From All Fools’ Day to All Ghouls’ Day – what next to stop Brexit?

The commentary on last night’s EU summit was presented as Theresa May going to beg for favours from foreigners. I saw it a bit differently. You see, I see the EU 27 as my leaders. I’m a European. I’m a citizen of the European Union. These people, down a long and convoluted democratic chain certainly, are accountable to me. They are my leaders in the same way as the UK Government  – although the latter infuriates me a lot more and pleases me a lot less – and the Scottish Government  and my Council are. And, frankly, out of that lot, the EU 27 are the pick of the bunch.

In the context of Brexit, the EU have, to be honest, been fair, firm, adult and where they have leaked stuff to the press, have been more authentic and less inflammatory than the Members of Parliament in her own party. I can’t believe that I actually live in a universe where Mark Francois isn’t a Harry Enfield character but actually has a vote in the mother of Parliaments. Perfidious Albion on speed? Really? He actually wants our international reputation to be mud?

I have a lot more confidence in the EU27 to acquit themselves with honour than the UK Government. And they were nothing but reasonable in their deliberations. They want a sensible solution to all of this. What they are getting in return is incoherence and the strategic ability of a two year old who wants that sweetie at the checkout and thinks that throwing a tantrum is going to get it for them.

You have to credit them with some sense of humour. The first Brexit cliff edge was chosen by us – near April Fool’s Day. This one has been chosen by the EU – Hallowe’en. The jokes will be writing themselves for the next six months.

It would be wrong to think that we have six months, though. May will have a go at persuading her recalcitrants to pass her terrible deal in the next few weeks and she might succeed. It might pass by a vote or two. And we’d be headed into a poorer, more isolated future on the basis of a handful of ERG types and Brexiteer Labour MPs. That is so not how it should be, but the danger has not passed.

The last thing the Tories want to do is fight the European elections. What on earth would be the point in voting for them? How do they write a manifesto that the Dominic Grieve and Mark Francois wings of the party can support? They will try not to have to and we have to make sure that they don’t succeed in their aim.

The Euros, if they happen, offer a huge opportunity for Liberal Democrats, especially as EU citizens have the chance to vote for the Party that’s been doggedly trying to stop Brexit from the start. We stand to gain several seats. Sure, Farage’s mob will win some, too, but the opportunities for the highly motivated Remain campaign to gather behind Remain candidates will make us win too. In Scotland not far off half a million people signed the Revoke petition. In 2009, 174000 people elected George Lyon as MEP. This is doable, people.

We need a good, spirited and noisy air war over the next few weeks. And that probably means more voices than just Vince’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love our leader and he says a lot of sensible stuff, but we need zing and fizz in the mix, too and those are not his forte.

The People’s Vote is very much back in play now. While I’d prefer to just revoke Article 50 and have done with it, I appreciate that the democratic symmetry is an appealing argument.

It would provide Theresa May the opportunity of getting her deal through Parliament with a significant majority. All she has to do is accept the Kyle Wilson amendment and virtually everyone except the ERG and DUP will vote for it. Only a few of the Tories would be supporting the deal. The rest of us would be doing all we can to get the public to kill it.

And that campaign can be won. I know some people are pessimistic about it but think about the opportunity.  The Remain campaign won’t be destructively and half-heartedly hampered by No 10 or a reluctant Corbyn. It will be exuberant, joyous, hopeful, optimistic and hilarious. It will harness the best of what the likes of Our Future, Our Choice, Led by Donkeys and FFS have been doing for the past couple of years. The People’s Vote campaign has had its moments, but it has kept another referendum in the game. And a million people on the streets and 5 million who signed the petition are a useful and willing campaign team whose efforts have to be harnessed.

For the moment, though, we can all be grateful that we don’t have to catch and barbecue rats in the park this weekend after a no deal, and our  tired, stressed MPs will have the chance to rest up for a week or so.

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

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  • What does this mean for the possibility of a Peoples Vote ? Academics suggest it would take a minimum of 7 Months to organise & be safe from Legal challenge, this deadline gives us less than 7 Months even if Parliament started now. In fact MPs are about to go on holiday for Easter.

  • The Hallowe’en jokes write themselves but thats not why October 31st was chosen.

    November 1st is the date that the new EU Commissioners and other EU officials come into office. The Continuing-EU27 does not want the new office holders to be entangled in the existing briar patch. See the attched legal analysis or details.

