Fighting Brexit: The virtues of patience

Few presentations have challenged my thinking more than Roger Liddle’s talk at the meeting of the Social Democrat Group, reported earlier on LDV. Delivered with an almost Churchillian eloquence, it set out why a long term perspective may pay off in the end.

The clever thing about the two year transition period requested by Theresa May, he points out, is that it renders the exit itself painless. By means of this “Brexit now, pay later” ploy, the huge cost is kicked well into the future and the electorate robbed of an immediate reason to protest. But the good news, Liddle believes, is that rejoining the EU should be a feasible proposition when the country finally wakes up.

But we must stop Brexit now! That was the reaction of subsequent speakers. And indeed, I myself have emphasised the urgency for a second vote. We have nothing to lose, have we? Yes we have, says Liddle, because if we lost two referendums in a row, our long term prospects would be even worse.

And there is a high risk of such a defeat because referendums are inherently treacherous.

Furthermore we are severely outgunned. Much has been made of encouraging signs that the tide is turning, but the significant statistic about Brexit is that despite being unmitigated twaddle and a piece of criminal insanity, almost half the population still believe in it. That is, in large measure, testament to the success of the Brextremist propaganda machine – our rightwing press.

They were emboldened by their win last time, and are now cruising smugly along, so we are apt to forget their power. But the minute they sniff a referendum brewing you can bet they will go into overdrive.

And who do we have on our side? A few publications with a relatively small and select readership; the Guardian, the Independent. A public broadcaster totally obsessed with “balance”. Captains of industry that remain silent when they should be speaking out. Members of parliament who should be doing what they know is right but who cower instead like frightened rabbits before the will of the people.

All we have in terms of real fighters is a few heroic individuals like Gina Miller, and members of Britain for Europe and suchlike groups, which is why I say we are outgunned. A march here, a protest there, but nothing to match the enormous influence of the Brexit press cartel and rightwing media. It is truly a David and Goliath struggle that we face.

There’s a second reason why playing a waiting game may have some merit. If we can step back and stop thinking about Britain for a moment, we might acknowledge that it may be best for Europe. Our country is badly infected with Euroscepticism, chronically poisoned by decades of lies. Is it not fair and just that we should be quarantined for the greater good of the European project, poised as it is for renaissance?

With time, if we are patient, our malaise may burn itself out. The older generation will pass on, and with them the curse they have placed on the younger generation. Even Jeremy Corbyn may retire some day and a new Government elected on an unambiguously pro-European ticket. When we eventually rejoin – or find a place again as Macron puts it – we will do so in the spirit of a more sober and genuine appreciation of the European continent.

So much for long term views and altruism. The problem is, I don’t share Liddle’s confidence that we can hop back into the EU so easily. My sympathy is with the marchers and protesters demanding an immediate end to this calamity. We’ve debated and pontificated enough, and frankly, my patience is running out.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.

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  • paul holmes 2nd Oct '17 - 3:10pm

    A good survey of the reality of the situation John -until at the end you say your patience is running out and your sympathy is with those demanding an immediate end to this calamity. How would this ‘immediate end’ be attained?

    The reality is that we lost the Referendum vote, we lost the General Election and we have lost every significant Parliamentary vote on the issue both before and after the General Election. In June 2017 82% of the electorate voted for the two Parties committed to leaving the EU (plus the DUP). Both of which Parties are also committed to the utter fantasy of ‘retaining all the benefits of being in the Single Market without actually being in it.’

    The only way ‘this calamity’ can end is if, both; the Labour Party completely changes its policy and a decent number of rebel Conservative MP’s join a rainbow alliance of a changed Labour Party plus Lib Dems plus SNP in voting out the Conservative/DUP Government. Does anyone realistically believe that is going to happen? I seem to recall that in the most recent Parliamentary vote on the issue the total Tory rebellion was exactly one abstention (by Ken Clarke) whilst over 20 or more Labour MP’s actually voted with the Tories or abstained thus boosting the Tory/DUP majority. It’s surely especially given that the currently unassailable Labour Leader has always been anti EU and sees the Single Market (not entirely erroneously) as a capitalist club whose rules would prevent a Socialist Government enacting its policies?

    You are though right to be less sanguine than Roger Liddle about the future prospect of rejoining the EU. As a future supplicant for membership we would -especially given our past record as a reluctant and awkward member – not be given ‘our’ financial rebate, our opt outs and our absence from Schengen. We would also have to join the Euro. All of that is of course before any requirements of closer integration which people like Juncker and Macron are proposing and which will be more likely to go ahead with the UK absent from the decision taking. I cannot see all of that being remotely saleable to a future electorate for a long long time to come.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Oct '17 - 3:17pm

    @ John King,

    “….. but the significant statistic about Brexit is that despite being unmitigated twaddle and a piece of criminal insanity, almost half the population still believe in it.”

    It’s always a good idea to take a step back from yourself when you’ve come to such a hard and fast conclusion. Yes there are good arguments for staying in the EU. But if you think there aren’t also good arguments for leaving then you’re either deluding yourself or you aren’t thinking very hard. As a ex-doctor you can’t be short of mental ability.

