If Not Us, Who? If Not Now, When?

Why does Ed Davey never talk about Europe? To be clear, I am not advocating launching a campaign to rejoin the EU. Although party policy supports this as a longer-term objective, there is no chance that the EU would treat an application from the UK seriously until a new government has taken steps to rebuild the EU–UK relationship –the kind of measures we set out in the policy paper Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe, endorsed by conference last year. This set out a detailed strategy for moving progressively towards a closer relationship with the EU, including ultimately joining the Single Market. These are of direct benefit in themselves, as well as steps the UK will have to take if we are to rejoin one day.

Over the last few months hardly a week has gone by without someone arguing for this, both here in Lib Dem Voice and in the mainstream press. So why isn’t our party leadership talking about it? I’m not defending their position – I think it’s wrong – but it’s worthwhile thinking through the reasoning behind it to see whether it’s justified. Although Ed Davey hasn’t shared his thinking with the party at large, I think we can identify three main reasons behind his consistent avoidance of the topic.

First, because, like Keir Starmer, he’s worried about alienating former Leave voters, particularly in the party’s 30 or so top target seats, almost all of which are Conservative-held. But opinions change – and over the last year they’ve changed significantly. Compared to most of 2021, when more people supported being outside the EU than inside, by the end of 2022, average support for reversing Brexit had reached 57 per cent. This is mainly due to Leave voters changing their minds: in November, one in five Leave voters told YouGov that they regretted voting Leave – the highest number yet recorded. In December Savanta found that 47 per cent of all respondents would favour a closer relationship with the EU compared with 14 per cent who wanted to be further apart. Even 30 per cent of Leave voters said they wanted the relationship to be closer, while 18 per cent wanted to be further away. So our position, of rebuilding the UK–EU relationship, has substantial support.

The second reason may be because, by and large, the EU is not an issue that’s raised on the doorsteps; people are overwhelmingly concerned about immediate challenges such as energy and food prices, falling real-terms incomes and the collapse of health and social care services. This isn’t surprising – people are far more aware of impacts than of underlying causes – but of course there is no effective solution to any of these problems without a much closer relationship with the EU. By June 2022 the UK economy was an estimated 5.5 per cent smaller than it would have been in the absence of Brexit. In turn this has led to an annual loss of tax revenue of £40 billion – enough to have avoided 75 per cent of the spending cuts and tax rises that were announced in the Budget last November. So if we are to put forward solutions to the challenges people are identifying, instead of just sympathising with them, we cannot avoid addressing the UK–EU relationship.

The third possible reason is that it can be argued that everyone knows where the Liberal Democrats stand anyway, given our longstanding support for EU membership and our consistent opposition to Brexit during 2016–19. But most people’s political memories are short, and the truth is that most of them don’t know what we believe. In polling which asked people what they thought the Lib Dem position was, in December 2022 half the respondents either didn’t know (33 per cent) or thought we had no clear policy (16 per cent). At least those who believed we wanted a closer relationship (30 per cent) outnumbered those who thought we liked the current situation (15 per cent) or wanted a more distant relationship (7 per cent)! Of course this may not be unconnected with the fact that Ed Davey’s only public utterances on the topic have been one short sentence in his November 2022 speech, and two interviews in 2020 and 2021 denying that we were a rejoin party.

I believe that the leadership is making a serious mistake. Our policy on rebuilding trade and cooperation in Europe can be popular – if only we let people know about it. There is no credible answer to the challenges Britain faces without it. And, even better, it distinguishes us very clearly from Labour, which is running scared of Brexit. We know we have to attract Labour votes at the next election, but the party’s low profile means that we could see the Labour vote rise even in our target seats. This is what happened in 1997, after all. Then, the collapse in the Tory vote delivered us plenty of gains anyway, but both we and Labour will be starting from weaker positions than both did in 1997, and we can’t guarantee that the Tory vote will fall that far.

And there are other reasons for talking about it. As Paddy Ashdown once put it, ‘a political party is about more than plans and priorities and policies and a chromium-plated organisation. It also has a heart and a history and a soul.’ Party activists need to know what we’re fighting for. We need to be inspired by a vision of what a Liberal Democrat-influenced government would look like. The European project, and the UK’s position firmly within the European Union, lies at the heart of that. And in turn this can attract back the thousands of members – and funders – who’ve left us over the last few years.