    One not-quite sidebar. The extension of the BREXIT process to October means that the current session of Parliment ends in the middle of the process and some government or other is going to have to bring a Queens Speech to Parliament by the end of June at the latest. The Tory-DUP Confidence and supply agreement is for the whole Parliament but according to the Parliament website >>>>Duration of agreement
    The agreement reached will remain in place for the length of the Parliament, and can be reviewed by the mutual consent of both parties. After each Parliamentary session both parties will review the aims, principles and implementation of this agreement.<<< So room or some fun here?

  • Now that Parliament is off for a couple of weeks let us forget about the EU, staying or going and concentrate on things that matter to people in their everyday lives, school closing on a Friday, the struggles of the poorer echelons of our society etc etc.
    After the Easter break it looks as if there will be an amendment brought by the government for a peoples vote. It will probably get through the Commons. It can be expedited through its processes, if the Commons wanted it could get it done in 3 days like something else last week. Under the circumstances it could even be treated as an emergency requiring emergency legislation, like the Emergency Powers Act, after all it is said to be our worst problem since the 2nd World War.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Apr '19 - 11:18am

    I think we would get a further extension if that was what we wanted to do. MPs are only on recess for a week.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Apr '19 - 12:15pm

    It can be done in less than that – ask Paul Tyler.

  • William Fowler 11th Apr '19 - 12:37pm

    Remain needs a breakthrough moment in the MEP elections and not five different remain candidates fighting for a chance of election. Unfortunately LibDems are not making the connection with young remainers whilst Change UK might manage that… it is a moment when we will see just how clever Sir Vince turns out to be…

  • Sacha Griffiths 11th Apr '19 - 12:56pm

    On Brexit we should mark a clear bold position with a broad appeal to break the deadlock. A second referendum with a set of differences. Firstly, a multi-option referendum where the different factions are represented such as No deal, May’s Transition Hard Brexit, Customs Union Deal, Common Market 2.0 and (My preferred) Remain. There should be elimination voting with the vote held over 4 weekends (Saturday and Sunday). A bit similar to popular TV programmes such as Strictly or I’m a Celebrity. Alternatively, it could be done like the French presidential elections with the 3 less favoured options eliminated after the first ballot and then a run-off between the final two options. Their should also be compulsory voting with the voting age lowered to 16 and the 2m Brits who work or reside in the EU 27 also allowed to vote. As far as i understand it under the Representation of the Peoples Act, the 2m Brits can vote in General elections.
    This would give the lib Dems the high ground as the party for a truly democratic solution to Brexit. It would also garner support not only from Remainers but also from Leave especially No-Deal supporters. Whereas Labour and the Conservatives want to stitch-up or rail-road their particular Brexit option onto the British people whether they like it or not. That the Lib Dems are the party of choice and opportunity to get Brexit done one way or another and for what the British people actually want.
    With the new Brexit extension the timetable is limited but still doable. The votes would have to be held in October with the party conference season cancelled. The Lib Dems are going to have to probably elect a new leader before then and it may have to be someone outside the parliamentary party. Someone who is dynamic, media savvy and prepared to be stridently Lib Dem on a range of issues. In an era of multi -media platforms you have to have clear,incisive even rabble rousing messages which grab your attention. Taking on board the party’s logo, we have to be prepared to go only ‘ Where Eagles Dare ‘.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 11th Apr '19 - 1:01pm

    Caron, I am puzzled by your statement that you consider Merkle, Macron, and the rest of the “EU 27” to be “your leaders”, and that they are “accountable to you”.
    You did not vote for them, and you could not vote them out. So in what sense can they be your leaders or accountable to you?
    This seems a misunderstanding of how the EU is supposed to work. Each leader is supposed to be leader of, and accountable to, the people of their own nation only, surely?
    Would you really prefer every one of these 27 to Theresa May? The 27 are certainly not all liberals. Some of them are less liberal in outlook than Theresa May. To give just one example, several of them lead governments which have banned the burka – something that I know both you and Theresa May are opposed to.

  • Paul Barker 11th Apr '19 - 1:41pm

    There are a variety of opinions on how long a Vote might take to organise, I quoted the Academics because they are the only neutral study that I know of, its very easy to believe that something will be simple if you want it badly. Of course if Parliaments voted to have a Peoples Vote Im sure the EU would be open to yet another extension if we can get a PM who will ask for one.
    In the Elections for The European Parliament, an Electoral Pact with other EU friendly Parties is essential, with Us, Change & The Greens all fighting each other its quite possible that none of us will get any Seats at all; what message would that send ?