    My reasons for voting Leave, which were on balance, centred on the European Project not being properly thought through. The EU has embarked on a disastrous common currency project with the idea that all it needs is a central bank to hold it all together. It can’t work – especially when the rules of the currency, and all other currencies preparing to be converted into euros are so unforgivingly rigid.

    The Stats of the French economy are really nothing unremarkable. The French have no trouble financing their deficit or debt. There is no inflation problem. If there is anything wrong, it is that unemployment is too high and Macron needs to put his foot on the economic accelerator a little. But he’s being told by the EU to do the exact opposite. It’s a crazy system.

    There are plenty of economists who understand the problem and have still come to the conclusion that the UK is better in that out. And that’s fair enough, but at least they are intelligent enough, and thoughtful enough, to understand both sides of the argument.

  • paul barker 2nd Oct '17 - 3:42pm

    Having made the argument for another Referendum, we cant very well abandon the idea now that its getting more support. I can see Liddles point about the danger of the “Transition Period” but to abandon The Referendum now would look like admitting that Brexit was right.
    There has been a small shift in opinion on Brexit & Libdems have been doing better in Local Elections, we just have to keep trying.

  • paul holmes 2nd Oct '17 - 4:49pm

    I, for one, am certainly not saying we should abandon the argument against the follies of Brexit. But we have to be realists about what is electorally possible and I for one never joined this Party because it was a single issue pressure group. Remainers have not switched wholesale (or even in bits) to us so far, quite the reverse if anything. Roger Liddle is right that there is not going to be an overnight Tsunami of economic disaster due to Brexit -which some have hoped would suddenly propel huge numbers of voters in our direction. The economic fallout is going to be more piecemeal -even more so, as Roger points out, if we end up with a two, three or four year transitional phase after we formally leave in 2019.

    I am though saying that we should not continue to be seen as a one trick pony concentrating only on an issue where ‘we’ have repeatedly lost the electoral votes both inside and outside Parliament. Above all we should not go into a post 2019 GE (by which time Brexit has happened bar probably a short transitional delay) obsessed with rejoining the EU on far worse terms than those the electorate rejected in 2016 and 2017.

    Thankfully there are more signs that the Party Leadership are starting to campaign again on other issues since June.

    As for doing better in Local Elections. I ran the Chesterfield (Holmebrook Ward) by election victory 2 weeks ago (22% increase in vote share) and, as with our by election gain from Labour in December 2016, our stance on Brexit played no part at all in the victory. The attempts to shoehorn every % increase in a Council by election as evidence of a Brexit swing to us is a nonsense.

  • I get fed up with this banging on about the E.U, it seems as if we have nothing else to say. We have but do not seemingly voice them.
    I live in the North Midlands and was very suprised by work colleagues in the public sector who apparently voted Leave, (over immigration). However some have said they made a mistake, “we never actually thought Leave would win, I was giving Cameron a kick up the a…”. So Paul perhaps things are beginning to shift. We live in hope.

  • Betty Patterson 2nd Oct '17 - 5:05pm

    Paul Holmes,
    It is all very well to criticise the views of others, but in demonstrating that they are wrong, you must offer your view of what would be right. So what would the Paul Holmes strategy be?
    If you are accepting the “will of the people”, why was it acceptable to re-run the 1970s referendum that took us in?
    The argument put forward by the Brexiteers was that a majority of the present population had never had a say in that first referendum, and it was their right to express their view.

    This implies that we should have further referendums every so often?
    So why not a third referendum when the terms are decided.


  • David Evans 2nd Oct '17 - 5:35pm

    Elizabeth, I don’t think Paul is saying there should not be a referendum on the terms negotiated ( I think we all agree it would be sensible), but he is saying that that there is next to no chance there will be one. So going on and on and on and on and on about it, to the exclusion of all else will simply damage the party more, and as soon as we are out, the question will simply be “Well what would you do now?”

    We are in great danger of being seen as not only untrustworthy (as a result of what we did in coalition), and irrelevant (as a result of our losing most of our MPs), but also intransigent (as a consequence of what will be portrayed as our fixation on the EU). That will set Liberal Democracy even further back.

  • Betty Patterson.
    There was no referendum on joining the EU as it was only formed on 1st November 1993. Referendums were regularly promised after the signing of Maastricht, notably by The Lib Dems.
    There was also no referendum to join the Common Market either. The referendum in the 1970s. like the last one was about continued membership.
    Referendums are not common in Britain.

  • Laurence Cox 2nd Oct '17 - 5:44pm

    Back in 1867 Otto von Bismark said “Politics is the art of the possible” and looking back at the Social Democrat Group fringe report, I think that James Chapman’s point about Article 127 of the EEA Agreement is where our desire meets possibility. Leaving the EU, but remaining a member of the EEA is the least worst possible outcome based on where we are now. We can still campaign for a second referendum, but when the two largest parties are led by eurosceptics, we cannot expect to convince Parliament to legislate for one and retaining EEA membership is far better than a hard Brexit. If he is right about there not being a majority in Parliament for leaving the EEA, then the Brexiteers can have their victory but in reality little will change.