As Jonathan Freedland wrote in The Guardian last Saturday, ‘Where there is a force in our national life causing clear and present economic and political harm, a party of opposition – let alone government – has to talk about it.’ If not us, who? If not now, when?

* Duncan Brack is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and chaired the FPC’s working group that wrote Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe.

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  • Tristan Ward 17th Jan '23 - 1:02pm

    My guess is that it’s because private polling suggest that our target swing voters intarget seats aren’t interested, or see a “blame Brexit/Pro EU” message as a reason not to vote Lib Dem.

  • Daniel Henry 17th Jan '23 - 1:16pm

    Before the referendum, the Norway model was often shown as a way brexit could actually work.

    It’s bizarre that this is now considered too controversial to discuss.

    Like you say, I think leave voters are more open-minded than many politicians are giving them credit for.

  • I agree, especially given how badly brexit is going and how unpopular it has become. It would highlight a different policy than Labour’s. Otherwise I’m beginning to wonder what the point of the Liberal Democrats is?

  • Graham Jeffs 17th Jan '23 - 3:14pm

    “Party activists need to know what we’re fighting for. We need to be inspired by a vision of what a Liberal Democrat-influenced government would look like. The European project, and the UK’s position firmly within the European Union, lies at the heart of that. And in turn this can attract back the thousands of members – and funders – who’ve left us over the last few years”


    We lack identity. We lack drive. Our national campaigning is all too often in the “me too” category of bleating about things in the hope of attracting support. It won’t.

    Our position as a party is perilous.

  • Paul Barker 17th Jan '23 - 3:31pm

    Most Voters don’t seem to see “Europe” as an important issue, can anyone point to evidence that “Our” Voters think any differently.

    There won’t be a “Libdems influenced Government” for another 8 or 9 Years at least, put that idea out your heads.

    The EU are not going to consider letting The UK back in until its clear that The Tories are broken or till we get PR. As long as there is the possibility of another Government that would take us Out again, why let us in ? Britain has caused enough trouble already.

  • Mark Johnston 17th Jan '23 - 3:54pm

    This is an important and well-argued case. We are at a point in the political cycle where time has almost run-out for our party to make a substantial recovery. Since 2019 vote share and membership have fallen significantly. If we don’t end very soon three years of leadership silence on Europe we will only be left to pick-up the pieces and start again after the next general election. The time for timidity is over.

  • Mel Borthwaite 17th Jan '23 - 4:13pm

    In Scotland the SNP is absolutely clear that it wants Scotland to rejoin the EU. Meanwhile the Scottish Liberal Democrats say nothing. Is the party completely convinced that Liberal Democrat voters in Scotland who want their country to return to membership of the EU will not be tempted to support Scottish independence as the only available route to that end currently on offer? If the choice is between Scotland being part of a Tory-run UK or part of a more progressive EU, I suspect a fair number may be persuaded.

  • George Cunningham 17th Jan '23 - 4:40pm

    The time to strike is now. Ed Davey will have Spring Conference as a good platform for his message of renewal. His speech must reaffirm the party’s policy as endorsed by conference to rejoin the Single Market as the most important way to bring the country’s economy and people back from our crisis to a more prosperous and hopeful future.

  • Jason Connor 17th Jan '23 - 4:56pm

    Re-joining the single market is a vote winner I agree. Re-joining one of the most successful trading unions in the world even if the party will not commit to re-joining the EU. The latest polls do show 57% in favour of re-joining the EU and it’s slowly but surely growing. I think it’s a misassumption that working class voters who do not see any improvements in their lives where they live, would be against closer ties with the EU but the Party needs to make the case for it explicitly clear.

  • John Vincent 17th Jan '23 - 5:01pm

    That ostrich with its head in the sand can be heard mumbling. It’s a yellow ostrich by the way. The sand doesn’t answer back. “We can’t go back an stir up the turmoil of the last six years all over again” he says. “Be patient, wait, the time to call for membership will come when the people are ready” he drones on. “Don’t rock the boat. We are winning council seats. What more do you want?”
    That ostrich is going nowhere. In the polls, he’s in single figure territory. As you have pointed out the people have moved on. The ostrich hasn’t seen what’s going on. What were once leave voters are now people who once knew someone who voted leave.
    It’s a double sides dilemma too. Those who have stubbornly kept the faith. They are as European now as they have ever been. They are getting disillusioned with the ostrich routine. Shockingly, some on them are flirting with an ambitious little green bird.
    You are right to ask: what would Paddy Ashdown do? It’s time to lift the party’s head from the sand and start talking about a future where were are proud to be Europeans working at the heart of Europe. Instead of following meekly we need to be leading stridently in that direction.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Jan '23 - 5:19pm

    A very sensible well argued article that makes a strong case on the way forward for the Lib Dems, it is as plain as the nose of your face that a closer working relationship with the EU would be of great benefit to the UK in or out of membership.