  • nigel hunter 11th Apr '19 - 2:10pm

    Yes there is a possibility of a split vote and no seats if the remain parties do not work together.Brexit parties want one thing and they will work together to get what they want. We must not slip up.

  • We shouldn’t be complacent and assume it is all over until October. Listening to the PM in the Commons it is very clear she still intends to try for a May or June exit. Reading between the lines of her answers I suggest her plan is as follows:

    – keep the current parliamentary session running to avoid a Queens Speech
    – the Labour discussions are clearly going nowhere
    – an options vote process late April (detail sorted out during the recess)
    – preferential voting will be used to force a consensus outcome
    – accept whatever emerges as the will of the house (avoids her making concessions personally)
    – hope the final preference then passes a yes/no vote
    – deal with or ignore the matter of a future PM undoing everything
    – hope/whip to defeat the expected People’s Vote amendment
    – endeavour to get the WAIB through in time to avoid the EU elections
    – departure date in May or June

  • Lawrence Fullick 11th Apr '19 - 5:18pm

    Caron: Are ChangeUK/TIG among the ghastly authoritarian centrists you dont like?

  • Richard O'Neill 11th Apr '19 - 5:46pm

    By most accounts Macron pushed very hard for an ultra-short extension and then a no deal. Thankfully the others persuaded him this was risky, which is why we have this compromise. While the Council of Ministers is my preferred part of the EU, I still didn’t get any feeling of them being accountable to me. Or any great warmth towards Britain. This icy attitude towards us has been there as long as I remember. Predating Brexit. It doesn’t feel much like a group inviting us to rejoin the family.

    Truth be told the extension is too short to have a second referendum, but takes the pressure off May and Corbyn to agree a deal between them. As Tusk warns we may end up wasting the time again and being back in the autumn, still squabbling, begging for a fresh extension.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Apr '19 - 6:37pm

    Suppose some are elected and then Exit passes the Commons?

  • John Marriott 11th Apr '19 - 6:39pm

    Just returned from the US having visited some distant relatives. A week without Brexit – oh, happy days! So we now appear to have more time to put a deal together; but don’t hold your breath! Euro Parliament Elections? What’s the fuss? Hardly anyone votes in them anyway. Local elections? Where I live it’s a Tory shoe-in (although it’s interesting that their candidates call themselves ‘local Conservatives’). The ‘local’ Lib Dems have three candidates and Labour have six. The main opposition would appear to be ‘Independents’. Not much choice then. Why vote for the conservative with the small ‘c’ when you can vote for the full fat model? The ‘People’s Vote’? Pull the other leg. For what it’s worth, my US ‘rellies’ don’t really understand what it’s all about. They have enough trouble worrying about #45 (aka Donald J Trump).

    At least we have ‘Lance Corporal’ Mark Francois MP pictured recently enjoying a ‘full English” at a local Toby Carvery. Mind you, I bet the bacon was probably from Denmark and the plum tomatoes probably came from Italy. Good old Mark, whose soldier father died twice in two world wars to keep us safe from the Hun!

    Welcome home, John lad!

  • I’m wondering what this Halloween extension means for our own party’s leadership…
    To re-cap, Vince Cable announced earlier this year that he would stand down ‘once Brexit had been sorted’. Then he said he would do so after the local elections in early May; this seemed fair enough considering we were supposed to have Brexited on March 29th (remember that?).
    So now that Brexit hasn’t been ‘sorted,’ does Vince stay on till October 31st? Or does he resign as planned in May, and we have the Layla/Jo/Ed leadership race running alongside the European election campaign?

  • Peter Martin 11th Apr '19 - 9:25pm

    I see the EU 27 as my leaders. I’m a European. I’m a citizen of the European Union. These people, down a long and convoluted democratic chain certainly, are accountable to me……

    Are they? I don’t think so. Unless you can maybe wangle an Irish passport, you’ll find out, if the UK leaves the EU, that your “leaders” won’t want you any longer. Because in their eyes you aren’t really a European citizen. In truth, there probably isn’t any such thing. If there were, anyone could specify that their passport should read only “European Union”. There would be no other nationality specified because there would be no need. It could be just an optional extra.

    But the concept of the “European Citizen” would have to be meaningful first.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Apr '19 - 9:22am

    As leader Charles Kennedy expressed this in a federal way, seeing himself firstly as Highlander, then as a Scot, then as British, then as a European.