  • paul barker 2nd Oct '17 - 7:39pm

    I think we are wrong to see the current Labour Leadership as monolithic. Both Khan (The London Mayor) & manuel Cortes (Head of The TSSA Union) argued for another Referendum at Labour Conference. Cortes is a Key Corbynite figure & Pro-EU.
    Essentially The Labour strategy is to offend as few Voters as possible, if opinion shifts then so will Labours position.

  • paul holmes 2nd Oct '17 - 8:44pm

    @Elizabeth Patterson. Please refer me to where I said we should not argue for a Referendum on the terms of Brexit? I can’t find any such reference myself.

  • I am sorry, I find it very difficult to believe Roger Liddle to be capable of “almost Churchillian eloquence – quite a paradox, I think.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Oct '17 - 10:24pm

    Laurence Cox – The Norway option is exactly what we should be looking for. At the very least for the short to medium term. Frankly it is what we should have done 25 years ago.

    The article touches on the fundamental problem – ‘a new Government elected on an unambiguously pro-European ticket.’ The voters had the chance to do just that at the last election and it didn’t altogether work out. REMAINers seem to miss the point that an awful lot of REMAIN voters had to grit their teeth as they voted. The EU in its current form just isn’t that popular and it’s not all the media’s fault. What to do about it is the question.

    My reading of Macron’s comments this week was that he was advocating a full-blown EZ with political integration well beyond what we have now, and something like the current EEA alongside that. In other words a real two-speed Europe with no pretending. I think he’s talking a lot of sense.

    The EEA IN EU OUT option would restrict the ECJ, bring contributions far more into line with what we get out and would at the very least provide clear basis for stabilising free movement. Article 10 of the EEA would resolve most of the customs issues.

    Naturally it would get right up the nose of the hard leavers and the hard remainers – but to be honest right now that’s a welcome bonus prize.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Oct '17 - 10:35pm

    Peter Martin 2nd Oct ’17 – 3:17pm Sorry to carp, but the euro is not a “common currency”. When John Major was Chancellor of the Exchequer a common currency was proposed which was intended to gradually put other currencies out of business. The idea was not adopted.
    The euro is not a single currency either, although it is the successor to that idea. For instance Sweden was obligated to join the euro, qualified, held a referendum, got a no vote, and has not yet been compelled to join, apparently not qualifying (!).

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Oct '17 - 11:00pm

    Richard Underhill – Major was much-mocked at the time. As it turns out the ECU (and the hard ECU) probably made some sense and with things like BitCoin we may well end up with the sort of ‘parallel currency’ he had in mind. Estonia is talking about an EstCoin (which the ECB will never allow).

    On Sweden it is worth pointing out that the Treaty obligation does still stand as I understand it. Same for the other OUTs other than Denmark and the UK who had opt-outs. As far as I can make out no effort has actually been made by the European Commission to enforce that. Looking at Juncker’s comments this week however he seems to think that forcing the issue is more than theoretical. It’s not totally clear to me what they could do but I wouldn’t see the Sweden-type referendum as closing the matter.

    Certainly on my travels in Eastern Europe I sense that the euro draws more mixed opinion than it did in the past.

  • LJP You say “the EU in its current form is just not that popular”. Well, neither is the Westminster Parliament on the same terms. But I don’t hear people demanding they leave Westminster (certainly not in England). The EU, just like Westminster, like County and Parish Councils, is a POLITICAL body, meaning that it encompasses political debate. No political body is frozen for ever. Debate and democratic change means that things do change. I think it is difficult to claim that it is different in nature from those domestic political bodies. Of course the architecture reflects those represented as in any political body, but surely (without the lies and distortions of the media) most of our maturer voters would accept that. If, on the other hand, they believe “foreigners begin at Dover…” and foreigners should have no hand in “our” democracy, then I suppose it is understandable. However, how sustainable is that into the future?

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Oct '17 - 12:02am

    John King, because you say that almost half the population believe in Brexit which is in your view “unmitigated twaddle and a piece of criminal insanity” I cannot trust your judgement. You are impressed by Roger Liddle, yet his apparent view that ‘rejoining the EU should be a feasible proposition’ is it seems to me absolute nonsense. I completely disagree with you because patience is the opposite of what is needed. We have to fight to persuade people that Brexit can and should be defeated, and that it needs to happen via a referendum on the facts to be held desirably within a year from now.

  • Tim 13
    True to an extent, The difference is that every 5 years there is an election that can remove a government and a vote to alter the electoral system proved even less popular than the existing one. There is no such mechanism in the EU and voting for MEPs was arguably only ever an afterthought in local elections with very low turnouts.

  • Betty Patterson 3rd Oct '17 - 9:37am

    Paul Holmes.
    No, you did not say you were against a referendum on the outcome, but in criticizing other strategies you circuit explain your own.