  • Great article, agree very much.

    I am so frustrated by Eds silence on Europe that I would like to see a leadership election. This would allow Europe to be debated and put the party back on the radar. The next GE isn’t until Jan 2025 and the next leader is likely to be from the new post coalition generation and probably female so why not change now?

  • David Evans 17th Jan '23 - 6:55pm

    I’m afraid this article like so many before it simply shows the total lack of awareness shown by so many of our leaders for so many years and we still haven’t found a way for the membership to influence them. Too many leaders arrive surrounded by a close knit coterie who are personally liked and trusted by the new leader and dissenting (or even just exploring) new voices are rapidly excluded. These groups almost always end up as inward looking, self censoring echo chambers so when messages arrive from those who look outside saying things out here are going wrong, it is the message and particularly the messenger who is treated as the problem.

    Just on occasions we get a leader who chooses to inspire and empower members to become more active and allows these activists to work things out for themselves, allowing diversity and debate (with just a little of a guiding hand) to work out the best way forward.

    No leader is perfect and no leader is totally self centred, but when all those around you are saying ‘You’re doing a great job boss, and things are going so well,’ it’s difficult to formulate a view that things are not like that.

    To my mind, Charles and Paddy in their own ways were at the open empowering end of the spectrum, Nick and Jo were sadly more blinkered. Ed sadly is closer to Nick and Jo than Charles and Paddy.

    We need to get him to change.

  • Peter Davies 17th Jan '23 - 9:00pm

    The party’s 30 or so top target seats are largely those where we came close in 2019 with a policy that even many Remain supporters considered too extreme. I believe most had a Remain majority at the referendum. Since then a disproportional number of leavers have died. A substantial number of Leave voters believed they were voting for a much less extreme Brexit and many more have changed their positions since. The voters we need to win over in those seats must have a large majority for a closer relationship with Europe

  • Excellent article, Duncan.

    I was really frustrated when we got media coverage at the time of the truss mini budget
    we simply echoed Labour calls for a general election but failed to put forward a distinctive economic argument – rejoining the single market / customs union. This doesn’t even need to be presented as pro – European – it’s pro British !

  • If Ed Davey won’t, someone else in the party must. Whatever happened to DiY politics? Why do we always wait for the leadership to act? That’s not how our local government revival of the 1970s began.

  • Peter Watson 17th Jan '23 - 11:12pm

    “like Keir Starmer, he’s worried about alienating former Leave voters”
    It’s obvious why Starmer needs to get previously Labour-voting Leave voters back on board, but are they really a target for Lib Dems, especially given that the party spent years relentlessly characterising them as uneducated racists?

  • Adrian Bagehot 17th Jan '23 - 11:24pm

    Part the First

    “he’s worried about alienating former Leave voters”

    What evidence is there that former Leave voters would ever vote Liberal Democrat anyways?

    They will remember that in the last election (2019) for the Westminster Parliament the platform was to revoke Article 50 without any “Second Referendum”, thus ignoring their BREXIT stance. Left-leaning Leave voters will remember that after the 2010 election former Labour voters who voted LD felt betrayed because having voted LD to keep the Tories out of government, they got a Tory government by virtue of the coalition agreement. Any Tory Leave voters who do not intend Tory at the next election will either stay at home or vote for the”Reform Party”.

    Thus if the LD party wishes to offer a true alternative to the current “tale back control, make BREXIT work” policy of both the Conservative and Unionist Party, and now unashamedly the Labour Party, it should be actively campaigning for the economic benefits of joining the EU Customs Union and the EU Single Market (European Economic Area). The question of rejoining the EU, the political benefits) which mus be for full membership , including Schengen and the EURO single currency, can then be addressed and campaigned for subsequently. Fully rejoining the EU may not be realistically achievable until Farage has become politically incapacitated or shuffled off this mortal coil.