  • Is anyone else really, really looking forward to watching the Tories and Labour try to come up with a manifesto for the Euro elections? They will obviously have to state a position on Brexit and our future relationship with Europe. I don’t know if this will tear them apart or tie them in knots, but either way I’m going to enjoy watching. Pass the popcorn!

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Apr '19 - 1:16pm

    What we need to do now is to concentrate on the local elections. People from various constituencies are commenting that our reception on the doorstep is warm which is a good sign and if we can get a good result in the locals the media will take notice and we will have more publicity for the Euros and also for a referendum on the Brexit negotiations if or when that happens.

  • Peter Martin 12th Apr '19 - 4:02pm

    @ Richard,

    “Firstly as Highlander, then as a Scot, then as British, then as a European.”

    Is this in ascending or descending order?

    And would ‘citizen of the world’ go on the end of it?

  • @Richard Underhill – yes that was a brilliant line by Charles, and is one I use a lot myself when explaining my inherent values to Scottish Nationalists or Brexiteers (in my case swapping Ayrshireman for Highlander).
    However, I don’t believe he stated any order of preference between these four levels of identity. Rather, his whole point was that he felt each of them equally, and didn’t see why he had to choose any one of them as being more important than the others. i.e. he couldn’t disentangle them and delete one of them even if he wanted to.
    It’s a brilliant line and I’d recommend we all use it when arguing with persuadable voters when talking about Brexit. It doe resonate – especially if you cite Charles as the original author. (He remains the most popular politician we ever had).

  • @SueSutherland “What we need to do now is to concentrate on the local elections……”
    Yes. That’s all. Just yes.

  • Peter Martin 17th Apr '19 - 10:01am

    @ Katerina Porter

    “Alabama and Carolina are very different indeed and yet part of a Federation.”

    Yes, as you say, the two US States of North and South Carolina and the state of Alberta are part of the Federal Structure known as the United States of America.

    On the other hand Canada is a separate entity. Even though their citizens are geographically American, just as we are geographically European, they don’t have the same vote. They vote separately.

    We could have the UK, France, Germany etc as States of the United States of Europe. Is that what Lib Dems want? I prefer to be like Canada and have a degree of separation.

  • Peter Martin 17th Apr '19 - 10:04am

    Sorry. Should be the State of Alabama not state of Alberta.

    That’s in Canada and is different!

  • Alex Macfie 20th Apr '19 - 5:08pm

    William Fowler 11th Apr ’19 – 12:37pm

    “Unfortunately LibDems are not making the connection with young remainers whilst Change UK might manage that…

    What is your evidence for this? Change UK has practically no activist base, and is also proving clueless with social media (which is going to cause a lot of difficulty connecting with young voters in particular). Lib Dems have already launched our Euro election campaign, and at the time I write this we are the only party with a full slate of candidates in every region. Change UK apparently has had “thousands” of applications for MEP candidates, but the job of having to sift through all of these in such a short time raises the question of how much due diligence they will have done when they do announce their candidates. Also before the Euro election there will be local elections, in which the Lib Dems will be running and Change UK will not. A good result for the Lib Dems in the locals will focus people’s minds on who is the real pro-EU force in UK politics.
    Change UK is currently the darling of journalists in the Westminster Bubble, but it exists only at Westminster. It is currently victim of the idea so prevalent in the Westminster Bubble that national messaging is the only thing that matters for political success. It is in for a rude awakening the day after the Euro election when it discovers what we in the Lib Dems already know, that a new party cannot get anywhere in UK politics without local grassroots organisation.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Jun '19 - 11:51am
    Maybe there will be a statement from Theresa May.
    BBC states: “A summit of 28 European Union leaders has failed to reach agreement on who should take on the bloc’s top jobs.
    The talks, held in Brussels, continued until the early hours of Friday morning without candidates being finalised.
    On top of trying to majorities for successors, leaders were also trying to decide what issues the EU should prioritise over the next five years.
    A new summit will now be held on 30 June – just two days before a key meeting of the European Parliament.”
    There is no explicit mention of Switzerland which has a variety of agreements with the EU. The Times Business News has said that EU pressure on Switzerland is intended to hasten progress on tidying up these agreements into a composite whole. The Times also opined that the City of London is much bigger than Berne and would be better able to withstand the same sort of pressure.
    Switzerland has more powerful cantonal government than any EU member state and also has more frequent referendums, which provide exemplars of how to conduct direct democracy using referendums over more than a century.

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