    I was referring to the referendum promised in the Labour manifesto of 1974, and delivered on 5th June 1975. The first referendum to be held in the UK?

  • Betty Patterson 3rd Oct '17 - 9:42am

    PS Paul Holmes
    Apologies for involuntary distortion of my sentence; for “circuit” please read “did not explain”

  • To Katherine Pindar:
    I completely agree with you Katherine, we have to fight Brexit. There is a twist in the tail of my article, as Paul Holmes notes. I found myself challenged rather than overawed by Lord Liddle, though he does look like Churchill from certain angles, and put his argument across well, the comparison is a bit strained as Tim13 remarks.

    To Peter Martin:
    Not all medics are that intelligent, Peter. But I’m influenced by my previous profession, I grant you that. My medical take on the referendum would go something like this:

    “Hello, doctor. We’ve had a referendum in the family and decided Johnny should have his tonsils out”.

    “Oh, but I’ve examined Johnny and his tonsils are healthy”.

    “Now look, this is the will of the family. We pay our taxes so you can do your job. So take his tonsils out now”.

    “I’m a medical expert and he doesn’t need his tonsils out”.

    “We’ve had enough of experts”.

    “Well alright, my name’s Dr May, so I’ll take them out”.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Oct '17 - 12:18pm

    There are at least two separate issues. One is the process that dictates that eventually the British people should have another say. The other is what we want. Would we accept remaining in the single market and customs union if we left the eu? I feel we will have to accept a bargaining chip in order to maintain a strong relationship with Europe. We will be out though in or vice versa. Time is on our side.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Oct '17 - 12:19pm

    John K., Please note the correct spelling of my name. I still feel that, despite your amusing doctor’s take on May’s approach to Brexit, it is unfortunate to be asking for patience in this situation. I hope Mark Frankel is right, that the EU won’t accept the Government’s position, but the danger is that there may be enough of a fudge for them to agree to a transitional deal, which, in our Leader’s phrase now widely adopted, only ‘kicks the can down the road’, and would condemn us to leave in March 2019. Our parliamentarians have a big job to do over the winter, and so do we ordinary members, to help create the necessary demand for the referendum we need.

  • Betty Patterson,
    You asked” Why was it acceptable rerun the referendum that took in”. The 1975 referendum did not take us in the Common Market it asked ether we should remain in it. The EU is a different kettle of potatoes.
    The other point is that the incoming Labour government had, just as the Conservatives did this time, promised a referendum as part of its election manifesto. What some Remain people are doing is asking for a referendum on a referendum without the comfort of winning an election! By all means promise another referendum in the next election manifesto and feel free to complain bitterly, but there is no impetus for one at the moment.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Oct '17 - 12:57pm

    John King as often blurs his intelligence with overblown rhetoric which alienates even the ever reasonable and staunchly pro European , Katharine Pindar !

    Words such as , criminal , insanity, treacherous , ruin nearly the whole argument .

    I voted remain. If these arguments had been the norm I would for the only time in an election, have voted for abstain !

  • paul holmes 3rd Oct '17 - 1:39pm

    Hi Betty. I thought I was pretty clear. Of course we should continue to highlight the folly and dangers of Brexit. I voted ‘Remain’ in 1975 and again in 2016. I have not changed my mind in 2017.

    But we should also accept reality. We are a democratic Party in a democratic society. We lost the 2016 Referendum. We overwhelmingly (against the combined ranks of Cons and Lab MP’s) lost the March 2017 Parliamentary vote over initiating Article 50 and so the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. We overwhelmingly lost the June 2017 General Election and 82% voted for the two Parties, Con/Lab, which are committed to leaving the EU. We can hope that our erudite arguments will persuade a Con/Lab combination, in the necessary large numbers, to rebel against their Party and their Party Leadership. But we can also be realistic and judge that such an outcome is extremely unlikely. The only ‘alternative strategy’ I can think of is the overthrow of the democratically elected Government by non democratic means -and I have yet to meet a Liberal Democrat who believes in that. The clue I think is in our name.

    Meanwhile we and our precursors have existed in one form or another since the Whigs of the Eighteenth Century. Or, as the great Conrad Russell used to tell me, since the English Civil War in the Seventeenth Century. Never in that time have we sought to be a single issue pressure group entirely defined by and concentrating on one policy alone. However we came dangerously close to that between June 2016 and June 2017 and it set back our electoral recovery from the utter disaster of the Coalition Years.

    The UK; an NHS underfunded by 30% compared to equivalent Western countries; the chronic lack of social housing following 30 years of Thatcherite/Blairite and Coalition housing policy and lots of other issues will still be here after March 2019. If we are a serious Political Party we need to relevant to all of this.

  • Voted top abstain ? Surely that must be a bit of underblown rhetoric.

  • Isn’t actually a bit of a fallacy to suggest that the young wanted to remain and the older generation wanted to leave? I and all my friends (middle-aged) voted to remain. A lot of young people who didn’t vote would, I suspect, have voted to leave.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Oct '17 - 4:10pm

    David Raw

    Not at all, to not go to the polls is to not vote, to go , and vote , ie write in, none of the above , is a protest , and would mean to have , voted to abstain!