  • Adrian Bagehot 17th Jan '23 - 11:25pm

    Part the Second
    The question that really needs to be asked is why with the Conservative and Unionist Party at such a low level of popularity and the Labour Party with such an uninspiring leader at such a considerable lead in the opinion polls, why is the level of support for the Liberal Democrat alternative is a risible 9% with Reform just behind at 7%. Is it because the current LD leader lacks the ability, to use the well worn cliche, to connect with voters on the issues that are of most concern to them?

  • David Evans 18th Jan '23 - 1:20am

    It is very disappointing to see how many people here are saying “Things are going badly wrong,” but then say absolutely nothing about what those who agree should do about it.

    From Duncan – the leadership is making a serious mistake.
    Daniel – It’s bizarre that this is now considered too controversial to discuss.
    Russell – I’m beginning to wonder what the point of the Liberal Democrats is?
    Caroline – I couldn’t agree more.
    Graham – Our position as a party is perilous.
    Mark – The time for timidity is over.
    Mel – the Scottish Liberal Democrats say nothing
    George – The time to strike is now.
    Jason – Re-joining the single market is a vote winner
    John – we need to be leading stridently in that direction.
    Barry – it is as plain as the nose of your face
    Marco – would like to see a leadership election.
    Paul – was really frustrated
    Tom – If Ed won’t, someone else in the party must.
    Adrian – Is it because the current LD leader lacks the ability?

    I simply ask to each of you “Guys and gals, what are *you* prepared to do?”

    Because if the answer comes back, “Nothing more than moan on LDV,” we all might as well give up on Westminster and Holyrood politics and go back to our allotments.

  • David Evans 18th Jan '23 - 1:24am

    Indeed perhaps we should ask Duncan to change his title from

    If not Us, Who? If not Now, When?


    If not Me, Who? If not Now, Oh … whenever?

  • Mick Taylor 18th Jan '23 - 7:13am

    I have been saying much the same as Duncan for some considerable time and it is clear that the leader and his advisers are not listening or if I am being being kind, not acting. I voted for Ed, I campaigned for Ed on both occasions he stood. Now, however, we need a new direction and if the leadership is not prepared to speak up on this vital issue, we need new leadership.
    It won’t be easy. The last time the leader was challenged, Clegg narrowly survived vote after vote in constituencies, who didn’t agree to a new leadership election. There is never a good time for a challenge, but in answering David Evans’s question directly, I am prepared to vote for one. So over to you David, start the process and I’ll support you.

  • Graham Jeffs “Our national campaigning is all too often in the “me too” category of bleating about things in the hope of attracting support.”

    I agree. I think we lack a coherent story about our vision of how the economy can be improved. Too often we get very specific bits of policy that feel as if they have been thought in response to the latest events. The mortgage support policy was a case in point. This is not the place to develop that story but surely a closer relationship with the EU and then rejoining the single market and customs union would be an important part of it.

  • Graham Jeffs 18th Jan '23 - 9:53am

    “What are you prepared to do?” asks David Evans.

    I am but one member. It seems to me that one person is easily ignored. But increasingly over the past months there has been an ever increasing criticism of the way in which the leadership is not leading and ever growing frustration on the dumb approach to the EU.

    Unless we are all conversing in a vacuum, one would hope that there would be some awareness of this dis-affection. It is not limited by any means to LDV.

    Is this not the time that genuine internal democracy, rather than the outbursts of single-issue pressure groups, comes into play? Should not our regional and national representatives be picking up on this groundswell and be bringing pressure to bear? Or doesn’t it work like that?

    We don’t appear to have any one individual with a sufficiently high profile to champion our cause. So, indeed, does that mean we are destined to be permanently ignored?

  • Adrian Sanders 18th Jan '23 - 10:41am

    David Evans – could you please make clear I am not the Adrian attributed to that quote. I think Ed is doing an impossible job and a leadership election is frankly the last thing we need before the next election. We needed a leadership election 12 months before the 2015 general election to have hung on to more seats that would have denied Cameron a majority that led to the referendum that led to where we are now. I agree that we need a clearer line than is currently comes across, but on the issues that matter most to people whom we need to vote for us. For them, as issue polls indicate, it is not another referendum or overturning Brexit if we win a majority as much as we might want to put that top of our agendas. Starmer gets it, perhaps Ed does too.

  • William Wallace 18th Jan '23 - 11:02am

    Both Labour and our own party are in danger of following polls and focus groups on what the current public debate is about, without recalling that the underlying purpose of a political party is to change public opinion and thereby to achieve power and change the direction of public policy – not just to follow public opinion, in a policy context largely framed by right-wing media. And to enthuse party members, recruit new activists (and donors) we have to talk about our distinctive and positive policies.

