a leave victory. The referendum was effectively lost 2010 – 2015.

    The French of course were very much to blame for the conditions of monetary contraction (gold hoarding) that caused the Great Depression. Just as the German and French dominance in the monetary policy of the European Central Bank had led to the Great Recession lasting close to a decade.

    As a historian you might be interested in the repetition of these deflationary policies by the major players in mainland Europe, eighty years apart.

  • Osborne was guilty of toxic rhetoric on Welfare and in coalition, we as Lib Dems were complicit in our silence. He got away with bullying the poor, but trying to threaten the rest of the country with his “emergency budget” put him in trouble and we are well rid of him. I think there are lessons to be learned about future coalition negotiations.

  • Bill le Breton 27th Sep '16 - 7:52pm
  • @Bill – Just the use of the word ‘partnership’ instead of ‘union’ is to be commended!
    Just skimmed through the links, looks interesting because it seems the LSE have been trying to find a do different third way that is potentially win-win to all parties (except those who want to see a single superstate formed anytime soon from the 28 member nations).

    Aside: I was disappointed in the Adam smith Institute paper on Efta/EEA that some have referenced because both it’s pitch and content were so lacking in insight and at odd’s with the calibre of the individuals who founded the ASI in the 80’s.

  • Bill le Breton 28th Sep '16 - 8:17am

    Roland -we should not expect too much from the ASI 😉 but its paper and the one that preceded it before the vote did show that there was an alternative.

    This LSE team is another kettle of fish. Pleased that on first sight you saw some merit in their thinking.

    I hope Anthony looks at it and comments, either here, or in another of his posts.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Mar '17 - 8:32pm

    Editors and MPs have deadlines which might conflict. Hours of work are only part of it. Delegating is only part of it. Granted he is a tory.

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