  • @paul holmes
    ‘If we are a serious Political Party we need to relevant to all of this.’
    How do you see the party being able to bring about change in this respect?

  • John – thanks for provoking an excellent discussion.

    The referendum ‘debate’ and aftermath has been a tale of two hostile camps, each with earplugs in and awash with confirmation bias, shouting at each other. If we are to make any progress we must work with that reality. So far all I’ve heard amounts to little more than “We wuz robbed – we don’t accept the result” and that is not going to change any minds.

    I suggest a strategy combining PULL factors (things we can say/do to make the Remain case more attractive) and PUSH factors (things that drive home the problems of Brexit) which together might tilt the balance.

    On PULL we have a problem. The EU is driving towards a more centralised vision of the future; the Euro and the “ever-greater union” slogan are just two instances of that. Then there is the related “democratic deficit” due to the EU’s structure plus the autocratic instincts of the Commission.

    I always thought Liberals stood, above all, for democracy, for devolution and for empowering citizens against overmighty government, companies etc. That’s 180 degrees opposite to the way the EU is headed so, it’s no surprise that about a third of members apparently voted for Brexit nor, AFAIK, that our EU stance has been a major reason for leaving the party. If non-members are included, there are probably more Liberals opposed to the EU project than supporters.

    Meanwhile, many are unhappy with the way things are going including Tory dinosaurs and a working class scarred by four decades of neo-liberalism – a plutocrat-friendly distortion of the real thing. Policies include expensive housing, cheap labour and limited opportunity all in an austerity wrapper. People are right to be angry.

    Farage has cleverly managed to build a coalition of the unhappy that blames all this on “Europe”. The Lib Dems could have shot his fox by proposing an alternative vision but, for reasons that entirely escape me, have acted as cheer-leaders for any plan to centralise power in Brussels. We should instead aim for a coalition to force Liberal reforms on Brussels. It would mean some strange bedfellows but countries don’t have friends, only interests – hence the alliance with Stalin in WW2.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Oct '17 - 5:04pm

    @ John King,

    What would be your medical take on the EU’s prescription for austerity in places like Greece, Italy and Spain? I’d hope it would go something like this:

    JK: I don’t think bleeding these patients is working.

    EU: Nonsense. Everyone knows that bleeding patients can correct a humoral imbalance.

    JK: Modern medical practice would suggest that these patients would benefit by adding more blood rather than removing it. Removing blood doesn’t seem to have done these patients any good. It has made their condition worse.

    EU: We are of the opinion that their condition has only become worse because we haven’t drained enough blood. Just a few more sessions should do the trick.

    JK: I’m going back to the UK now. My advice to them is that you are a bunch of murderous quacks and they should have nothing more to do with you!

  • paul holmes 3rd Oct '17 - 5:35pm

    PJ – If you mean ‘How do I see us becoming a serious political Party that is relevant to issues such as the NHS, Social Housing etc’ then I think that Vince becoming Leader and Nick Harvey Chief Executive is a good first step. Already since June we have seen more emphasis on a wider range of policy than the single issue of opposing Brexit that so defined us June 2016-June 2017.

    If however you are looking for a simple way to restore the hard won credibility and electoral strength that was thrown away between 2010-2015 then I am afraid I see no simple overnight solution. There are those among the ‘powers that be’ at the top of our Party who saw majoring on opposing Brexit as the ‘Magic Bullet’ that would restore us in one leap. I can understand (although not share), their reasoning but it did not work. If anything it just made us even more irrelevant to the electorate in June 2017.

    Coming back from the profound damage of the Coalition years and the 7.4% of June 2017 is not going to be quick and easy. At least in Chesterfield we have taken three Council seats from Labour in the last 10 months, which is the sort of inroads we started to make in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s as part of the progress towards running the Council and electing the MP from 2001.

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Oct '17 - 5:39pm

    The Constitution Unit at UCL has been running a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit:

    One feature worth noting is that when people realise that we can partially constrain immigration while staying in the Single Market (essentially making use of the rules permitted by the Single Market, which are not used by UK) they are much more positive about staying in the Single Market.

  • Those who voted to leave the EU did so in order to return control of our laws, trade and borders. They believe that the UK will prosper in the long term as an independent nation and most economists agree with that.

    The British people voted to leave regardless of any short term hardship. There is a tradition in this country to be prepared to make sacrifices in order to secure our sovereignty. They could hardly be unaware of the financial threats. Project Fear and the dire warnings from almost every economist on the planet made sure of that.

    Now that we are leaving the EU, the federalist integration plan is being unveiled. Do you think that this will make those who voted leave regret their decision?

  • To Peter Martin.
    Sounds like a drastic cure, they never do any good. And meantime, Britain is being wheeled out to an isolation ward in the mid Atlantic. What are these medics playing at?

    To Laurence Cox
    That’s a good point. Thanks for the link.