  • Jason Connor 18th Jan '23 - 11:16am

    David Evans, you ask what I should do about it as if I am in a position to influence changes which I am not. I will write to Ed Davey and suggest what I have said above. And please don’t tell me it’s a waste of time as that would be patronising. I don’t have any powers and am only a council tenant but that is what I will do and also make my local party aware of my views on the re-join issue. Are you going to take action yourself or just question contributors?

  • Anthony Acton 18th Jan '23 - 11:36am

    I agree with so many of these comments. Yesterday I willingly stamped round in the frost delivering leaflets for our excellent Lib Dem councillor but why would I do that for the national party in a GE? It’s the leadership’s job to give us a good reason. Polls currently suggest I’m not the only one waiting for one.

  • David Garlick 18th Jan '23 - 11:38am

    Having your head in the Polls is not a bad thing but it needs to be tempered with periods of lifting your head up, seeing what else is important but not headline and looking ahead at what needs to be done, not what the polls say are exercising the voters minds.
    The EU needs to be chipped away at rather than having our full throttle attention.
    Even more importantly the people of the UK are crying out for LEADERSHIP ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE FUTURE FOR US ALL as Polls suggest that a large majority are worried by this. Don’t discount the Polls, keep the Cost of Living Crisis foremest in our work but adopt a long term aspect to our campaigning and keep the Polls in perspective.

  • David Rogers 18th Jan '23 - 12:33pm

    My thanks to Duncan Brack for writing this article, and to those such as Caroline Voaden and John Vincent (and many others) who have supported Duncan’s case. We should also be grateful to William Wallace and others who make the wider point regarding the purpose of a political party. To those who say that simply writing on LDV or elsewhere is inadequate, I can only agree – but perhaps unlike them I do not believe that is all that is happening. In my view, it represents the tip of the iceberg, and I should be astonished if, for instance, members of the Federal Policy Committee who agree with the general thrust of the article are not exploring every avenue to move the argument forward, and working to bring about changes in the way our MPs, other spokespeople, and crucially Ed Davey present our policy position publicly.

  • David Franks 18th Jan '23 - 2:34pm

    Ed Davey’s silence on Britain’s relationship with our EU neighbours is forcing me to thnk, for the first time in 50 years of Party membership, that to get MPs who want to repair, re-buid and get closer I have to consider voting Green. Come on Ed, do something about it before it’s too late.

  • John McHugo 18th Jan '23 - 3:12pm

    Whenever I hear that the Government is £20 billion the poorer in tax revenues because of Johnson’s Brexit deal I wonder who will be the first major politician to point out that that revenue would have paid the nurses and other public servants forced into strike action. Put differently, the fact that those monies are not there and we have this public sector pay crisis is the responsibility of the Conservative Government and the Conservative Government alone.

  • Are we a radical party? We need a different approach to many things, why not start with fighting parliamentary by elections as id they mean something. It is no good waiting for Tory seats to come up, we should, if we are a truly national party, be properly contesting Labour ones as well, not just putting up a token presence.

  • Peter Hirst 18th Jan '23 - 5:06pm

    I broadly agree with you Duncan. I prefer a subtler approach however. I think the British public at this stage are looking for a change in language rather than firm proposals. A slight change in wording is sufficient to give the public and perhaps more importantly the media a hint that we are becoming more positive to our relationship with Europe and the EU. It would also show that we are aware of and responsive to the change in public opinion on this issue.

  • Martin Gray 19th Jan '23 - 6:07am

    @Jason Connor…
    Those working class communities had very little to cheer when we was in the EU … Looking around their communities – just what did EU membership give them ..They couldn’t see it & certainly couldn’t feel it…FOM was always going to be one way traffic in those areas – even now it would be a difficult sell on the doorstep..
    Nothing much changes for those at the bottom , EU membership or not…

  • Peter Davies 19th Jan '23 - 7:35am

    @Martin What working class communities should have got out of it were the benefits of a prosperous society. They did get cheaper goods and services from the private sector and better staffed public services. The fact that prosperity was increasingly concentrated in the middle class since 1979 is not down to EU membership.

  • On the other side of the coin what benefits have working class communities gained from leaving the EU ,my feeling is that we have all lost far more than we have gained whatever part of society we are deemed to be part of!

  • Phil Redshaw 19th Jan '23 - 10:29am

    We have to differentiate ourselves from the two main parties; call out the failures of Brexit and campaign for a return to the Single Market. We should also recognise that a referendum isn’t going to happen unless there is overwhelming support, with at least 60% of voters backing rejoin.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '23 - 11:53am

    @Peter Davies “What working class communities should have got out of it were the benefits of a prosperous society. … The fact that prosperity was increasingly concentrated in the middle class since 1979 is not down to EU membership.”
    But unfortunately, the Remain and Lib Dem campaign was very much about maintaining the status quo! And this was supported by some pretty appalling stereotyping of those working class communities who did not feel they were experiencing the benefits of EU membership.
    Was it any surprise that so many people were attracted (however misguidedly we might have believed) by the prospect of change? Sadly, for many Lib Dems, it was. 🙁

  • Peter Davies 19th Jan '23 - 1:45pm

    @Peter Watson. Luckily, if we start campaigning on Europe again, we will be the ones calling for change and the Conservatives will have to campaign for the status quo.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '23 - 3:10pm

    @Peter Davies “Luckily, if we start campaigning on Europe again, we will be the ones calling for change …”
    In 2016, the Remain campaign’s strategy was to bet the farm on fear of change. One can only hope that next time round, fear of missing out wins!

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jan '23 - 7:05pm

    As with many earlier commenters, I am entirely in agreement with and welcome your argument, Duncan. I write to mention that in a recent Times newspaper (10.01.23), one of their regular columnists, Hugo Rifkind, wrote an article entitled, ‘Sunak and Starmer can barely say the B-word’, subhead, ‘Even now, with no benefits of Brexit visible, neither leader will bring himself to acknowledge the elephant in the room’. Surely more evidence that it would be good for Ed Davey to make it clear to the country that, as a majority of people have now realised, Brexit was harmful as the Liberal Democrats suggested from the start, and our party seeks now the better relationship with the EU that our country needs.

  • Perhaps there is a fourth reason for why Ed does not advocate our policy as set out in the policy paper Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe and this is that it is nebulous. It has four stages and it is the last and fourth which is to apply to join the Single Market. So we have don’t have any concrete plans to join the EU we only have a roadmap for the UK to rejoin the Single Market and other EU agencies and programmes, but without any timescales. We support the longer-term objective of UK membership of the EU, but we again don’t say when this might be.

    The party should be calling for closer relations with the EU and stating we want to join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as a preliminary to joining the Single Market. But we would only join the Single Market after a referendum on the issue. As liberals we should trust the people. However before any referendum the law on what can be said during campaigns would need to be changed so that no misinformation would be allowed.

  • Tristan Ward 20th Jan '23 - 8:23am

    Everyone knows that Brexit has been a disaster for our country.

    Everyone also knows that rejoining in the foreseeable future is impossible, and even if it were the terms would be far less favourable than before.

    What then is there to say about Brexit beyond what the party’s policy currently is – which is that we have to get as close to the EU as we can, accros was may areas as possible?

    Here’s an idea – since 1979 the country has been run under an ideology the logical result of which is Brexit and look at the result. Hardly anything works and we are run by incompetents whose only way of reatoming power is to identify “outcrops and relentless attack them.

    What have we to offer? Classic Liberal Democracy, being (in no particular order)
    The rule of law
    Free markets, and free trade, properly overseen and regulated
    Sceptical enquiry and analysis (aka the scientific method)
    Proper representative democracy
    And last but not least, human rights, where everyone has the chance to live their lives as wish

  • Alex Macfie 20th Jan '23 - 9:09am

    @Michael BG: Not keen on referendums after the recent experience of them in the UK. But if there must be one on rejoining anything to do with the EU, then it absolutely must be legally binding. This could be done by a provision in the legislation for automatically moving a Statutory Instrument in the event of a vote to Rejoin (as would have happened for AV if that vote had been won). Only if the vote is binding can it be annulled in the event of proven malpractice. The advisory nature of the Brexit referendum meant the result could not be annulled because there was legally nothing to roll back. Making the result binding would create legal certainty in all cases, where there has been none at any stage since the 2016 referendum.

  • “We should also be calling out political extremism in the Conservative Party” I agree ,it is very worrying how much influence this group have on decisions being taken at the moment?