  • I argued earlier we need to find PUSH factors to highlight the problems of Brexit. Those must not be a continuation of the discredited Project Fear but solidly based on fact or reasonable inference.

    One way to tackle this is to move the debate by asking difficult questions that Brexiteers can’t answer. The media is beginning to ask some but there are many more. Surely we could mount a crowd-sourced effort to compile them for MPs and give journalists easy copy.

    Lawrence Cox points to one above. Other examples:

    1). Claim – we are in a strong position as our huge deficit with the EU27 gives us the upper hand.

    Reality (figs from memory): We take, on average, 17% of their exports: losing some part of that would really hurt but not be fatal. They account for 44% of ours, 60% if countries like Turkey we trade with under EU agreements are included. Losing any significant part of that is not survivable.

    The EU27 have all the picture cards and will not discuss trade until the divorce bill is agreed so Davis had to cave on that the very first morning of talks. When you deal with someone much bigger and stronger you don’t negotiate – you take dictation.

    2). Claim – we will be ‘free’ to trade with the rest of the world.

    Reality: Germany is a champion exporter; tiny Belgium exports more to India (or used to) than we do. So, how precisely are we not ‘free’ now?

    Also think of the options:
    a). USA: has an unsustainable trade imbalance and Trump is an economic nationalist. How is putting most eggs in one dodgy basket supposed to be a good idea?
    b). China: mercantilist low cost producer – we would be wiped out with ‘free trade’.
    c). Russia: Boris has been going out of his way to be rude. Clever Boris! (/sarc)
    d). Commonwealth: Mostly small except for India (see above), also run by an economic nationalist. We joined the EC because the then powers that be knew it no longer had enough opportunities.

    3). Claim – we can agree a free trade agreement.

    Reality: if in the single market then we have to abide by the same rules so where’s the gain? But where’s the evidence we can beef up customs in time or that France can/will do the same at Calais? And what are the added costs?

    Etc. Etc.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Oct '17 - 6:25pm

    ;Gordon, we certainly should consider ‘push and pull factors’, as you suggest, but I think you are mistaken in writing that ‘the EU is driving towards a more centralised view of the future’. What Herr Juncker wants, or even M. Macron, is not the view of the whole. Remember that there are nine states in the EU, including us, which are not part of the Eurozone; we can hopefully continue in an outer zone with the others which include Sweden and Denmark. There are many diverse views in the EU, with the Commission apparently likely to take action against Hungary for its refusal to take in refugees, and great concern at the centre about increasingly authoritarian government in states such as Poland. Moreover M. Macron is apparently daunted in his centralising wishes by the necessity of Frau Merkel now having to accommodate both Free Democrats and Greens, which have very different demands, in building her governing coalition. If we can stay in, we should look to helping develop a more democratic, less centralised and bureaucratic EU in the future.

  • I’m not surprised the party’s focus on Brexit has diverted attention from under our LDV noses of the outcomes of privatisation of the Royal Mail – which, I’m sad to say, was pushed through by the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

    Back in 2010 a first class stamp cost 41p – it’s now 65p (a 58% increase – five times more than the inflation rate).

    More worryingly we now face a postal strike because the Royal Mail wishes to wriggle out of the defined benefit pension scheme – for a work force who are not particularly well paid (a postie earns 2/3 of the national average income) .

    Having recently spent time in the outer Hebrides, I marvel at the part postmen play in maintaining the cohesion of our society (in all weathers, and often in ways going beyond mail delivery).

    I’m afraid it’s yet another awful legacy that has led to the unpopularity of this party and one we should bitterly regret. The largest share holder is now a hedge fund.

  • @ Katharine Pindar – I agree with your analysis, which in effect means that the EU is in a mess. I doubt if the unelected federalists will give up their vision readily. Mrs Merkel may have to choose between wealth distribution via a federal treasury or see one or more countries exit the Eurozone due to public rejection of endless austerity. The AFD may use this dilemma to argue that Germany should leave the Eurozone.

    In the meantime, the EU policy appears to be one of vindictive punishment of the UK for attempting to leave the club. This will only harden attitudes against the EU.

    The LD obsession with holding a second referendum on the deal struck is guaranteed to produce a bad deal if the EU wants to kill off Brexit. If the party has any sense of responsibility and patriotism it should scrap this unhelpful policy. Luckily for the country, the LD position has effectively sidelined the party and I doubt if the EU gives its policies any thought at all.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Oct '17 - 11:54pm

    Our agreement is pretty limited, I’m afraid, Peter. I was citing the disagreements in the EU as one of Gordon’s ‘pull’ factors, making the case for Remain stronger because the Federal tendency in the EU is not broad-based and we would stay in the outer zone anyway. Gordon’s ‘push’ factors, driving home the problems of Brexit, he was explaining in his second, 6.13 pm piece at much the same time as I was writing, so I did not see it then, but am completely in agreement with – there is no way apparent by which free-trade deals with the rest of the world (which would anyway take years to arrange) could make up for free trade lost with the EU. Besides, Peter, I don’t see the EU trying for ‘vindictive punishment’ of us, and of course I am totally for the proposed referendum! Perhaps you were being ironic. 🙂

    Lorenzo (12.57 pm) – I had meant to add before, thank you for your kind supportive comment, much appreciated.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 4th Oct '17 - 8:43am

    John King, your comment on 3 October, 11.17 am, about little Johnny’s parents insisting he have his tonsils out, got me thinking about recent examples of how quickly “expert” medical opinion can change.
    50 years ago, many children had their tonsils removed completely unnecessarily. But it was not their parents who were insisting on this unnecessary surgery. It was the doctors – the experts. Presumably the parents usually accepted that “the experts knew best”.
    Lets consider the reverse of your analogy. 50 years ago, the doctor tell Johnny’s parents that it is essential for Johnny’s health that his tonsils should be removed. But Johnny’s parents refuse to give permission. It seems to them that, although Johnny has had tonsillitis a couple of times, it was not very serious, and does not justify the risks of surgery. Perhaps they have heard of a tragic case in which something went wrong.
    The doctor tells them that they are putting Johnny’s health at grave risk by not consenting to the surgery. Their friends and relatives tell them that they are behaving irresponsibly, and they should listen to the experts. But the parents refuse to give in. Johnny does not have the surgery. He never gets tonsillitis again, and grows up extremely healthy, more so than many of his friends who had their tonsils removed.
    Johnny is now a healthy middle aged man. When Johnny’s own children were small, they had tonsillitis, but the doctor never suggested removing their tonsils. Medical “expert” opinion had changed quickly.
    Johnny’s elderly parents often tell the story of how they saved Johnny from having his tonsils removed. These days, friends and relatives always say “you were absolutely right”, and “you were ahead of your time”.
    In this reverse analogy, the parents are the public, and the tonsils are perhaps “sovereignty “! The point is that although we should listen to expert opinion, we should also remember that “expert” opinion can change.

  • Catherine-
    Many thanks for giving the opposite side of the tonsillectomy coin. My own tonsils were removed years ago, along with thousands of other boys, but the operation is no longer so popular. Evidence based medicine now counters some of the arbitrary practices of yesteryear, but my first article on this site lamented the fact that evidence based politics is some way off.

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Oct '17 - 9:34am

    It was interesting to compare yesterday’s EU-parliament debate with the Tory conference. Well planned, principled, disciplined, value-based and compassionate realism vs. opaque and contradictory de(or il-)lusionism. It triggered a new realization: Tory radicals despise the quality-control the EU has exercised all these years over their amateurish ideas about how to run a significant modern country.

    The EU’s superior political craftmanship may save us by forcing the UK to face up to Brexit’s unaddressed contradictions: Northern Ireland outside the single market and the customs union must have a hard border, foreign citizens’ rights on both sides of the Channel must remain the same, no country can be a member of any global community if it does not honour its committments, a transition has a defined endstate, otherwise it is just a prolongation.

    LibDems are right to focus on Brexit, which is not a single issue, it is the only issue. 40 years of economic resurrection were entirely foreign-induced. Reversing this would make any progress in any field unaffordable.

    The pull-side of the argument is hard to bring accross quickly enough since Britons have been brainwashed for so long. The truth is that the fully democratic professionalism of the EU bureaucracy (IMO a word with a positive sound of reliability) has massively benefited Britons by compensating for the decaying quality of their national Government (I know this will not fly).

    Sir Vince should start building a positive membership perspective by engaging with Christian Lindner (D), Nathalie Loiseau (F), Alfonso Dastis (E), Angelino Alfano (I), et al. I am sure these people will represent a differentiated view on Juncker’s or Macron’s visions, and can point out an agreeable role for the UK within the EU. Your well respected leader is a key asset in this battle: he can effectively fight Brexit based on its damage and, at the same time, develop and articulate an attractive role of the UK within the EU.

  • John Littler 4th Oct '17 - 9:45am

    Published in “The Japan News”, this was the best article I have read on the travesty of Brexit:

    Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed Nick Clegg, former British deputy prime minister, on Sept. 12 in London. Clegg, an influential figure with the British public, explained his thoughts on current British political issues, such as Brexit prospects and relations with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump:

  • @paul holmes
    Not quite. The point is that I don’t think the party’s policy making process is agile enough for dealing with Brexit, or the volume of changes to policy, needed to position the party where it should be (IMO). We will always be one or two steps behind where we need to be. Have to disagree on Vince. He seems to have a real problem dealing with the legacy of coalition and is now stood to the right of the Tories on tuition fees. From where I am standing the party looks decidedly under dressed.

  • Peter Martin 4th Oct '17 - 11:40am

    my first article on this site lamented the fact that evidence based politics is some way off.

    Probably nowhere more so than in the EU itself. The Stability and Growth Pact calls for no euro using country, nor any country preparing to join the euro, to run a budget deficit greater than 3%. France, at present, runs just slightly more than this. Yet reducing this to lower than 3% is given top priority. Never mind that unemployment is pushing 10% and there is no inflation problem.