  • Peter Watson 20th Jan '23 - 1:35pm

    I just came across a New Statesman article in which David Gauke has an interesting take on this: “Why won’t the Lib Dems fill the anti-Brexit void? The party’s refusal to make an unashamed case for rejoining the EU is bewildering.” (https://www.newstatesman.com/comment/2023/01/liberal-democrats-anti-brexit-void)

  • Tristan Ward,
    For me Liberal Democracy advocates a mixed economy not just free markets, fighting poverty, and of course trusting the people.

    Alex Macfie,
    When there is a referendum I agree that the legislation should set out what happens if there is a yes vote, unlike the 2016 referendum.

    While it is not legally necessary to hold a referendum to join the Single Market, it is politically necessary because we should not be a party that states we will join the Single Market if there is a majority of the British people who are against it. During the 2016 referendum complying with EU law and the free movement of goods, capital, services and people were issues. We need to set out the argument for joining and then convince a majority of British people that we should be joining the Single Market.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jan '23 - 10:16am

    The covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the recent energy crisis have caused the EU to change in ways that many of us thought would not be possible. The Stability and Growth Pact and the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance – commonly known as the “Fiscal Compact” have been put on hold and we no longer hear quite so many threats from the EU that countries have to cut their deficits- or else. The EU has been far the better for it. The economic skies haven’t fallen in.

    The relaxations have not been ideal. Germany has continued to insist that far too much of the assistance given to governments should be considered as loans rather than grants. However, as most of the loans will never be repaid, because they cannot be repaid, it probably doesn’t make any real difference.

    As a Leaver in 2016, I would be prepared to consider rejoining if the EU doesn’t slip back into its old bad ways. However, if the neoliberal bean counters in Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt start pushing the Excessive Deficit Protocols for all they are worth once the Pandemic and Ukraine conflict are finally over, it will be apparent that nothing has really changed and we really are better off out of it.

    At the moment it is a matter of waiting to see what will happen.

  • Leekliberal 21st Jan '23 - 1:07pm

    At last this vital debate has taken off! As a activist since 1981, I am hugely demotivated by our leadership’s silence on Brexit and have posted recently calling on Sir Ed to speak up on the need for us to negotiate a less punishing Brexit deal. As the damage it has done to our economy and the freedom to travel to and live in the EU is becoming widely understood, we could have carved a place in the national debate to our electoral advantage. The Greens are ahead of us on this and quietly, Starmer is now becoming more positive also although his proposal for sectoral deals based on the Swiss model would irritate the EU and bring little benefit to the UK.
    If Sir Ed won’t change tack then I would support calls for a leadership election to resolve matters.

  • Peter Watson 21st Jan '23 - 4:50pm

    @Leekliberal “I am hugely demotivated by our leadership’s silence on Brexit …”
    In this interview in December (https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk-politics/2022/12/ed-davey-want-keir-starmer-rishi-sunak), Ed Davey raised “the mutual recognition of professional qualifications” as his example of a closer relationship with the EU and then mentioned “a lot of the stuff that was left out of the trade deal, which is why it was so shockingly bad”. It sounds like tinkering with Brexit is the priority, rather than reversing it, an approach which does not distinguish the Lib Dems from the Tories or Labour.
    Aside from this, the article also suggests that a strategy of ignoring Brexit and concentrating instead on attacking current Tory economic competence is undermined, concluding: “This seems to leave the Lib Dems in a tricky position … Davey refuses to give an honest appraisal of the economy of the past 12 years because he helped to build it. And if he can’t show that he understands the past, how can he sell a plan for the future?”

  • I’d personally say that most voters now regard the Lib Dems as just another pro-Brexit party, at a time when the voters can clearly see that Brexit is a abject failure. The LD leadership have only themselves to blame for this since they seem to have fallen for a Westminster consensus that Brexit is now a “holy cow” that can’t be criticised.

  • Andrew Kitching 23rd Jan '23 - 2:28pm

    Those as old as me will remember the crafty Harold Wilson who, in 1974, said he’d renegotiate the terms of EEC entry and “get a better deal” (after the referendum). We need to talk more about Johnson’s miserable deal, and how we would forge a grown up relationship with our European friends and align with the single market. Its not difficult

  • John Littler 28th Jan '23 - 11:04pm

    At the time of the Reformation, advisors to Henry Viii wrote that ending Englands payments to Rome and the Pope would mean that hospitals would benefit from the money so that they would be offering the best possible treatments.

    Political bullocks is nothing new

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