    So where is the evidence for this choice of 3%?

  • paul holmes 4th Oct '17 - 12:38pm

    @PJ. I didn’t say Vince was an overnight solution but that he was a first step in the right direction. I did say that I do not believe in ‘Magic Bullets’. I agree with you that Vince’s continued robust defence of the Coalition’s Tuition Fees policy is a problem -which David Howarth’s review may (or may not) help solve.

    @Arnold Kiel. No, Brexit is not the only issue. Health, Education, Housing, Economy, Environment and many other things were all issues before we joined the EEC in 1973 and will continue to be issues after we leave the EU in March 2019. I agree with you that being a member of the EU would be much better for some of these issues -such as Economy and Environment – and that we should keep campaigning on that. But political reality, in a democratic country, says that we are going to have to continue to deal with all these issues after we have left the EU. The world simply does not come to an end in March 2019 but a single issue anti Brexit Party would come to an end, just as a single issue pro Brexit Party (UKIP) has already all but collapsed.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Oct '17 - 1:09pm

    John Littler, thank you for giving us access to Nick Clegg’s interview with Japan News. Nick was also in top form on the Andrew Marr show, BBC1, on September 24th.

    Arnold, are those EU people you ask Vince Cable to be in touch with members of ALDE? I should think we could all do with good European contacts to map out future possibilities with them. Your comparison of effective European bureacracy with ‘decay’ of our national Government rings grimly near the mark, but you will antagonise people by emphasising it – perhaps leave denunciation to that well-known Tory journalist, Matthew Parris, who does a pretty good job in his Times columns!

    P.J., I’m pleased to tell you that I believe our party’s policy-making process is becoming more receptive and flexible than it used to be, judging by some recent enquiries and exchanges that have seemed productive to me.

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Oct '17 - 1:52pm

    @paul holmes,

    sure, all political fields continue to matter, but it is impossible to formulate deliverable policies until Brexit is settled. In one scenario, things can advance, in the other, more rounds of cuts will be the only option.

    @Katharine Pindar,

    no ALDE-members, possibly except Lindner, but governing secretaries of state. This is Sir Vince’s chance: all are against Brexit, and will feel little loyalty to their official UK counterpart Johnson.

  • Betty Patterson 4th Oct '17 - 3:10pm

    Paul Holmes.
    Thank you for explaining clearly where you stand, and in return here is my take.

    I cannot believe the referendum was democratic or “the will of the people” because it was based on misinformation, half truths, and downright lies.
    The premature triggering of article 50 prevented any debate in which the likely consequences of leave could have been considered and a model for leaving without damage to the economy could have been chosen.
    The parliamentary decision was flawed because of Labour’s deceitful position.
    The GE 17 result equally flawed for the same reason.
    So much for “will of the people”.
    Poor manipulated people.


  • Katharine Pindar – I agree with you that the EU has many diverse views – is “in a mess” as Peter puts it.

    To me that’s just normal politics in action with much pushing and shoving making it difficult to see what’s going on or what the outcome of current fights might be.

    But that wasn’t my point. My thesis was that on a long term trajectory – measuring in decades rather than being distracted by the short term turmoil of politics – there is certainly a centralising trend. The euro is a massive example of that in itself.

    In fact, there is a theory (about which I am agnostic) that the whole euro project is a deeply laid plot to power grab way beyond what the nations of Europe would ever voluntary surrender to Brussels. The theory goes that it would inevitably led to the sort of crises that have now happened in Greece, Italy, Spain and soon others and that the only way out of that hole would be for the ECB to take over budgetary control reducing the eurozone nations to county councils writ large. That is actually shaping up so perhaps it’s not so far-fetched.

    However, whether that’s actually true or not doesn’t matter. A great many Brexiteers firmly BELIEVE the EU is on a dastardly mission to centralise power; that’s why slogans like “ever-greater union” so inflame them. Hence also slogans like “take back control” are so highly effective.

    So, if we are to connect with them at all, we absolutely must address their concerns. Anything else is gross political incompetence. And, as it happens, Liberals are for devolution so we should be arguing for it in Europe.

    Unfortunately, the Party appears, as always, to be tone deaf; it has a track record of just swooning over Europe – happy thoughts of “internationalism” apparently driving out any critical thinking. Hence Brexit. Hence 7% in the polls.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Oct '17 - 9:46pm

    My point is that in so far as there is a centralising trend, Gordon, we can resist it by remaining in the outer ring of EU states. As for conspiracy theories, they only count if conspirators can be identified who have a motive. As vague as that is, equally vague is the notion that our party is uncritical of the EU and uninterested in its reform. There certainly are Brexiteers as you say expecting this ‘dastardly mission’ of centralising power, but I would suggest that the general public attitude has been indifference coupled with limited knowledge. If we stay in the EU, the newly aroused public should be more interested in the reforms which many EU supporters are anxious to promote.

  • @Gordon
    I think you only have to look at the motion on Europe, passed at conference, to epitomise your point.

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